PLASTIC FANTASTIC 


There are some hobbies that just invite clutter, the same way Britney Spears invites ridicule – and, in her case, unsolicited advice from every wannabe celebrity shrink in Hollywood. Think about all those scrapbookers, with their endless mountains of patterned paper, punchers and stamps. Or the ones who collect `insert object here`, with cans of Foster’s Lager from 1968 or first-edition Harry Potter sorting hats camped on every shelf and coffee table.

Gamers were supposed to be better than this. Somehow, we’ve always aspired to the sleek, tech-savvy vibe of the video and stereophile, with shiny equipment complementing neat DVD cases in neat rows – a feng-shui library of digital gaming goodness.

And then fourth quarter 2007 hit, and it’s all gone straight to hell.

Public enemy No. 1 is Rock Band, the sublime music game from Harmonix. As a gaming experience, count me in with the guys over at Gamers With Jobs, who succinctly called it “a box of awesome.” Seriously, Rock Band’s seamless, four-person musical experience flat-out kicks ass. It has – in the time it took me to rap out a single drum solo in Nine Inch Nails’ “The Hand that Feeds,” made Guitar Hero completely superfluous – just like the iPod did to the Walkman, or the Magic have done to all those preseason haters.

But here’s the thing: Nobody mentions that the game’s hefty $170 price tag carries an additional, hidden cost – your living room space. The plastic drum kit looks and functions like a real one, right down to the way it crouches like an NFL linebacker in front of your couch, daring you to dodge past it without denting your hip. Creating your four-person band and taking on a raucous virtual world tour requires two – two! – wired plastic guitars, bringing my total arsenal of toy gaming guitars to a whopping four. Hey, one more and I can head out to the local Mexican restaurant with my posse to perform fake tableside serenades.

Yes, I recognize that if I were an actual musician instead of a pale, plastic-clutching imitation, the clutter would be even worse, since I’d have things like amplifiers and speakers to deal with as well. (Although I think we can all agree there are times when the Xbox 360’s fan approaches amplifier-like levels.) Somehow, that argument strikes a sour note with my spouse, who just stubbed her toe for the sixth time on the drum set.

Meanwhile, over in the land of Nintendo, there’s the Wii Zapper, the latest plastic peripheral that purports to turn your Wii remote into a light gun, all the better to blast zombies in Resident Evil: Umbrella Chronicles. The concept’s sorta cool, in a ye olde crossbow kind of way … but it’s also essentially superfluous, since all it does is make it possible to manage the Wiimote and nunchuk a little more gracefully. Well, almost. If you pick up a copy of Time Crisis 4 for the PS3, you can complement the Zapper with an actual light gun controller. Draw them both together and scowl just so, and you might even look like John McClane in Live Free or Die Hard. Yippie-ki-yay, Dorkasaurus.

As all this extra gaming plastic eats up even more of my closet and floor space, like the also-rans on Biggest Loser at a Burger King buffet, I can’t help feeling like we’ve taken a step backward. Wireless game controllers were finally transporting us beyond those dark days of the mid-2000s, when the power and controller cords from our Dreamcasts, PlayStations and Saturns turned every game room into a snake pit of collected dust and tangled wiring. Now, suddenly, my gaming space looks an awful lot like a child’s play room, with color-coded controllers, drumsticks and guitars standing in for scads of Legos, Polly Pockets and Hannah Montana headsets.

It’s like post-Christmas morning every day of the week – and not in a good way.

arts@orlandoweekly.com

More by Aaron R. Conklin

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