Why do I game? The answer is basic. It’s because of my circumstances. I’m a human being. Therefore, I play.
I’m typing this right now, and in a different “right now,” you’re reading it from a screen. We’re engaged in communication because we’re both aware of the same “web site”—the digital, for you and I, is everyday. If we’re all living in a digital world, then my games will be digital games.
So, video games. I play them because of course I do. I get tired of the pretense otherwise.
Games, video games, computer games, tabletop games—let’s-pretend that they’re things in our vicinities. They’re a facet of our communicative drive, as humans; we use them to create messages and inform narratives, overtly or obliquely. That’s what makes Lana Del Rey my favourite cultural voice on VG. Lana punches though the paper. Lana doesn’t fear the identity politics of “gamer” or “games.”
When Lana sings about video games in “Video Games,” she doesn’t create lyrics with specificity. The fact is that it was World of Warcraft, she’s uninterestingly/uninterestedly “revealed” that in filmed interviews since, but she doesn’t say it in the song. She doesn’t say it because she doesn’t need to; here are some other things she doesn’t say.
Swinging in the backyard
Pull up in your fast car
It’s an Audi and it’s not that fast
But I want you to feel masculine, Joe
He holds me in his big arms
They’re in proportion with his big torso
He’s got brown hair on his big wide arms
Watching all our friends fall
In and out of Old Paul’s
That’s a bar quite near our house
Playing video games
It’s war, it’s war, World of Warcraft
level fifty two
I know that you play a Pandaren
Shaman is the class of your Pandaren
I’m so goddamn bored of this Pandaren
I heard that you like to have sex, sometimes
do you wanna right now
I love you, pay attention to me
“It isn’t really a song about video games, of course.” —Christopher Williams
It is, Chris.
She doesn’t specify about which game and what stats and put the details in a spreadsheet, because specificity only matters in life and in data. Sure, individually, personally-privately, it matters what the guy was playing and what he felt about his character and what sort of raid he liked to go on and such. It matters because we each experience the details of our own lives, and they belong to us. That’s why we self-define and have private conversations—for the chance at detailed agency, an experience patchwork right down to the DNA. But specificity doesn’t matter in art, when you make art about life. When you’re making art about life, impressionism counts. Visions remain. Broad, dreamy truths, Vaseline on the lens, the hormonal fizz of squinting at a heroic stranger though the mist. World of Warcraft doesn’t register in impressionism. “Video games” do. That’s a statement in itself. The opposite of this kind of grousing:
Snake falls into that strange category of games you don’t really think of as game, titles you barely notice you’re playing, and that hardly force you to really concentrate on what you’re doing in the first place […] Minesweeper is the video game that adults who have day jobs and responsibilities and families and mortgages and who really don’t care for video games in the first place are like to find horribly addictive.
—Christian Donlan, 1001 Video Games to Play Before You Die
Lana’s lover pays attention to video games in a way that impacts and affects her; it’s not precisely how he juggles prioritising her and them, but that he does. Playing video games when she’s dressed up nice is telling her she’s not the number one concern; inviting her to play video games is informing her she’s on his radar, nevertheless, special enough to be involved in his interests. Lifestyle. Video games. This guy has gamified their romance as is natural to his kind. Video games are unentanglable from their shared life, their lives, or their relationship.
You ever try to argue with a lover who’s sure they can pay you full attention while they’re gaming? People think games are such a basic human right that they’re not even part of external reality. We identify so deeply with the act of gaming that we think it’s base-level existence.
Just like with any task that’s temporarily more important than makin’ time, the gist that Lana gives is of a woman integrating herself into the free time—time automatically given to video games—of a man she’s into, in order that they become compatible. She starts from the basic acknowledgement of video games as real life. They’re there, and so, they’re played. Video games are used conceptually in this song instead of, say, working on cars, or painting, or whittling, because there’s no reason that they wouldn’t be; they’re ubiquitous entertainment. (And they, in the video sense, implicitly weren’t in the fakey retro bygone days Del Rey likes to evoke and habitually does great, expressive, clever things with. For contrast, see the pinball machine scenes in her “Ride” video—an outmoded, redundant format that’s yet to die off.)
Video games are just there. They’re not leaving. There’s literally no point pretending that they’re anything but “natural,” for humans in a digital era. Us. Lana Del Rey’s listening audience. Lana Del Rey doesn’t front about the basics, because there’s no need to, and that’s why she’s better than your gaming journo faves. One straight razor acrylic nail slash across the disingenuous narrative around “real gamers” and “real video games.” Shrug, step through, get on with impressionist romantic death knell, a.k.a. life. Unclench and live, gamers. We’re all just being normal.
Thanks for your article about the LDR’s “Video Games” posing the possibility that the speaker plays games as well. The first few months I listened to the song and sang along to it I assumed when she sang, “play your video game,” it is him telling her to go play her game. I always heard the lyrics as her and him playing video games, I guess because I play video games and always have (I am 55 and had an Atari with Frogger and Tetris back in like 1980). So the first time I heard someone say, “Oh no, she is telling him to go play his game. Not her!” I was so dismayed. The gender bifurcation in terms of toys and clothing has gotten sooo bad I couldn’t help but wonder if it had seeped into the reality production mechanism of this chick. So your article helped allay my concerns, “Nah… that chick was wrong!”