Twice recently, I've had a house guest who has brought a video game system, attached it to my television, and insisted that I play it.
1. My first guest brought a Wii, and the game I was induced to play was: Bowling. I felt a little silly acting out the motions of bowling while holding a remote control and being represented on screen by a character that looked like one of those old Fisher-Price LittlePeople, but it was kind of fun. I don't remember my score. Better than 37, I'm sure. Efforts to induce me to play another game or to bowl again failed. I did watch a lot of playing and contemplated whether this was a reasonably healthful, decently athletic activity for a young child. Good enough, I thought. But as long as you're up and moving around, why not move around in this real world we have here instead of manipulating your guy in an impoverished play world? The more realistic a video game is, the more I'm likely to think about how much more realistic real life is. If you're making your guy bowl, I'm going to think: Hey, we should go bowling — actual bowling. If you're making multi-shaped blocks drop onto a pile, I'm just thinking rotate it! or whatever.
2. My second guest brought an Xbox, and the game was BioShock. So there I was floating in the ocean amidst the burning wreckage of a plane crash. Look around, I'm told. That is, wiggle my right thumb. Go places. That is, wiggle my left thumb. I'm told the crucial skill is to move around and look around at the same time, in some sort of fluid 3-D fashion. I realize I am never going to learn this skill. I'm either going to be looking around or moving, not both. But I have the game on "easy" mode, so I'm able to survive this and every other ineptitude. Okay, so I find the stairway out of the water and bumble my way into an elevator to the bottom of the ocean past various signs and cityscapes that make me say, "Hey, this game seems to be based on Ayn Rand." I'm told this is a correct observation. So I'm all: "You bought a right-wing game." Yes. But then I'm mostly moving around in lots of dark hallways, rooms, and staircases where various characters come at me and I slug them with a big monkey wrench I picked up somewhere. No matter how vicious my attackers are, I always kill them, because I'm playing in "easy" mode. I find I like to hit them about 10 more times after I've killed them, spattering blood about and feeling the thud in the vibrating controller in my hands. "Why do I like doing that? Does that mean I'm a bad person?" After a while, I say that's enough for me, get up, and feel queasy and dizzy. I go get a glass of orange juice, take a sip, then sit down at the table and put my head down. "That game made me sick."