Bob Dunn | Game On: Why this cynic cried during a Microsoft commercial
So, let's add Microsoft to the ever-growing list of companies that have actually caused me to shed a tear or two over the years with one of its new advertisements.
That list is far from exclusive and has only expanded since I turned 40, almost a decade ago. Maybe it's a natural byproduct of getting older or, maybe after a while, repressing all of one's emotions until they coalesce into tiny balls of sadness and regret, causes bits to burst out unexpectedly; like when an old-fashioned radiator releases a small amount of steam, rather than explode in a spectacularly petulant display. In front of its family. At Christmas. In an incident for which its still apologizing.
But, Microsoft's new ad, promoting its adaptive video-game controller hit home for me, likely because it touches upon all those nostalgic New England childhood holiday tropes of snow days, outdoor play, neighborhood camaraderie and, even more importantly, inclusivity.
The ad features a group of kids doing the kinds of things most people probably take for granted; running, playing sports, learning how to play an instrument, building snow forts and the like.
The big reveal comes when the kids rush into the room of Owen, a 9-year-old boy with Escobar Syndrome, a rare genetic disease that greatly restricts one's mobility, who is using the programmable controller to do something else most of us probably take for granted; the simple joy of playing with our friends. It closes with a simple message: "When everybody plays, we all win."
It's easy to be cynical (trust me) and just brush off the notion of the $99 controller as an attempt by a global corporate juggernaut to milk a few more bucks out of folks, and, maybe, people who think that would be right, but they'd be missing the point.
If we, as gamers, are being honest with ourselves, we have to acknowledge this hobby of ours is already one of the more inherently exclusionary out there.
It's not an inexpensive pursuit; hardware is typically $200 to $300 and new software is about $60. Throw in the type of annual subscriptions Sony and Microsoft require for online play, the cost of high-speed Internet (presuming you even live in an area that can access it), and the ongoing costs of season passes or other, extra, content for games one already owns, and you're already looking at a significant barrier to entry.
Presuming all of that can be overcome, there's the last, and perhaps the biggest obstacle is the controller itself, which, traditionally, has been designed for people with dexterous use of both hands.
Because this hobby of ours is already locked behind so many doors, any attempt to push them open a little wider should be embraced. In doing so, perhaps, it will put the opportunity for something as seemingly simple as the joy of social play within reach of those who otherwise wouldn't be able to enjoy it.
Gaming is community-based. Gaming is social, and for a lot of people, not just kids like Owen, it's their best option.
I always have and will continue to argue that gaming, at its best, is as valuable a philosophical pursuit as playing a sport, for example, in the sense of instilling notions of teamwork, fun, fair play, embracing the joy of shared successes and learning how to support one another through inevitable setbacks.
It creates a shared language and set of experiences. When two people are talking about the first time they played Resident Evil and the conversation inevitably turns to, "The dogs!" or when someone says, "The cake is a lie," or, "All your base are (sic) belong to us," you know you're among family, and that you're a little less alone in the world.
With that in mind, any attempt to include more people in gaming, not just the fortunate with some disposable income, should be celebrated. It's an always-evolving art form that builds upon the experiences and input from its audience and, the broader and more diverse that audience is, the more enriching that art becomes.
Among my hopes is that the technology here improves enough to become more efficient and hopefully drive down the cost, rather than add another financial burden to those who are likely among those least able to incur that additional expense.
I choose to look at Microsoft's efforts here as pure and hope this kind of high-profile exposure of its hardware leads others to explore how this wonderfully maddening pursuit of ours can be shared even more widely in an attempt to bring just a little bit more joy to someone's life.
Bob Dunn is The Eagle's courts reporter. When he's not hanging around the courthouse, he can usually be found playing "Destiny 2." You can reach Bob via email at firstname.lastname@example.org and at @BobDunn413 on Twitter.
TALK TO US
If you'd like to leave a comment (or a tip or a question) about this story with the editors, please email us. We also welcome letters to the editor for publication; you can do that by filling out our letters form and submitting it to the newsroom.