Video Games in Culture


Simpsons Fallout

The first time I saw it, I thought it must have been a mistake.  A “Fallout” reference on “The Simpsons”?  Couldn’t be!

After Springfield is destroyed in a nuclear explosion, the wreckage of the town is show in a long, slow zoom with the Ink Spot’s “I Don’t Want to Set the World on Fire” playing.  If that was just circumstantial and not a clear reference, it was one heck of a coincidence.

Of course, that was the first of many calls to gaming culture on “The Simpsons.”  At least the first one that I immediately recognized.  Now, with a writing staff that grew up on a diet of interactive media, these nods have become commonplace set pieces.  Smithers is dealing with the high security of Burns’s bank vault?  Why not add a sentry bot that has to be taken out with a Portal gun to the mix?  I think that was my favorite.

Naturally, video games have been on the show before.  There’s the whole Punch Out! story line from season one of course, but that wasn’t quite the same thing as a subtle joke that only a gamer would even recognize.  No, this changes the whole conversation.

You see, for years video games have been leaking into mainstream culture.  And I mean YEARS.  It’s been decades since Pac-Man fever swept up the nation, and the statistics for NES market saturation are staggering.  But up until recently, there could be an argument made that gaming culture was merely a subculture.  Now our culture as a whole has become heavily influenced.

Obviously, we can point to the likes of “The Big Bang Theory” to prove this point, but I’d rather not.  Truthfully, the hit show has kind of pointed at the fanaticism of its characters from the outside, kind of marginalizing the interests while exploiting those who enjoy these things to create an audience.  It’s kind of a guilty pleasure for us gamers to laugh at how oddly obsessed Penny became when she got into massively multi-player gaming or how silly they all look playing the Wii.  It’s not a full embracing of the positive aspects of gaming, because it’s a sitcom and because hey, isn’t it funny how seriously these nerds take their silly video games when they should be focusing on quantum physics or something instead?

I would rather focus on the much more subconscious leak into the mainstream.  “The Goldbergs” theme song transports you right back to nineteen eighty something, because it sounds like a retro video game.*

It goes deeper than that.  The influence gaming has had is much more than about simple nostalgia.  Gaming has grown to a point where complex, nuanced performances, and since the whole experience is designed to put you into the protagonist’s shoes, the presentation can translate into truly moving experiences.  It’s something unique to gaming, and it’s changing the way other mediums present their stories.  Watch “Children of Men” (2006), and you will feel like you are a part of the story.  A major reason why that’s so is that it was shot like a third person shooter.**

Let’s go back to “Fallout” to wrap this all up.  The franchise, of course, demonstrates how gaming can utilize other points in culture to create a deeper experience.  One way it has done this is with the soundtrack, which has retro songs with layered implications to the nostalgia fueled wasteland of broken American dreams.  Admittedly, the game didn’t create the songs, but they did cultivate a robust track list of songs that haven’t exactly been in the mainstream for a long time.  One would not expect to hear these standards playing intermingled with pop tunes in a department store, but since the game’s much hyped release, that’s exactly what’s been happening.  Gaming has grown to a point where it is expanding the tastes of the public to include things they think are cool.

What gaming references have you noticed?  How do you think the industry is changing our culture?  Leave a comment and let me know!


Children of Men.jpg
Children of Men


Grand Theft Auto V

* This is because it utilizes chiptune music, which is a way in which a musician utilizes an old school console to create music that has a retro “8-bit” feel to it.

** This technique had been done, in fact, three years earlier with Gus Van Sant’s “Elephant,” but since that was done as commentary regarding the Columbine shooters’ gaming hobby, I would categorize this more in line with pointing inward rather than outwardly.


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