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I was recently standing in line at a store that sells a multitude of electronic paraphernalia behind a group of 3 teenage boys having a conversation about a character in a video game. Unlike some people, I am rather fond of teenage boys, having raised 2 myself and half raised a gaggle of their friends. Since both of my boys were video game players, I suspect I know rather more about them than many mothers, particularly in my age group, and while I am not in the habit of paying an enormous amount of attention to gamer speak, I found this particular conversation rather interesting – and somewhat disturbing.
The young gentlemen seemed to be having a rather passionate discussion regarding the character they play in the game. They were not debating how the character fought or what weapons were the best in what circumstances. They were discussing how they thought the character should be dressed. Evidently, making the right fashion statement when fighting hordes of marauding aliens who look something like giant praying mantises and are armed to the teeth is important. I am familiar with the game they were discussing and the character in question because I have watched it being played by my son and his friends and have noticed that they sometimes take half an hour deciding what their character should be wearing before they ever start the game. I have always found this rather odd. The game is played in the first person so you never actually see your character unless he dies and the game shows you a lovely shot of his mangled body on the ground, in which case, I can't see how being a well dressed corpse helps you much. I can only conclude that a player dresses to impress his friends or the enemy, who doesn't appear to care much at all.
In fairness, I suppose all this dressing up to kill and be killed isn't all that different than knights in armor back in the day. I mean, the black knight wore black armor for a reason, right? And Lord forbid a self-respecting knight go into battle with the wrong color plume on his helmet. Over the centuries armies have certainly seemed to spend a lot of time and effort creating just the right uniform for their combatants. The Germans, especially, seemed to put a great deal of emphasis on a spiffy uniform, but all this male concern with dressing for success in war, video games, or sporting events kind of annoys me.
Take professional football, for instance. I remember the days before domes and Astroturf when football was played on actual grass in all kinds of crazy weather. The teams wore different colors, but mostly dressed in a basic uniform. During the game they got messed up, dirty, and sometimes torn. Their helmets had dents in them, their shoes were filthy, and they generally ended up looking like guys who had played a very physical game on a dirty field under tough conditions. Who can forget sight of some of the greats on the sidelines, covered with mud, uniforms torn and tattered, looking like, players. That was before various designers and sports companies got involved and made half the teams look like toddlers in high-end pajamas. Now players not only don't get dirty, they don't even look particularly mussed. Their uniforms are all spandex or some other chemically induced material. They don't even wrinkle. Some of the colors make them look less like athletes and more like a colorful band of gypsies getting ready to dance around a campfire. Even when they take off their helmets they don't look like they have been playing a highly physical game as much as a rousing round of Scrabble. A lot of them have “hair-do's” and even their sweaty faces look like some Hollywood make-up person came along with a can and sprayed it on.
I suppose, to be non-sexist and absolutely fair, girls have always had dolls to dress up and it isn't the end of the world that boys have video game characters. It wouldn't be so bad if at the end of a particularly nasty battle the character's armor had dents and blast marks or dirt or alien slime on them or something, but they don't. They look just as pristine and pretty as when they started. Come to think of it, so do some modern football players. Maybe I'm getting old, but it just doesn't seem right. Even Barbie gets a little mussed after a long day in the dream house.
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