A couple of fellows on the BART (the Bay Area Rapid Transit, San Francisco’s version of the subway) were talking video games. Having been greatly interested in video games for as long as I have had conscious thought, I listened in. Unfortunately, I didn’t understand a lot of what they were saying. Words like “sprites” and “maps” and “play testing”, words I was not familiar with, dominated the discussion. They also mentioned “code”, but I soon realized they weren’t talking about the kind of codes I was familiar with (re: the Konami code). In fact, if they hadn’t said “video game” every once in a while, I wouldn’t have known that they were talking about video games at all.
And what I realized from that discussion (as well as the discussions I’ve encountered anytime I try to do any research on video games) is that today’s “gamers” (yet another term I was previously not familiar with) are much more sophisticated than they were in the earlier days; even those young gamers who are just coming of age have a more sophisticated conception of the production and the business of video games that I and my friends did when we were coming of age. They know things now, and looking at what they know now makes me realize just how much we didn’t know then, not only about video games but about movies and TV shows and toys and everything else we consumed at that time.
We didn’t know, for example, that most video games came from Japan and had to be localized for American audiences. I don’t know that we ever thought about where video games came from, but if we did, we didn’t think they came from Japan. Because of this, we didn’t know why there were so many mistakes in the game text. When we saw an oddly worded phrase (such as the now infamous “all your base are belong to us”), then, or a blatant misspelling, we just thought it was an error, not Engrish.
We also didn’t know that video games could be modified. We didn’t know, for example, that Super Mario Brothers 2 was originally a different game that Nintendo had inserted Mario and Luigi into or that certain visuals were removed from games like Bionic Commando.
We didn’t know anything about the comparative powers of different consoles. We knew that the Nintendo had better graphics (which was really our only standard of measurement at the time) than the Atari 2600, but we didn’t know why. It wasn’t until the Sega Genesis hit the scene that we started hearing about “bits” and what that might mean for game play.
We didn’t know that stories could be manipulated, that elements of a video game or movie could be altered according to the preferences or needs of a certain audience. I always thought stories were stories, that they were what they were because that’s what they were, not because somebody made them that way.
We didn’t know that some video game and movie and TV show makers were trying to turn a quick and cheap buck. I had always thought that every video game and movie and TV show was produced to the best of the programmers’ or directors’ ability. I didn’t know that there were companies churning out the cheapest knock-offs and cut jobs they could.
We didn’t know what was coming out when or who would be in it; we just didn’t have access to that information beyond posters in the toy store and trailers at the cinema.
We didn’t know that movies were not faithful to reality; we thought that everything in a movie was completely plausible. I distinctly remember arguing with someone about whether or not a man could actually do what Bruce Willis did in Die Hard.
We didn’t know that there were such things as budgets and that these budgets could greatly affect a video game or movie or comic book (such as Marvel’s New Universe imprint which was doomed in part because of drastic budget cuts).
There was a lot, I guess, that we didn’t know about these things; I guess we were pretty naïve. I’m not so sure, though, that’s naiveté was a bad thing. I do appreciate what the current sophistication can add to the video game or movie or TV show experience (it does indeed make you feel like you’re a part of the production process), but I’m not convinced it is actually better. I think I might like being naïve again for a little while; I think (to take and then mangle a line for Rod Stewart) I wish I didn’t know now what I didn’t know when I was younger.