Native, Pixelated Tongues
I've been thinking a lot recently about the extent to which the functionality of video games has become the new vernacular, a language so much part of the culture that it's clear even to those of us who were never really gamers. I played my fair share of Oregon Trail in elementary school, and hung out a lot in high school with a dude who taught me how to play Half-Life, though I was always so nervous about the headcrabs that I usually let him do most of the work. Other than that, I pretty much missed the entertainment revolution.
But two things have made me realize how much the language and thought processes of video games are woven into my thought process anyway.
First is the trailer for Scott Pilgrim vs. The World, which despite my Michael Cera burnout looks pretty independently awesome:
Obviously, there are tons of visual video game and comic book allusions here: the power rating on Scott's punches, the text that illustrates how hard he's been hit. But the moment that caught me was the instant Scott snatches a pixelated image out of the air and declares that he's "getting a life." The Oxford English Dictionary traces the origins of the term not to video games, as I would have expected, but to a 1983 outbreak of Valley-Girlese recorded by the Washington Post. The Shatner SNL incident would follow three years later. Of course, it's entirely possible that the term seeped into both of those situations via video games, but it's not necessarily documented by the authorities. But whether the phrase came from video games or not, it's now perfectly integrated with the way video games work. The picture of a real man grabbing a two-dimensional image as a way to express that he's going to live life more fully is completely integrated in my brain, despite its myriad contradictions.
The other thing that stuck in my mind is an 8-bit interactive Twilight game (below) that is equal parts plot summary and satire. It's not so much that I got decision trees from video games, or anything, and I knew the plot in advance (I read those things in the service of The Atlantic, and for absolutely no other reason), so I mostly just had fun finding ways to kill off Edward Cullen. But the visual shorthand of the pixelated animation is both very expressive, and very good at stripping details in the book down to their essence. It is pretty silly that people go "poof" when they turn into wolves and back again, and the animation here mines the humor in that without having to make a point of it. I think it's more that in trying to explain things, it feels strangely inevitable that we'd find our way back to video games. They can tempt in people who would never (I think wisely) pick up a Twilight book. The form is familiar, reliable fun.