There’s a pervading notion that people who spend a good part of their day peering into the tiny screen of their mobile phone are somehow missing the glorious moments of life as it whirls on around them. Those who hold that opinion must live in a really nice place because when I’m standing around in the Target Starbucks waiting for my soy latte or dining at Red Robin, one of the finer establishments in Apple Valley, California, I can honestly say that there is nothing miraculous, beautiful, enlightening or even remotely lovely happening around me. In fact, that magical little device I keep in my pocket is a window to a world where despair and banality is slightly less all-consuming. It is an escape hatch out of the bland purgatory of suburbia to someplace, anyplace else. If I didn’t have my wife (and forthcoming son) in my life I’d figure out a way to cram my head into that screen and climb out the other side.
Don’t get me wrong. I appreciate life. I have grown to love the desert where I live – or at least the parts that haven’t been fouled with trash and broken glass. The barren, rocky hills in the distance are very appealing to me. That’s probably because I can’t see all the cigarette butts and pull tabs from here. I appreciate the local color around here. I live just off old Route 66, so the landscape is peppered with vintage motels and other remnants of a bygone age, like the huge buffalo on the sign over the neighborhood dentist. These are all enriching things.
What I’m saying is that there’s only so much sustenance a person can cull from these oases of culture. Most people in this country live in bland, pre-fab honeycombs where beauty is scarce and enrichment hard to come by. That’s why millions still play games like World of Warcraft. Azeroth isn’t just a place to pass the time. It’s a place to escape to, like Narnia. Except, hell, I bet the England those kids were fleeing was pretty nice compared to Victorville.
Since I have a kid on the way, I have at least twenty years of presence in my future. I will try to live without screens – to be in the moment and occupy the landscape around me, no matter how squalid. I want to spend as much of that twenty years or so with my son. If I’m lucky enough to live to the point that my family can’t take care of me, I can promise you won’t find me staring out a retirement home window.
I’ve seen the news stories about Wii bowling in old folks’ homes. That’s all well and good for a generation who have an ambivalent relationship with videogames. I predict that retirement will be significantly different for those weaned on videogames. Forget those screenings of Cocoon every Friday night. If I am still kicking at that age. I will be jacked, plugged or logged into the the future equivalent of World of WarCraft, living it up as a virtual badass as long as I can. Don’t bother coming to visit in person. The assisted living complex is a dreary place anyway. It you want to hang out with 80-year-old me you’d better have a Battle.net account.
Pretension +1 is a weekly column about the intersections of life, culture and videogames. Follow Gus Mastrapa on Twitter @Triphibian.