When did frivolty go out of fashion?

When Syp shared a link to this excellent Extra Credits video today, I couldn’t help but think about how videogames indeed have changed since the 80ies when the whole business started off. And not just games actually but western pop-culture as a whole; I used to love the silly action flicks (like Lethal Weapon or Beverly Hills Cop) of the 80ies, I still do. Their kind or also the type of sitcoms that used to be popular at the time, are almost completely non-existent nowadays. Critics would tear them apart. Everything has become a lot more complex and that is an inevitable part of an evolution and progression – but things have also become a lot darker, grimmer and more cynical.

ALF-kitty

My retro extremist friend Cyrille, who’s been a next-gen-grump ever since the early 90ies, used to tell me how games were increasingly losing that “charm and magic” for him and I don’t think he was merely a victim of nostalgia. Yeah, we’ve grown-up since the 80ies but our games at the time were created by grown-ups and those action movies I miss so much were also created by grown-ups for grown-ups? So there’s clearly something bigger at work here culturally when we compare different eras. When did it become so unfashionable and untrendy to be frivolous? Why is it silly to be a little silly and over the top? Why this trend of ever darker and edgier?

In context of many of the recent “blogging cowboys/girls aka is blogging dying out?”-debates in the blogosphere (I’m not worried, by the way), particularly also this take by Liore and my personal reply in the comment section, I’ve been thinking a lot about my own blogging and blog as part of the MMO blogging community. As Wilhelm put it too, gold is where you find it and that community is wherever we believe it to be depending on the particular space we inhabit and our closest neighbors. I’m very happy and grateful where I am, for the way things have gone so far and for all the amazing people that frequent my comment sections and populate my blogroll, filling my head with new thoughts and ideas. I know fully well though that there are also a few readers and probably also more bigtime bloggers, who believe I am not serious enough because I dare to be hypey/enthusiastic or ranty/pissed in some of my reviews. Or then, I delight in more silly and trivial things or swear on appropriate occasion. This blog is a colorful place, I hope for more than just its design. To me, the world of videogames isn’t serious – it’s colorful, hyperbolic, goofy, hilarious, strange, creepy and fantastic. My heart goes out to the part where the Extra Credits video speaks about Final Fantasy and how the older titles dared to be shamelessly magical and over-the-top. It was pure fun and joy, it was silly and beautiful.

That’s everything games and the entire fantasy genre for that matter, are to me. That’s also what I’d like to be and remain as a blogger, hot and cold as appropriate (I actually believe true balance is created by the existence of two extremes), enthusiastic and passionate about the things I write. It’s a great feat to be a consistent source of information for your readers, but there’s also wanting to inspire connections and emotions, looking to create a spark or maybe just a smile or constructive disagreement. When I started my journey in this blogosphere, I introduced a regular category of posts called “Frivolous Friday” to celebrate the trivial and humorous side of gaming. I realize though, I too have stopped paying this category the regular tribute it deserves and for this I apologize. Truly. I hope it’s not because I considered it to draw too little attention or because I felt some kind of peer pressure. More than maybe most of the articles I write on MMO Gypsy, passionate explorer and social justice discussions aside, frivolous Friday represents me as a person. I love creative, poetic or silly writing as much as putting on the meta design or social critic’s hat. I can do both.

So I guess to bring both topics to a happy end: let’s not forget about the simple joy and fantastic hyperbole that can be part of games and MMOs. It’s okay to just entertain or delight in silly stuff while also being a srs blogger. Just because we’re growing up doesn’t mean all of our games or other interests have to.

25 comments

  1. I’m very strongly in favor of whimsy – can’t get enough of it. Frivolity is good too. I’m not so keen on silliness, which generally seems somewhat artificial and affected. I’m a bit confused by the denial of mellowness, though. In my book mellow is a universal good – If I could live my entire life in a state of the deepest mellow I can’t imagine how things could be better.

