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Just make us look cool

That’s the line blurted out by lead guitarist Russell Hammond (Billy Crudup) in Cameron Crowe’s retro rockumentary, Almost Famous.

It’s a plea that cuts straight to the heart of the film, capturing the hopes and desires of boys everywhere as they make the transition into awkward adulthood.

For gamers and film-goers it holds resonance even after that transition is complete. The subject matter of many games, especially those with an 18 rating, is clearly designed to draw us back to our childhoods – but with an edge that makes it more acceptable, more adult to do so. So how do we explain the seemingly endless stream of “childish” games for sale that contribute, in general, to the view of gamers as childish and socially awkward?

It all revolves around archetypes of course and is linked to the idea that as creative people we draw our inspiration from what inspired us when we were young and most impressionable. It’s sort of a snake eating its own tail scenario and explains why we get rehash after rehash of watered down science fiction “ideas” like Babylon 5 – poor Star Trek retread if ever there was one.

Take one game, Red Dead Redemption, something currently being played by most of the people here at Head First. It plays directly into the hands of everyone who ever wanted to roam the Wild West. More than just making the lead character a cowboy, however, it lets you role play fully, bringing your own personality to the part just as a child would. I have a family relation who refuses to do anything bad and spends all of his time helping people. I know of someone else who takes every opportunity to drag strangers behind his horse.

It’s easy to build up a psychological profile of individuals as children.

It isn’t just games, however, it’s every form of media. The most mainstream (measured by commercial popularity) success stories are the ones which appeal most to children. Take Harry Potter or the Twilight series as an example. If, like me, you spend half your waking day sat on a train observing the commuting class spend half of their days glued into a book or watching a film on a two inch screen then you can’t help but notice the subject matter. It’s rarely Shakespeare.

Archetypes explain a little of what’s going on. We all (in Western culture at least) buy into the hero, the trickster etc. Yet to take GTAIV as an example we find that archetype only gets you so far. Listening to the buzz in the office surrounding games such as Red Dead, Mass Effect, GTAIV, Batman Arkham Asylum and Just Cause reveals audibly greater championing for the titles that are more linked to childhood than others. So as great as GTAIV undoubtedly is, it is a lot harder to associate (and relate) to an Eatern European gangster than it is to a cowboy or spaceman. Few children, one would hope, would yearn to become a gangster when they grow up.

To many of us, the notion of “cool” IS what we wanted to accomplish as a child. The hopes we had back then of emulating our grown-up heroes who, it has to be said, were probably caught in pursuit of their own childhood dreams.

Perhaps it is the remembrance of an unihibited childhood that draws us back to certain entertainment types but it is revealing that, back in Almost Famous, it is the adult rockstar pleading with the teenage reporter to make him look cool.