A few nights ago, my husband and I were watching TV when an interesting commercial came on.
The camera zoomed in on a wrecked car in what looked like a deserted neighborhood. A man was inside, playing a game. He looks up at the camera as he slowly gets out of the car and asks:
“Who are you not to be great?”
For a second I thought this might be some sort of inspirational or motivational commercial for, say, a brand like Nike, except the scene kept getting darker.
People began to pour out of the shadows. Explosions lit up the sky as this man continued on down the street, saying things like, “You, who have the imagination of a brilliant child, and the powers of an ancient God! Who are you to be ordinary?”
I was a little disturbed and completely intrigued as to where all this was going. I sort of had a suspicion it was a gaming commercial when I spotted random animals like giraffes wandering around in the background, buildings collapsing in on themselves and bright paint pouring from windows. It almost looked like a dream scene from the film “Inception.”
The man turns a corner and knocks out an alien robot. He raises both arms into the air and gives a battle cry, and soon all sorts of games start to mesh together: cheerleaders cheering, pirate ships under attack, dinosaurs soaring through the sky.
I’ve never been into video games. Well, except for once — after years of begging and pleading, my parents caved and bought my little brother a Nintendo for his ninth birthday. The only game we owned was Super Mario Bros. I would sit in front of that TV and play for hours after school, trying to make it through “one more level.”
It was addicting.
I even stayed after class some days to talk with my seventh-grade science teacher who knew all the secrets and shortcuts. I wasted so much time!
After we got rid of the Nintendo, I vowed I would never own a gaming system. I wanted to live life — my life — not someone else’s animated version.
Occasionally I’d play some football or Mario Kart or a tennis game at a friend’s house, but for the most part I kept myself free from the black hole of virtual reality.
But I knew some who were not so lucky. Gaming became a huge part of their lives. Even after they got married, they carried this time-wasting habit with them, struggling to focus their eyes and brains away from the games that were “just for fun.”
The problem with games now is the reality of them. This Playstation commercial was not selling some 2-D cartoonish Mario Bros. game. It was selling war — 3-D, graphic, HD-enhanced war.
A few nights later as I was thinking about this, I rented the movie “Oz the Great and Powerful.” I wasn’t sure what to expect, but I actually really liked it. Oz, the main character, is a struggling illusionist who only wants one thing: to be great. In fact, he was willing to give up everything and everyone in pursuit of greatness.
But throughout the course of the film, he begins to see that there may be something more.
My uneasiness about the commercial for Playstation stems from the fact that it caters directly to the lonesome, shy viewer who feels “anonymous.” To “you, whose name should be spoken in reverent tones or terrified whispers.” To the person who feels their real life is just not exciting enough.
The commercial warns that viewer that if they deny themselves the privilege of becoming more than just “ordinary,” they will be denying themselves — and the world — their greatness.
“And we will not be denied.”
Now for me, that argument holds little value. I understand who I am and what I want out of life. And that doesn’t include video games.
But think of it through the eyes of a teenager, whose vision of reality and fantasy are blurred. They hear this battle cry for greatness, and begin to crave it. They want to become “someone” and whether that someone is real or virtual, it doesn’t matter.
And what greatness is Playstation promoting? Violence. Destruction. Power.
That is what bothers me.
One of the best lines in the movie “Oz” is at the end when Oz realizes he has everything he’s ever hoped for, which includes, ironically, none of the things he was in pursuit of. He looks into Glinda’s eyes, and she says, “See? There is something better than greatness.”
“What’s that?” he asks.
Carmen Rasmusen Herbert is a former "American Idol" contestant who writes about entertainment and family for the Deseret News.