Man, I wish more mainstream magazines wrote shit like this. Leave it to the New Yorker to offer a thoughtful and entertaining piece on modern games from a writer who, admittedly, has barely picked up a controller in his adult life. What's great about this article is that it offers a very honest perspective on gaming from an adult, intelligent male who can actually form sentences without typos and leetspeak. (Granted, the NYer has a legendary editorial staff.) This is a rare opportunity to read about games from the point-of-view of someone who does not eat/sleep/breathe games, or, quite possibly, does not even know what the acronyms FPS or FTW stand for.
Point is, if you are a gamer like me, and you immerse yourself in "enthusiast" publications and the blogosphere, you tend to forget that the majority of the audience probably only buys a handful of games a year, and they are usually the blockbusters like the ones discussed in this article: Halo ODST, Uncharted 2, Modern Warfare 2, Assassin's Creed 2, Bayonetta, Heavy Rain, Red Dead Redemption, God of War III. And, irony of ironies, I have not played ANY OF THOSE GAMES. And I only WISH TO PLAY about half of them. Which says a lot about how I choose to consume this medium and how the majority of players choose to consume it.
Anyway, it was a great read, and offers plenty of tidbits that many gamers take for granted. For example, the writer (Nicholson Baker) dwells on the death sequence of a character in Call of Duty...how the player-character begins to gasp as his health dwindles, then louder, with blood spots appearing on the screen...these are tropes that ardent players frequently take as a given. We forget how disturbing these small details seem to the uninitiated.
On a related note, I am listening to the audio edition of Tom Bissell's "Extra Lives" -- the NY Times review of which can be found here. One of the chapters, "The Grammar of Fun", sounded quite familiar to me, and then I realized I head read it previously in the New Yorker. Mr. Bissell is clearly more of a gamer than Mr. Baker, but nevertheless, "Extra Lives" also offers some excellent commentary from the layman about videogames. (Especially when Bissell goes to the DICE Summit and starts talking with developers.) Book get!
Now we just need a point-counterpoint piece from Calvin Trillin and Joyce Carol Oates about the existential themes of Bulletstorm.