    I can only talk about MMOs, because those are the only games I play, but is there really a shortage of frivolity? GW2 seems to me to be almost overwhelmed with it to the exclusion of just about anything else. It’s comedy central over there. Then there are ratongas and lalafell and goblins and gnomes everywhere you look. Well, everywhere I look. Granted The Secret World wasn’t a barrel of laughs but that’s the exception.

    I’m guessing it’s much like everything else – people tend to find what they look for, so if they expect grimdark they’ll see it in the bunny cage at the petting zoo. Conversely, after a certain point I just decided that when it comes to entertainment I’d have nothing to do with things that don’t lift my spirits, so if I find anything pressing my miserabilist buttons I switch it off and do something else. Maybe there is a whole lot of that going on and I’m just opting out.

    1. Hm, I think as fantasy MMO players there’s already a lot of stuff we’re opting out of honestly. :) but I definitely see your point and as this is a more emotional perception of mine (it’s not like I checked numbers) there’s definitely subjectivism. to pick up the FF series again though: since FF9 latest the series have ‘grown up’ to the extreme and it’s something I see in other franchises, too. FF went from over-the-top sword&sorcery to the more grimdark hybrid it was around FF7 and later on became a j-pop soap drama in futuristic setting. even their next title will be completely removed from what most of us consider a fantasy RPG. they’re just not that anymore. more complicated plots, grittier, sexier – that seems to have happened on a more mainstream level to those titles especially that didn’t want to be considered “kids games” like Mario. that distinction is a fairly new phenomenon since the early franchises all started together but only later when gaming became more fashionable and the community was aging, did age labels start (before it was all kids stuff anyway). I think somehow that has a part in the whole issue.

      That said, there’s a ton of games outside the mainstream blockbuster bracket that are still goofy and frivolous, thank god. I don’t know so much about simple joy though – simple games are becoming the rarity even for platformers. I would have to turn to my Steam indie library for such a thing. that doesn’t mean of course that I cannot try put my own simple spin on let’s say GW2 – MMOs offer that kind of playstyle variety. :)

      1. @bhagpuss
        Forgot to mention: you’re actually throwing me on the ‘mellow’….I wonder if I have a semantic black hole there because I didn’t mean fluent or soft but mediocre/moderate (luke warm to the point of shapeless) in that context. intuitively there’s a negative connotation for me with ‘mellow’ but maybe that’s really wrong? :D *confused* I can’t seem to find a better word for what I’m thinking…*editing word*

  2. Y’know, I think this is at the root of many opinions that equate WoW’s cartoony art style with inferior graphics. Said opinions also denigrate the upcoming Wildstar for the same art style choice. I personally (while not completely aboard the hype train) see nothing wrong with bunny girls fighting alongside living boulders.

    1. Cartoony games don’t have to be ‘worse’ in any way. they’re somewhat at odds with the more solemn sword&sorcery / middle ages theme that I personally prefer, but I used to like WoW’s graphics for a long time. However, I’ve outgrown the hyper-fantasy when they went completely overboard with popculture references, motorcycles etc.

      I liked it when WoW offered more of a balance, when it had goofy stuff like minipets but still took itself seriously enough as a virtual world. I think that second part isn’t necessarily even graphics related but MMOs with popculture appeal tend to mix both.

    1. You’re right. :) it’s probably bloggers who strive to really be journalists that set the srs standards for themselves (and others) anyway. I am totally not looking to be a journalist.

  3. My high school years were in the 80s –yeah, I’m that old– but the popularity of some sitcoms kind of skews things a bit.

    Alf, for example, was never on the top tier of popularity, and the discussion in class was “how much longer will Alf stay on the air?” Of the Big Four NBC sitcoms of the decade –The Cosby Show, Family Ties, Cheers, and Night Court– Night Court was by far the most frivolous with its deadpan slapstick comedy. It was also, much to my disappointment, the lowest rated of the bunch.

    There were also plenty of gritty (for their time) dramas, before shows like NYPD Blue, Homicide, Prime Suspect (BBC version) and E.R. rewrote the genre for American audiences: Hill Street Blues, St. Elsewhere, Cagney and Lacey. Even Macgyver and Airwolf had their dramatic moments.

