Friday, February 02, 2007

Video Games Live

Ive nvr seen so many ppl pictochatin!!! -- ‘nEfAr10uS’

Mr. nEfAr10uS’s excitement was shared by many, including myself. The air of the Jubilee Auditorium lobby before the Video Games Live! concert was thick with Nintendo DS WiFi signals, PictoChat impulses networking LOLz and WTFs at the speed of thought. Outside of gaming expos and (maybe) sci-fi conventions, where are you going to get this kind of DS dork density?

And, man, was the place dork-dense. Walking into the Jube was a weird combination of homecoming and alienation for me, sort of like I imagine visiting one’s old high school must feel – time was, this (or, an earlier version of this) was my tribe. I rolled with the D&D nerds, the Star Trek fans, the anime geeks; I hit the cons and talked shit in that inimitable braying dork-dialect. I copped furtive feels off costume-contest cleavage-cuties and quoted Monty Python -- but I never wore a cape, fedora or black duster. All that’s all past now – internet-enabled, the neo-nerds are light-years beyond me -- and I’m feeling kind of old… and sort of creepy for even opening my DS; suddenly, I saw myself on the other side of the “Gawd, that loser must be at least 30!” chuckles. Paranoid.

But, shit… this concert, an evening of symphonic arrangements of music from videogames performed by our own Edmonton Symphony Orchestra, is heavily old-school-centric; if a geezer like me – I had one of the first black-and-white PONG knockoff decks, goddamnit! – doesn’t belong here, nobody does. It’s the nerd event to beat all nerd events, and it gives the packed house of gamers a heartful of that most precious of commodities: legitimization. The game arts are culturally valid… would the ESO be doing this if it weren’t so? Video Games Live founder/huckster/host Tommy Tallarico enthuses something to that effect from the stage, and the crowd whoos in triumph.

Honestly, though, the most middlebrow of pops recitals is ultra-refined compared to the sideshow of VGL. From the “I can’t hear you!” pumping of Tallarico through the blazing laserbeam spotlights and big-screen game footage, from the live-scored audience-participation gaming contests through the Metal Gear Solid pantomime to the gimmicky stuntsmanship of the musical performance itself, the show is pure smoke-and-mirrors cheese. That’s not a bad thing -- from the constant applause and appreciation it’s clear everyone’s having a great time; how else could this show be presented to this audience? – but it’s not, you know, the symphony.

Part of the problem is that at lot of this music couldn’t stand up without the flashy show to support it. The “Classic Arcade Medley” that kicks off the evening (after the costume contest, I mean) is a seriously slack kludge – a very un-melded medley – of the catchy ditties that gave the first decade of coin-op their sonic background. Without the nostalgia-prod of the onscreen gameplay videos (“Whoa! I remember Rastan!”) the tunes would be emotionally inert tootling. As the evening moves on though games history and the selections move from symphonic arrangements of pieces originally compsed for monophonic electronic bleep-generators and into modern game scores, works written specifically for orchestral performance, the weakness persists – as the musical factor contributing to overall in-game emotional effect, many of these (Halo, some of the better Final Fantasy music) are masterpieces, but as stand-alone works they seem manipulative, flat, and nakedly derivative. Even the beloved Legend of Zelda theme is shown as empty “heroic” bombast.

But we ate it up. Did I shout “Yeeeah!” when the ESO dropped the off-the-shelf Russian riffs of Tetris on us? I did. Did the whole damn place erupt every time a selection from one of the umpteen Final Fantasy titles made its appearance? It did. Did we all “dum-dum-dum-de-dumdumdum” along with Super Mario Bros. to the point where we almost drowned out the orchestra? Shamefully, yes. We were having a good time, group-bonding over our tribal folk music, our faces bright in the glow of our DSes, invisible conversations crackling beneath the music:

“OMG HALO 3!!!!!”




“J/K Hitler sux 2”

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