Jungle Music

I have a distant memory of a scene from The Buddy Holly Story in which (as I recall) his father is berating Buddy for wasting his time playing “that… that… that Jungle music.” I probably remember the line because of my realization that “Jungle” was a euphemism for a word we still don’t use, but the message to the audience was clear: Dad was out of touch with a music genre that would soon revolutionize popular art and define a generation.


The Rock and Roll of the 2010’s?

The movie scene reappeared in my consciousness this week as I contemplated a smattering of dismissive judgements about “video games.” The tenor of the comments was similar to idiocy about “screen time” that I’ve already railed about. The rhetorical device is to lump a universe of experiences under a single rubric — preferably one that already has at least some negative connotation — then attack the whole by pointing out the shortcomings of its weaker parts. The attacks are the more insidious in that they are often motivated by ignorance as much as malice.

I recently received correspondence from a colleague who was making a professional recommendation that a patient be treated by “minimizing time playing video games.” She has even implied that video gaming leads to drug use and indiscriminate sex. Sound familiar?

This doctor, as it turns out, doesn’t know squat about modern creative video games. When I spoke with her about it, she hadn’t even heard the terms “sandbox game” or “open world.” She had never heard the name of one of the best-selling open world indie games of all time. She didn’t seem to know that people create beautiful, enduring works of art on the canvas of virtual worlds.

I suppose her knowledge of video games doesn’t extend much beyond Mario Brothers and Angry Birds. That’s okay — a child psychologist doesn’t have to be familiar with video games. She does, however, have an obligation to make treatment recommendations from a place of professional knowledge, not a knee-jerk reaction based on stereotypes and anecdotes.

What’s in a Game?

I am not a video gamer. Yes, I put myself through college designing video game platforms, but I readily admit that the games I was associated with probably haven’t altered the cultural landscape. I’m more the guy who designed Buddy Holly’s guitar amps than those who helped write, produce, and perform the music which would become iconic. I’ve never even liked playing games. I used to remark how miserable I was doing a job that a lot of kids would have killed for: getting paid big bucks to test games all day.

Things are different now. Even the mainstream vids have rich, stimulating environments, extraordinary graphics, puzzle challenges, opportunities for physical exercise, and full-orchestra soundtracks. They still don’t interest me.

Then came Minecraft, an open world computer game that mixes a deceptive simplicity with an astonishing creative scope. A repository of several millionYouTube videos attests to the wide range of experiences available to players. Minecraft is featured in the Smithsonian Institutions’ exhibit, “The Art of Video Games” and appears in a gorgeous interactive exploration of the scale of the universe on a NASA web site. (Hint: look near Neptune.)

Teachers have even begun using Minecraft as a teaching tool.

My sons started playing Minecraft last year. Since I directly observe and micromanage their computer use, I was exposed… and captivated. Like the curmudgeonly father who finally listens to “that noise they call music,” I became a fan. Like fans of any artistic genre, I become defensive when the art is criticized from a place of ignorance.

Where might our cultural world be today if the Holly family had listened to a doctor saying young Buddy would get sick if they didn’t “minimize that Jungle music”?

Ron Risley – 2012-04-07

  • Uproar in the Rain — yes, you can ride the coaster:

(The Minecraft world starts out as a pristine landscape of grass, trees, rocks, and water. The Uproar roller coaster is part of Risleyland, an amusement park that is, itself, a small part of a vast town created entirely by Matthew and his friends and family on our Minecraft server.

Topic revision: r3 – 2012-05-20 Ron Risley