    I absolutely don’t miss the prime time soap operas: Dallas, Dynasty, Eastenders, etc. They and their 90210-esque kin weren’t interesting to me in the slightest, sex or no sex.

    (Man, I feel old talking about these shows. Just put me in the retirement home now.)

    Now, one show that really has gone grittier but been better off for it is the revived Doctor Who. It was easy to be campy when the old BBC special effects were what they had to deal with, but the revived series got better effects and a darker direction to boot.

    I think that frivolity in video games of the era were a natural result of computers and consoles not being able to tell stories to the depth that we can today. Ultima IV and V were at the pinnacle of their world, but the stories themselves were very limited in scope. As computers became more powerful and complex, the ability to tell deeper, grittier, engrossing stories surged to the forefront. There was also a lot of copycat development going on, too: Baldur’s Gate revived the RPG market in the 90s and refocused attention on a darker story than what had gone before. The old Gold and Silver box D&D games weren’t in the same league.

    1. It’s an interesting thought how much technical progress influenced the development. but then, movies and series were very well capable already of telling any kind of story? I also wonder a bit what pre-80ies MUD players would say about the whole thing in regards to narrative depths. personally I suspect today’s games feel the pressure to constantly top the last generation, maybe also for shock factor here and there and some are definitely overdoing it. but you’re absolutely right in that it depends what games (or movies) we think of in terms of mainstream popularity. what’s interesting to me though is why stuff that was popular then could never be popular today in terms of subjects or message or overall aesthetic. the TV show that really started the “modern age” in my opinion is ’24’ – this is when series exploded in terms of complexity but also grittiness on the tube, slowly putting hollywood out of a job. imagine a series like Dexter in the 80ies!

      Personal generation and geographic location play a part as well in how we perceive this, I guess. the most popular sitcoms of the 80ies here were probably married with children, roseanne, the cosbies and stuff like knight rider and magnum. and ye, I was a big Alf fan lol….I even have a pic somewhere with me in an Alf pajama which nobody will ever get to see! =p

      1. You know, among us Gen X-ers, Married With Children was extremely popular, but it was never a ratings hit for FOX. Boy, when Rosanne came out in 89 or so, it caused a sensation: a normal looking woman with a loud mouth and a family that came out of blue collar America –with the language and everything– had quite a few people up in arms. The “everything should be prissy and clean and nice” crowd had a collective heart attack with that show and tried to get it taken off the air. Although I didn’t care for the humor, I resented the attacks on the show.

        I guess I look at those two shows and think of them more as 90’s shows than 80’s shows, but that’s just me.

      2. Right. I’m usually sloppy with late 80ies / early 90ies so you have a point. for me that’s my critical phase of entering consciousness :P

      3. I’d say the TV show that really kicked off the trend for grittiness is The Sopranos, which made it OK to have a protagonist who doesn’t even qualify as an anti-hero, let alone a hero. As for complexity – I might be the only person who remembers Murder One, which predated 24 by several years and drew controversy for having a single story arc which ran the length of the first season (and which crashed and burned – the second season replaced the lead actor, dropped the single story arc idea and still got cancelled).
        I think maybe the lack of frivolity in general is because we’re in a more uncertain world than every before. Entertainment in the 50’s, 60’s and even most of it in the 70’s was pretty black and white in terms of morality – you had the Bad Guys, who were irredeemably steeped in evil, and the Good Guys who fought the Bad Guys and then had a round of back-slapping camaraderie at the end of every episode. All of this was made by people who had grown up through World War 2 (which was pretty cut and dried, morality wise) and the Cold War (where again the lines were well defined, and mainstream culture had no doubts which was the side of the angels). The counterculture concept that maybe the West aren’t the shining paladins of all that is right and good only really came into existence in the late 60s, and was pretty small until the 90’s. Now, of course, it’s swung the other way – just about every film and TV series shows everyone as (severely murky) shades of grey, most ‘bad guys’ are reacting against injustices inflicted upon them, and you never see government figures shown as being moral and idealistic (not since The West Wing ended in 2006, anyway). That sort of morally ambiguous atmosphere doesn’t leave a lot of room for ‘fun’… which is a pity when it bleeds over into fantasy. I like my fantasy to be mythology for the modern day. The purpose of myths is to show us how to be heroes, not to be the same sort of assholes you see on the news but with swords and faux-British accents.

