Don't Hate the Player

“If there's anything Sid Meier taught us, it's that yes, a hundred pirates can beat a hundred ninjas.”

I took my seat a little late at the ceremony honoring 2006's Walk of Game inductees and was treated to this dubious factoid by host Adam Sessler. Those of you who've never looked down while walking through the Metreon are likely unaware of the Walk of Game, as I blissfully was before embarking on this retarded assignment. Like Union Street compared with Rodeo Drive, the Walk of Game is the low-budget San Franciscan answer to something larger and crasser already extant in Los Angeles: Hollywood's Walk of Fame. Our Walk honors the stars of the videogame industry, because we are a nerdy city full of nerds.

But L.A. makes its celebrities purchase their pointless sidewalk honors; at least in opinionated and democracy-lovin' S.F. you have to be voted underfoot. More than 500,000 fans cast their Walk of Game ballots this year, and the winners were two people I'd never heard of (Sid Meier, John Carmack), three games I've never played (Final Fantasy, EverQuest, StarCraft), and one person who does not exist (Lara Croft).

Yes, videogames are technical marvels, they sometimes promote complex reasoning, they can unite lonely individuals into meaningful worldwide communities, and blah, blah, geekity blah. They're also exquisitely dorky, rife with senseless violence, and sometimes they induce boys I like to circle the wagons and bro out instead of paying attention to me. We're all entitled to our little distractions, but if I were forced to attend a stupid publicity event for mine, at least I would be gleaning important knowledge about fall's daring hemlines and the return of the chunky heel. Instead, I was struggling to see the podium around the enormous blue plush head of 2005 WOG inductee Sonic the Hedgehog, who was seated in front of me as Meier accepted his award.

Meier is the creator of a seminal videogame called Pirates, and if MC Sessler is to be believed, in Pirates pirates fought ninjas, and this was all quite earth-shattering to the videogame community at the time. (I will admit the idea of pirates fighting ninjas is intriguing.) Meier was ushered onstage by several barely legal young ladies, whose smiles were as saccharine and vacant as a NutraSweet factory during a union strike.

Worse than these go-go-booted young women were those who appeared to help EverQuest producer Chris Lena collect his award: scantily dressed girls posing as characters from the game. As Lena spoke intelligently about the rise of online multiplayer role-playing games, the sense of community in these online worlds, and the real-world friendships that can result, he was flanked by lip gloss, tiaras, golden bikini tops, and lots of tawny skin. The girls didn't say or do anything; they just stood there, mutely evoking outer space barbarian warrior princess whores.

Then “Lara Croft” appeared to collect her award for favorite game/character. Between JT LeRoy and the Swift Boat Veterans for Truth, I am so over entities. Call me old-fashioned, but I like it when real people do real things that they really mean. “Lara,” played by model-slash-actress Karima Adebibe, was clearly the star girly of the evening, as evidenced by her license to speak out loud. After the ceremony, she (“Lara,” not Karima) was even giving interviews.

Although I felt a professional obligation to speak with “Lara,” I could not bring myself to do it. I have this rule about conversing with registered trademarks. Also, I didn't want to know what I might find in the head of a grown woman who'd spend a Thursday evening acting the role of a damned arcade character for the benefit of a roomful of salivating dudes.

Onstage accepting her award, the posh-accented “Lara” — or was it Karima? — had proclaimed herself “the real embodiment of the living Lara.” This startlingly idiotic utterance made me think of my earlier conversation with Nolan Bushnell, who earned his Lifetime Achiever WOG star by creating Pong and founding both Atari and Chuck E. Cheese's. When our talk turned to the worrisome popularity of gory first-person-shooter games (of which the urbane Bushnell does not approve), he told me, “You shouldn't get points for doing socially reprehensible things.”

Indeed. Pong one, “Lara” zero.

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