What year was the best year for modern pop culture? It sort of depends on where in the river you want to plant your feet that you’ll find the deepest water. 2017 brings us the consistent deluge of videogames you get every year. Everywhere you look over the horizon the ocean is deep – the only thing you know for sure when you try to keep abreast of current releases and what’s hot is that sometimes you end up trying to see the sky through the surface of the ocean.
2017 just brings us more of that constant deluge of new releases we get every year. Adaptations, famous personality directors returning to or commenting on things they made in the past. Artists iterating upon the people first inspired by their inspirations forty years ago in comics. It never stops and there’s no way to really stay up to date with anything.
The word that comes to mind first is drowning. When trying to think of any practical way to stay up to date with the world anymore, you either feverishly drink up everything that comes at you or you firmly plant your feet in the water. The former causes a corpse-like bloating of the brain and the latter leaves you drifting between points of darkness illuminated by the seldom kept guideposts of where you’ve been in life.
How do you keep up with videogames anymore? How do you keep up with what’s cool amidst constantly changing borders of acceptability and progression and should you even care? We all learn to have our own way of keeping our head above the water.
Most of every day life is dictated by pop culture today. Sports, Videogames, Film, all of them draw from basically the same well of techniques to keep people invested. Pop-personalities and fandoms are a part of every type of media these days to a degree we’ve never seen before.
How many conversations have you backed out of because you were talking to someone who clearly wasn’t with it on the same level you were? How many people did you watch drown in the office when you backed away because they weren’t watching the new David Lynch show or maybe instead of the slow exit from a conversation you had something to say to shut them out of ever talking to you again
Cuz’ after all, you’ve planted your feet like I have. You probably have a real, real good idea of what’s cool in the world. Maybe it’s finding the lost gold still pressed in vinyl on a dusty record somewhere and bringing it home. Maybe it’s the opinions you have about videogames and how mechanics should fit together with the intended emotional expression of the game.
After all, you’ve got your feet planted firmly in the ground. Everybody has to now, you have to keep your interests all close to each other so you can keep track of what you like through the constant flood of information. Can we use the things we consume to keep others close to us? Is it possible to instead get sucked down by trying too hard? The people in the following two stories are real, and maybe you know some of them.
Will and his wife live in Will’s parents’ house. I’m reasonably certain that they’ll live in that house forever. Fixing the house is pretty much in Will’s repertoire of skills as much as holding down a regular job isn’t. As long as the house stays fixed and a little bit of money comes in, I bet Will can keep living there forever.
Will’s been taking care of his siblings and parents about as long as I remember. Will has always wanted to go to conventions and have new game consoles and a computer that runs the best software and basically fucking participate in the world he sees his friends get to be involved in around him.
But Will can’t and probably never will. That house is going to drag Will underneath the water and it’s not his fault. That house is going to go through more times where the electricity gets turned off or he has to sleep on his parents’ couch again because the roof caved in when it started raining.
If there’s water in the house it’s above Will’s head. He doesn’t give a shit what the PS4’s processor is capable of in the newest Uncharted. Will never had the time to stop and think about anything he was doing because he was busy keeping other people alive.
Someone out there in a cafe in California is making a Twine game about people like Will, none of whom know that they’re being taken advantage of by too many systems at once. I try to talk to Will about videogames, because as we get further apart the fact that both of us have to play older games (one of us not by choice) is the only thing keeping the friendship alive the further we drift apart.
I hope I don’t live to see Will drown.
Mark is drowning in a different way. Mark is one kind of veteran of which there’s not a lot left for after he got discharged, but maybe Mark had problems no one was willing to listen to before he was forced to sign up for the military.
Mark has played games I haven’t had the time to play. Mark’s beat Horizon: Zero Dawn from back to front and doesn’t wanna listen to what anyone has to say about it because he already started on Dragon Quest: Builders. Mark loved videogames and has played them since he was a child, but a lack of opportunity and a world that wanted him to be the one thing he couldn’t meant life never opened that door to him getting to make them.
Mark sometimes doesn’t get his daily-recommended 20 minutes of sunlight because the only concrete thing he knows in the world is that his parents love him and will keep a bed for him and that there’s always a new game around the corner to beat. Mark doesn’t talk to me about videogames, because Mark and I are both drowning in two different ways.
Still on his headset in the dark, talking with friends he hasn’t seen in years, Mark is better at videogames than I probably ever will be. The blue sheet Mark covers his window with sometimes makes the whole room look like it’s underwater.
At what point do our distractions overtake us? Can we even keep up with them in the digital age anymore? It can even be seen in the way most of pop culture is reviewed and critiqued. Rather than having to go back and find hidden gems, we now find ourselves inundated with simply too much to keep up with.
Certain people are disposed to sticking with just the things they know they’ll like. More than anything you learn to discern that as you get older, but maybe we should be willing to worry about the next generation of critics that are assaulted on every front by the constant daily treadmill of new things to obsess over.
Two different people can be drowning in different ways. Are they drowning because of their escapism, or would they be standing above the water without it? Do they feel their lungs fill with water as they choke and sink ever deeper or are they standing above us watching the rest of us disappear beneath the surface?
What’s the price of keeping up?
Your arms get tired and your breath gets short. You go to place your feet on the floor of the ocean beneath you and just find more water underneath.