      4. I remember Murder One, where it felt like they were trying to create a mashup of NYPD Blue and Homicide. I thought that too many people looked at the main character’s bald head and thought Telly Savalas, which was a shame.

        The end of the Cold War meant that the “bad guys” were more nebulous than before, and people had a reaction to the rah rah Reagan years and the inevitable recession with disillusionment. The fall of Hair Metal and the rise of Grunge and Alternative mirrored what was going on in television.

  4. Hm. If it was just games that were going grimdark I’d say it was an attempt of making games get some acceptance as art or as an adult entertainment. But you make a good point that we don’t have cheesy action movies or frivolous series like we did in the 80ies anymore either. So I don’t really know what the answer for that can be.

    Also, this is the first I hear about people worrying about blogging dying out. For me blogging is still healthy as it has always been and I doubt it will die out any time soon, if ever.

    1. That’s good to hear! :) I think some bloggers worry mostly because of the popularity of all the newer social networking and communication apps out there, which deliver faster faster in shorter bits to (lazy) audiences. blogs have certainly more competition these days but I agree that they still do some things better than twitter &co.

      1. True. But I guess as long as there a ludites like me who need to turn off Twitter more often than use it or that avoid stuff like Facebook like it was the devil’s tool, there will always an audience for bloggers. Besides, there are a lot of things that can’t discussed in a 140 characters or in video form (as it seems one of the trends nowadays too). So blogs have their place.

      2. You see for me, these two things are not mutually exclusive whatsoever. twitter has made my blogging that much more fun and given me tons of extra inspiration :)

  5. I agree with the comments above that frivolity hasn’t really gone out of fashion and there’s still plenty of it around, though yes, there has been a trend towards more serious and gritty too.

    Mostly I just wanted to comment to say that I love that you used a picture of ALF for this post. :D

    1. Back when Alf was first shown on television, we had an “Alf Club” at school. We never had any meetings or anything, it was more of an excuse to get our picture in the school yearbook.

      1. LOL! we can be the in-official Alf club in the blogosphere!! :P
        (I had almost all audio tapes…..don’t tell anyone)

      2. I only had the first series on audio tape – and my grandma had a big plush ALF whose hair mini-me loved to brush during visits. :P

      3. Audio tapes of shows….

        Yeah, I’ve done that before. I had friends who taped reruns of Sanford and Son. (I still didn’t get the humor; it just seemed that Redd Foxx was drunk or high.) My uncle, in the days before videotape, used to make audio tapes of The Waltons. (Yeah, that’s my family; solely watching stuff that belongs on the Hallmark Channel. If there was any wonder they thought D&D was Satanic….)

  6. If we celebrate frivolity or in any way think it is a good thing then what? Are we supposed to never have a serious discussion, for fear that it will continue on a Friday? Or do we censor it? We could of course self-censor, but then we’d spend Fridays KNOWING that we have something serious to talk about, yet we’re forced to shove it to the back of our heads because it’s Frivolous Friday. So then we’re disturbed by that, making frivolity a self-defeating concept.

    tl;dr: Your post fails to account for the many negative consequences.

    1. I think you know that’s not what I talk about here :D

      There’s really no downside for me personally. I have about 50 blogpost ideas per week, all I need to do more again, because I want to, is giving the more frivolous ones some space. we tend to think the srs and critical stuff always needs to get priority because it’s somehow ‘better’ content – which isn’t really true. if the timing is off completely, then of course I don’t do it – FF was never a weekly thing. but you can absolutely decide to include more such content on certain days, just like you can make Monday round-up posts or Friday what-I-am-playing posts. in fact, blog traditions like that are very interesting.

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