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The Bewildering Future

One undeniable currency of age is being confused by the interests of the young.

In many ways I feel like my generation has put off that gap somewhat. When my wife talks about what her students do in their free time they are playing video games I play, they are binge watching Netflix series I watch. They browse the internet daily for interesting and funny things, and use it to talk and share things with their friends.

Maybe I don't exactly "get" the precise appeal of Instagram, I at least recognize its contours as having similar lines as Facebook and Twitter. They text their friends, I use instant messaging and email. Slightly different tools to scratch a familiar itch.

Despite the availability of a largely ubiquitious and age agnostic "digital culture" that we are all soaking in, the rifts have crept in.

It first reared its head when I heard a niece of mine was going to the Minneapolis Comic Con. That was confusing because I didn't think she was particularly into science fiction or comic books. She still wasn't, but the reason she wanted to go was because a Vine celebrity was going to be there doing signings.

So first bit of culture shock, the idea that one could even be a "Vine Celebrity", or that you could be emotionally invested enough in one to buy a ticket to a convention that you were otherwise disinterested in.

But it shouldn't be suprising. When I was obsessed with "celebrities" I never stopped to question the scale of their popularity. They were important to me. They created things that resonated with me. My nervous awkward meetings with Douglas Adams and the Johns from TMBG were not tempered by the fact that, in the grand scheme of things, none of them ranked even D-list Hollywood celebrity status.

If your sample group is yourself and your friends, than it doesn't take more than the concensus of as little as 10 or so people to elevate someone to a higher tier of revered status.

Especially, since these celebrities have two important allures that the tradional Hollywood stars do not. They have the time to reply back. In fact, for some, this is their job. They don't have 12 hour shooting schedules. Their job is to interact with their fans. In many ways this makes them more grounded, by not only being accessible and responsive, they also whisper the quiet promise that you too could become a celebrity by just being nice and having interesting things to share.

What an intoxicating concept. I think back to the electric thrill of meeting some of my idols. Imagine if I had been able to get a fraction of that dopamine rush by just having them tweet back a smile to me, or the idea that I could very easily become them.

In many ways our traditional Hollywood "celebrity" seems more like the unhealthy construct. One person, the subject of nearly incalculable love and caring, who both seems unaware of the true scale of the one way care bonds their profession has created towards them, to a point where it is simply impossible for them to truly reciprocate any order of magnitude of that emotion back.

Legacy Celebrities really are just a "love sink". The targets of silent affection and surging emotions from hundreds of thousands immediately grounded out to nowhere, without even the subject of the attention being aware that they are a target of even a single desperate heart ache that consumes a twelve year old in Maine.

The second thing that confounds me, is how popular it has become to *watch* someone play a video game.

Games of the 80s were uniformly single player, at best it was multiplexed single player where the second player would sit silently willing their cohort to die quickly so their play could resume.

This has changed, and the playing and sharing of gameplay experiences is as common as taking pictures of your food.

At the past two PAX conventions I have been at, there has been a large presence of people frantically searching and seeking out Youtube celebrities who play video games while talking.

Lines three hours long to meet these people, punctuated by fans stumbling away, weeping tears of joy over the opportunity to meet the physical avatars of these digital performers.

Not just kids though, it has gotten to the point where even game *developers* need to seek these people out. I talked to one developer who said making the game wasn't the hard part. The tough part was getting a famous person from Twitch to play their game and get exposure.

For many of these "Youtubers" and twitch stars, this is absolutely their job. They make $15-20k in ad revenue playing video games, being interesting, and begging people to subscribe.

This leads to young kids hoping to emulate them. In this video making the rounds, a ~9 year old is streaming his game of Minecraft on Twitch, using built-in functionality of his PS4. 4chan, the group of internet rogues picked his stream at random and "raided it", where they show up in droves, say nasty things ("Tell your mom to take her top off!") and fill his chat channel with pictures of ASCII penises and Hitlers.

The young boy does not oblige them their misery. Instead he is overwhelmed by the views and attention. To the point where he stops playing the game entirely (to the trolls' great annoyance) and just revels in his newly found celebrity status. He barely seems to read or care about what they are saying, only the number of them that there are.

In this case, a weird mixture of innocence and indomitable pride insulated him from what was meant as a mean spirited prank, but how many parents realize that their game consoles or computers make it so trivial for random strangers to go "full-on jackass" on their children while they play video games? As a parent, why the hell would I ever *want* that feature?

In this case, it is worth noting that Twitch bans says streamers must be 13 or older (in theory), but they have to be discovered first. So in practice, they don't.

In the meantime, my own children, nightly, will beg me to play Super Mario World 3d. On the occasion I oblige them, my son watches intently, slightly jumping and nervously running in place along with the character onscreen, completely engrossed.

Which is one thing about modern games, they are very pretty and appealing, indistinguishable from cartoons. Why not watch them? Compared to some of the terrible and trite cartoons I consumed in my youth (God Damn Heathcliff...), is it any worse?

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