Smile Politely

Art, Punk, Game

July 4th, 12:30 a.m., after watching his mom blow off about 4 bags of 2-4-year-old fireworks, my 4-year-old child, the Ex-Toddler, is sitting in the dining room making art (“for my teacher”) and listening to Sonic Youth “Sister” album on his record player.

An ex-self-loathing generation X-er laments: our children will rebel not by becoming Republicans or hippies, Hare Krishnas or gay; these would be badges of honor for us, bragging rights. No, our children will rebel against us by co-opting all that we love, all our anti-societal memes, detournments, rages against the machines, which they’ll absorb in healthy contemplative ways, suffering no cynicism or alienation. No highschool shootings, no self-absorbed depression. They’ll study the lyrics like anthropologists. They’ll enjoy the songs like popmusik.

“CHILD! It’s 12:30 a.m., time to go to bed.” I finally said.

“Am I up past my bedtime?” he asked gleefully.

I smiled politely.

The Husband and I had a terrible time finding music for our wedding song. This was back in the year seven, B. 9/11.

All our favorite songs were either about wars, shooting, killing, feeling lonely, leaving someone, hating oneself, having a Plate in One’s Head from Vietnam, being a drunk, doing The Bad Drugs, or some combination of all of these. All the albums (yes, I mean 12” vinyl) survived Y2K and 9/11 and are in our IKEA Expedit.

Bi-monthly, the Ex-Toddler randomly chooses a piece of our past, plops it onto his little record player and listens intently, reporting any swear words he notices, for at least two weeks.The cycle starts again and as all you parents know, the more upset you seem at what was chosen, the more the Ex-Toddler finds his passionate love for The Punk Music.

Man did he love “Kerosene” by Big Black. So did I. But I hid it after one play. I can explain the Spanish Civil War songs, the strange Big Dipper songs, the Naked Raygun songs, and he’s not yet asked what a Catholic Block is, but I would not be able to explain what “Set me on FIRE! Kerosene!” means to my 4-year old, and why I sing along with it when it plays, under my breath of course.

In the interest of doing my job, I have begun to study games. I decided to teach a class on games in the fall. Not computer games, and not sports. A new field called “Alternate Reality Games,” — games that you play in everyday life. Kind of like the movie “The Game.” Games that blur the line between reality and play.

Pac-Manhattan was a live-action pac-man game played on the streets of Manhattan, using cell-phone technology to keep track of the game status. The Beast) was world-wide narrative puzzle game with interactive characters, a promotion for the crappy movie A.I. World Without Oil, in the year 6 A.9/11 (last year) a game that won a SXSW award (I remember when that was just a music conference! Gosh I’m old!) was a game that asked its players to live their lives like oil prices were sky-high, as if they were living at the beginning of a global oil crisis.

Designers for these types of games theorize that they help people prepare for future situations, the way that playing Dungeons and Dragons helped prepare me for leaving home and going off to college (yes, it did.) Some game designers, like Jane McGonigal, contend that banding together to solve games like this will enable internet users around the world, a collective intelligence, to begin solving real-life problems, not just fake game oil crises, but perhaps real ones, if they ever happen. I think I’m going to like teaching this type of art. Maybe it actually can help save the world.

We’ve come a long way from punk rock. Maybe, like The Ex-Toddler, we are past it too. Maybe we’re entering a new age of understanding. Mental health. Simplicity. Spaciousness. Play!

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