what is a reverse improvement

Invisible Walls


I just finished reading a great Ralph Baer interview, and somewhere between him referring to his pioneering work as "a piece of Jewish chutzpah" and him calling Nolan Bushnell "his highness Nolan Bushnell" I was left with the distinct impression of what a real gamer is.

Not the word, not interested in that discussion, I'm talking about the person.

People who play games live a contradictory life. With controller in hand they can inhabit an endless number of worlds, but every last one of them is a world of invisible walls. The walls may be disguised as life, but they're routinely betrayed by any number of cues and objectives whose message is clear: these walls aren't meant to be broken. What's more, you like it better when they don't.

Put that controller down and things change. The real world isn't without walls, even invisible ones, but to people who play games they seem to be more invisible than ever. You shouldn't dye your hair. Tattoos ruin your job prospects. Meeting people on the internet is unseemly. Shave, you homeless weirdo, SHAVE!

Ralph Baer probably shaved every day, and I have a hard time believing he ever dyed his hair blue or got a tattoo, but the dude secretly made games at work as head of an entire division of a government military contractor. He illegally took classified equipment (and people!) back to his house to work on them in his own lab and said, while chuckling, "what people didn't know didn't hurt 'em!" I only wish I was half the gamer Ralph Baer was, and he hadn't played video games for over 30 years when he died.

Maybe they're a lifeline to the irrepressibility of youth, maybe they're a master class in systemic prioritization, but games don't exist without their walls, invisible or not, and this somehow speaks to a large number of people that do.

Worlds of rules for the unruly.