Sometime in the last 12 months, the Internet became the section outside of a college campus's dining hall full of sweaty people desperately trying to get you to sign a petition to save or arrest or eat the children.
Do you agree with the Occupy Wall Street movement? There's a petition for you to sign. What about the act put forward in Congress that would result in censoring the Internet? There's a petition for that, too. Whitehouse.gov has a petition to ban Skyrim. When it was announced that Nickelback was going to be playing the halftime show for the Lions/Packers Thanksgiving game, a petition was created demanding their replacement. Want to legalize weed? There are literally thousands of online petitions. What's that? NBC's decided to shelve Community?! Balderdash, sign a petition! The White House is now asking for petitions from everyone, about everything, so of course there's a petition petitioning that the government take petitions seriously.
What are we doing? (Other than, of course, cheapening the strength of a successful petition by proving that we will petition just absolutely every freaking thing.) I don't know what it is about 2011, but suddenly everyone decided that petitions were the only way to get your point across, and that everything warranted a petition. Seriously, when was the last time anyone has given any amount of shits over who plays the halftime show of a Detroit Lions game? I'd wager that the majority of the Internet couldn't tell you from memory who played the last five Thanksgiving halftime shows, but suddenly it was important for those same people all over the country to stop that goddamn Nickelback from playing this year!
We're no longer fighting for causes that we're passionate about, we're just saying "A thing happened? Let me round up thousands of people to support or condemn it!"
My status as a lapsed gamer/non-gamer has been documented on this site before, so I admit that I'm not the best candidate to talk about video games. The only gaming system I have is a Wii, and I only use it to play New Super Mario Bros. Wii because it reminds me of a time when I understood gaming. Things were simpler then.
That said, my friends are much better at keeping up with the world than I am, and my buddy bought the new Batman: Arkham City game and was kind enough to let me come over and watch him play it. I had one reaction: We're not making video games anymore.
The critically and commercially successful Arkham City is not a video game; it's a series of badass Batman-related scenes that require a limited amount of effort on the part of the guy holding the controller. The game is cinematically beautiful and has a fine story, but I wouldn't describe what you do with the game as "playing." You're pressing the buttons that move the game's plot along. The entire game is like the fatalities in Mortal Kombat: You type in a series of buttons and then the character on your screen does a complex move that you could never come up with.
In Mario, you press "jump" to jump on a guy, and when you jump on the guy he gets smashed. In Arkham City, you'll press a single button and instead of, say, jumping, you'll do a totally badass uppercut and leg sweep combination in slow motion! Every single button is "Batman does a cool Batman thing and you sit back and watch." They don't want you to play the game and fight bad guys, they want you to watch their video game movie and occasionally press buttons that make Batman do really cool, well-choreographed moves. That game is based around the idea that people don't want to play as Batman, they want to watch him elegantly mow down a bunch of thugs, over and over again.
And that's what the game delivers. I mean, just watch a few minutes of game play. The instructions aren't "Press 'X' to jump [or] punch," they're "Press 'A' to CRACK SAFE [or] JUMP OFF THIS BUILDING AND FLY AROUND." You press a button and suddenly you're jumping on someone's back, wrapping your legs around his neck and flipping him into a wall. That's what "B" does!
This is the future of gaming. We're not making games anymore. We're making interactive movies.
You already know the main, horrible stuff about Charlie Sheen. Dates loads of prostitutes, chases women around with knives, does lots of drugs and drinks too much, brother of Emilio Estevez, etc. He dominated headlines more than any single person this year, and this was the year America's first black president had America's Captain Bad Guy executed. Charlie Sheen's name was still the most thrown-around name of the year. For the first time in ... ever, millions of Americans were caught saying, "But what's going to happen to Two and a Half Men?
But I don't want to just talk about how he crushed headlines all year. It's easy to crush headlines when you're rich, white and crazy, that's not interesting to me. What's interesting is that, whether anyone admitted it or not, America was quietly prepared to watch Charlie Sheen die, right in front of their faces.
Like all of you, I enjoyed watching his meltdown because, like all of you, I get bored sometimes. It was fun to watch a guy flip out and lose his shit. It was fun to watch him publicly insult his boss. It was fun to watch him test the limits of madness in interviews. But then I watched this vlog that he made, and I suddenly became nervous and concerned and thought, "Oh shit, he might shoot himself in the head in his next vlog." That is clearly the video of a desperate and disturbed man who needs lots of help. He's chain-smoking, fidgety and gaunt, and he's spewing nonsense. That was the first time I thought, "Oh my God, he's going to kill himself." That's what America was watching toward the end of the Charlie Sheen saga.
He'd already torpedoed his career and, as someone who pathologically craves constant attention, the only thing he could logically do next was die right in front of us. And we all ... kind of let him. No one could watch his videos or see his interviews and not think, "This guy needs help," but still no one did anything. We saw the guy with two cigarettes hanging out of his mouth and a gun to his head and we said, "Well, let's see where he's going with this ..." Toward the end of his crazy reign, it really felt like we were testing the limits of celebrity culture. We watch and judge celebrities and scrutinize their every move because they're not real people to us anymore, and Charlie Sheen's almost-tragic meltdown was the extreme version of that. We were watching a crazy person actively lose his mind as entertainment.
He didn't die, which is good. But that doesn't change the fact that we still watched, all of us morbidly knowing that he could, at any minute, die, and that it would be spectacular and crazy and that we did not want to miss it.