it’s that time of year. advertising is heavy with black friday offers, sparkling lights are showing up everywhere, and santa visits are being planned. folks have begun perfecting their latke recipes and spicy winter drinks are featured on menu boards at every corner. given this deluge of anticipatory holiday behavior, it’s not surprising that video game console makers are rolling out their new models. the consumer electronics association released their 20th annual ce purchase patterns study last week, suggesting that 74% of holiday gift buyers will procure consumer electronics for gifting. between gaming consoles, ipads, smart phones, and toys with electronic features, it’s beginning to look a lot like a plugged in, charged up holiday season.
last week, sony released the play station 4 and this week microsoft will release xbox one. the features in these consoles and the games they accommodate represent advances both terrific and terrifying. the units are smaller, lighter, and more powerful than ever, will set you back $400 and $500 respectively, and are highly versatile in their entertainment offerings. according to larry frum of cnn, the computing advances in these models offer game developers the ability to give a “film-like quality to the action in...games, creating a deeper feeling of immersion in the narrative.” of the play station 4, alex roth of techradar.com says, “housing some of the most powerful hardware ever to sit before a television, sony's new console is two sleek slabs of industrial design fused together for one purpose: living room dominance.” perfect.
just what we need. living rooms dominated by even more compelling technological offerings presenting characters and experiences that look and feel as real as those we encounter in our embodied lives.
these reporters’ comments cause me to pause. they lead me to me wonder what narrative people might choose to offer up in their living rooms if they were to make such choices intentional. would we choose to have our living spaces dominated by the sound of war, the look of facebook, or the sites and soundtrack of grand theft auto?
a few years back my kids and i were waiting in a check out line when a high school student excitedly presented his mother with the newly released video game that was certain to be the “highlight of christmas.” because of what i do, i knew that this game was particularly gory and graphic in content. “this will be awesome mom!” the boy exclaimed. “we’ll be able to play this all day on christmas! it can be our goal to beat it before new years.” “awesome,” replied the mom. “it’ll be perfect since it’s supposed to rain.” all i could think about that day was a house, decorated for the holiday, warm and full of family, with the sound of guns and heart pumping music pouring into the earbuds of the kids playing this game for the week. as far as holiday soundtracks go, this is not one i would choose to have associated with my living room.
when i was growing up, many of my friends’ living rooms were places that were either avoided or disallowed. the “good furniture” lived there as did the pristine carpet and “precious moments” figurines in large glass-fronted curio cabinets. the living room was where grown ups hung out. where things felt formal and, well, grown up. i’m glad that things have changed. i think it’s wonderful that living rooms and family rooms have morphed into one. that living rooms are lived in. i’m also aware, however, that more and more of our living spaces have become dominated by visual and auditory noise. if televisions aren’t located in such spaces, laptops, ipads, and smart phones certainly are. tivo makes it possible to watch anything at any time and gaming systems bring unlimited entertainment options to life here-to-for only dreamed of. i wonder, in these spaces are we intentional about the options we offer for attentional domination or are we instead creating spaces where we gather but have our own individual experiences with our chosen device(s), typically focused on the screens (on our laps or on the wall) rather than on each other? we’re all allowed in the living room but we’re all having our own experiences there.
there’s nothing inherently evil about a technological gift. gaming systems offer family fun options. ipads and smart phones are here to stay and we need to know how to interact with them. if we, as a country and/or as a people, were gifted with self discipline...if we were moderate by nature...if we were capable of balancing our lives with things we want to do and things we know will grow us and mature us, there would be no blog post for me to write here. we’d play the entertaining game. we’d immerse ourselves for a time. and then we’d move on. we’d see who could get the high score and rib each other about it and then go out to throw the ball around. it wouldn’t matter if it was raining, mud would add to the fun. we’d move to the kitchen where we’d taste some foods with our full attention. we’d sit by the fire and stare into space, letting our minds wander about
as we look toward the gatherings that will occur in these coming weeks may we all become bold about the way we encounter each other. may our spaces be dominated by a diversity of offerings...screens at times, board games at others, quiet moments, and times of so much laughing that our stomaches hurt. may we encourage ourselves and each other to lay the devices down, to turn the screens off, and to risk the unknown of encounter and be dominated by it.