PlayStation binge pushes grown-up's buttons

November 19, 2006

Somebody - OK, I'll do it - needs to say a few choice words to the thousands of 20- something guys who waited in long lines so they could spend a week's take-home pay for a PlayStation 3 game. So here goes: Grow up! Get a life!

Volunteer to be a big brother somewhere.

Coach a basketball team.

Spend some quality time with your grandparents before they die.

If you want to "experience the most realistic combat ever," sign up for the Marines and go to Fallujah!

I'm not talking about the flippers - the guys who waited in line to buy PlayStation 3 so they could turn around and sell it for several times its already inflated retail cost.

I'm talking about the rest of you - the red-eyed gamers who waited and slept in line, in some places for days, and in the rain, the ones who pushed and shoved and even trampled other shoppers. Some of you bounded out of stores smiling triumphantly, PlayStation held high, as if you had just won Lord Stanley's Cup or accomplished some other admirable feat.

I know I speak for many Americans - some your own age, believe it or not - who find your obsession with video games, your dopey surrender to the hype, and your willingness to give time and money to the pursuit of an overpriced, made-in-some-other-country electronic toy to be wholly vulgar, crass and (insert synonym for wholly vulgar and crass).

It's not that we oppose fun. Fun is great. But you have plenty of fun. You've been having fun for years. Yours is the most leisurely, pampered, tattooed generation ever. Some of you still live with your mommies and daddies, and there's no military draft so, compared to guys who came before you - your fathers and uncles and grandparents - you have a pretty cushy life.

You might not be aware of it, but you are in what has been described as a state of protracted adolescence. The nation is crawling with guys who live in this state, and the PlayStation binge of the past week sent that message to the world.

There have been other episodes of crazed consumerism in recent years. But this one is particularly crass because it comes at a time when we're at war, when Americans of age similar to the PlayStation 20-somethings are getting killed and wounded in Iraq.

"Has any nation ever been so disconnected from a war as this one?" a reader named Pat Conner wrote in an e-mail last week. "Thousands of soldiers returning from Iraq and Afghanistan, maimed physically and emotionally for life [and] the media celebrates this orgy of capitalism and the bravery and toughness of the video game enthusiast."

Here's a quote, from 1997, that hangs in my memory and used to hang on the wall near my desk: "How much could I do? I'm only 21."

You know who said that?

A convicted child abuser who lived in a house in Baltimore County with his girlfriend, her mother and two little girls.

The "adults" abused both of the girls and starved the younger of the two until she died. It was the single most depressing criminal case I ever covered.

The male abuser gave the "21" defense when asked why he hadn't take action to stop the torture of the little girls.

"How much could I do? I'm only 21," he said, as if 21 no longer was considered adulthood, a time when a young man is expected to take on responsibilities, to set a course for his life, to make it on his own, to shed adolescent tendencies toward self-centeredness, and maybe even - imagine this! - assume a role in his community.

Look, guys. No one wants to take away your toys.

But maybe you want to put your passion into something else. I mean, by the time you're 25 or 26 or 27, maybe you ought to be finding your bliss in something other than Grand Theft Auto and Gears of War. Maybe Call of Duty ought to be something real - something you actually do, as a military or civilian volunteer - rather than a game you play.

There's still time for you. We need to replenish our stock of genuine grown-ups. It's your turn. Really. Your country needs you. Your community needs you. Your family needs you. Your grandparents need someone to rake the leaves. Get out of the house. Get involved. Call me up if you want some ideas, 410-332-6166.

dan.rodricks@baltsun.com

Hear Dan Rodricks Tuesday and Thursday from 11:30 a.m. to 2 p.m. on WBAL Radio (1090 AM) and read his blog at baltimoresun.com/rodricks.

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