Tuesday, June 18, 2013

Video Games Live!

So last weekend included my first, and Wisconsin's first, video games concert--Video Games Live. When I found out about this months ago, I was amused by the idea--it's a traveling show that features local symphony orchestras playing video game scores with video from games playing on the big screen backdrop--and thought it would be fun to check it out. It was fun, but fun in a sort of "I'm a tourist in an foreign land and don't really understand everything that's going on" way.

Part of my cultural difference was gender-based. There were SO MANY boys there. Yes, there were girls and women, too, but a LOT of 18-25 year old guys. Not all that surprising, of course, but quite noticeable when one is in the midst of it, albeit pleasantly so in the non-existent line to the women's bathroom. (When's the last time you attended an event where that was the case?) Sitting behind my friends and I were a particularly, um, vocal, contingent of these aforementioned attendees. Now, this was not a docile crowd. Part of the reason the show was so much fun were the impassioned responses of the crowd--yelling, hollering, riotous applause--these people were fans of the most unabashed kind, a sentiment I can well appreciate. Even if the fan expressions more familiar to me are those of the screeching and crying variety rather than of the guttural yell mode. So these guys behind us made me feel like I was getting the real, the authentic experience of the show, but also made me kind of cranky and irritated. To wit: host Tommy Tallarico yells, "Let's hear it for girl gamers!" when two teenage girls take the stage to compete in the live Frogger contest. One of the charming gentlemen behind me hollers back, "Especially the hot ones!" You get the picture.

Even as one pretty uninitiated in the gaming world, it was clear to me that this was but one segment of that world, as exemplified by the kinds of games featured, if not by the crowd. Those with Hollywood film-like scores dominated, which seemed to me to be most standard to the action and fantasy games. So no sports games, no games geared mainly to kids, no indie games. To be fair, the show was put on by the industry and so it understandably focused on the most popular games--Halo, Final Fantasy, Mario, etc.--and the audience was not complaining. Indeed, the orgasmic shouts of . . . pleasure, I guess, whenever a new game was introduced or another Japanese composer appeared on-screen were intense.

Some more specific reactions: I thought the Metal Gear Solid visuals, from cut scenes produced for the game, were amazing, really visually compelling, very much drawing upon the iconography of the Hollywood blockbuster, but in a good way--with all the emotion and drama and epic scale such imagery can carry. Two moments of intellectual property defensiveness stood out: Square-Enix's refusal to allow the show to use game footage from Final Fantasy and from Kingdom Hearts. The FF music went video-less, KH featured a montage of Disney characters. Seemed way too cutesy for the crowd, but what do I know? Native informants-OK, my one native informant--tell me that Square-Enix was holding out for the $ VGL wasn't coughing up. And the serious serious History Channel produced montage of suffering WWII-era Europeans during the Medal of Honor music seemed to me quite a stretch. This is a first person shooter war game, a bang-bang-you're dead game, dressed up to look historically significant and honoring of the civilian casualties of war? No, I haven't played it, but the VGL version seemed way too ain't-war-honorable for my tastes.

Perhaps the most memorable part of the evening was when host Tommy Tallarico (what a show biz name) busted out an electric guitar and jammed along with the orchestra. While the crowd went rock concert-wild with this, I was kind of embarrassed for the guy. He had just told us of his youthful fantasies, how he played air guitar to game soundtracks for his neighborhood pals. But then he was playing a real guitar, on a real stage, in front of thousands of screaming fans! I wondered if he'd created this whole show in order to live out this adolescent male fantasy. Yet the adoring throngs seemed to be living it through him. The same guys gathering around the Guitar Hero competition screens in the lobby before the show and during intermission seemed to want nothing more than to rock away amongst the crowd of admirers--the everyday experience of Guitar Hero in the living room made a little more public, a little more thrilling, yet, sadly, paling beside the on-stage triumph Tommy achieved. It's a good thing Tommy so happily shared his moment of glory.

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