In Which I Express Unabashed Envy
I like to believe I am not an overly envious person. Yes, I do have my green-tinted moments when I consider the runaway success of famous authors, actors, musicians, and other creative sorts, and the shade does tend to darken when one such person appears to have achieved their success with marginal or indiscernible talent. Examples gross as Earth exhort me in this latter category, so I don’t think going into a list of who and why would be fruitful. Just use your imagination. Failing at that, pull up Google news.
Lately, however, I’ve found myself in the grip of an envy much more powerful, something that can’t be dismissed with a wink, a shit-eating grin, and a public display of my sternum. It doesn’t stem from reading about Adam Christopher’s wildly successful launch of Empire State (congratulations on that, by the way), seeing the pictures my former boss sends me of her retirement in Belize, or even contemplating Mojang’s extraordinary combination of talent and timing. This envy is far older and deeper than any passing thought or errant news article. It even moves me to sadness and frustration if I think too precisely on the event, a reaction I’ve not had much experience combating.
What is it, you ask? Simply put, I envy the culture that today’s youth have.
Psychology Today published an article this week explaining the benefits that playing video games can have for children. While some of them are self-evident to any long-time devotee of the medium (hand-eye coordination, problem-solving skills, etc), the ones that slapped me in the face were the social benefits. The article quotes several studies that found “that video games, far from being socially isolating, serve to connect young people with their peers and to society at large. Other research has documented, qualitatively, the many ways that video games promote social interactions and friendships. Kids make friends with other gamers, both in person and online. They talk about their games with one another, teach one another strategies, and often play together, either in the same room or online.”
That kind of culture, one that accepts gaming as a valid hobby, would have improved my life in many ways while I was a kid. Youth today have books of video game music that they can buy and learn to play on the piano. If somebody had told six-year-old me that I could play Zelda and Metroid themes on the piano, I might very well be an accomplished pianist today. It never occurred to me that the music my brother and I loved recording on cassette tapes was something I could reproduce on our tiny Casio keyboard. My parents, informed by the parenting wisdom of the nineties, limited our gaming time as much as they reasonably could. This fostered a strange guilty-pleasure mentality regarding the games we played; while fun, they were inferior to other hobbies like reading, playing soccer, or building forts. You know, real kid stuff.
My high school served to reinforce, upgrade, and expand this mentality like a dedicated Minecraft construction project. At the time, I was just discovering and becoming quite enamored with Command & Conquer and Pokemon. My best friend and only fellow Pokemon trainer made it absolutely clear that we were not to discuss any aspect of our experiences at school. Girls, you see, would not approve, and the approval of the fairer sex was the Holy Grail to my 14-year-old mind. Thus, I was encouraged to hide one of my greatest passions from the public eye so I could increase my chances of getting that cute girl two seats over to say she’d go out with me. This association of video games with shame lead to the final and greatest regret of my teenage years: I didn’t realize I could make video games for a living. Had I seriously considered the possibility, had I been told just once that video games were as valid an interest and passion as my love for writing or theater was, I might have majored in computer science and game design rather than English. The rest, as they say, would be history.
Over Christmas break, Tori and I played classic N64 games with her younger sister and her boyfriend. As the younger couple succinctly KO’d all three of my chosen fighters in Pokemon Stadium, I realized how much I wished that such a scenario would have been possible when I was seventeen. The chance to freely express my love for video games around girls and have them acknowledge and share it would have blown my adolescent mind, possibly to a life-changing degree.