Lana Del Rey’s “Video Games” and, Well, Video Games

[8 February 2012]

By G. Christopher Williams

PopMatters Multimedia Editor

I know that Lana Del Rey is receiving all kinds of critical backlash at present from the music community about her authenticity as an artist, her botched SNL performance, and the like.

However, one way or the other, “Video Games” is a rather beautiful song.  It strikes a pretty, but mournful tone that is full of a melancholy, uncertain nostalgia from a twenty-something-years-old artist, and it has managed to solder itself into my consciousness pretty effectively in recent days.

It isn’t really a song about video games, of course.  It’s about growing up, about a burgeoning sense of sexuality, about a burgeoning confusion about romance, and video games are merely a kind of metaphor for that kind of “playing around” in some attempt to “figure all that stuff out.”

That being said, though, as a longtime gamer (born over a decade before Del Rey) who is, well, indeed a little bit older than Del Rey (who was born in 1986, the year after the release of Super Mario Bros.), I have to say that the song fascinates me for what it implies by taking gaming for granted as a normalized practice and how the general cultural consciousness has really shifted in regards to what gamers are and what the significance of gaming might be within the larger culture.

Video games here are still seen, perhaps, as a vestige of immaturity, as Del Rey’s song associates them with a teenaged or a young-adult-aged romantic interest, this boy-man that she thinks is “the bestest” and who tells her to “get over here/ and play a video game” with him before “watching [her] get undressed.”

That games are toys is a fairly familiar concept to me, as they were one of the toys of my own youth.  That they are associated with a male who Del Rey hopes (fears a little?) might like a bad girl (“I heard that you like bad girls, honey/ is that true?), well, that’s a little less familiar.  The kind of kid who played video games when I grew up was not one that “like[d] bad girls.”  He had a lot of acne, wore big, ugly aviator-style glasses, and ate lunch alone.  He was me.

Gaming and video gaming used to be something to hide about one’s self, not a mark of a cool, dangerous sort of fella, the kind of guy alluded to in Del Rey’s song. 

This really doesn’t bother me, then.  In a sense, Del Rey’s use of gaming and a gamer as something quite different from the stigmatized subculture that these things used to represent is heartening.  It speaks to the broadening of the medium’s audience and its embrace by a larger and more diverse audience in just a single generational jump—perhaps, something akin to the shift from the fear of early rock n’ roll by one generation to its casual acceptance by the generations that followed.

Of course, I’m still dumbfounded that all the cool kids at my daughter’s high school talk about Skyrim.  Does the prom king have a copy of AD&D in his locker, too?

So, it’s actually Del Rey’s lack of subcultural (maybe, weird, offbeat, and “indie”) cred, the very mainstream, very universalizing quality of her song that works for me in regards to this element of that song.

Video games aren’t just for weirdos anymore.  They’re for bad boys, too.  Fair enough.

Published at: http://www.popmatters.com/pm/post/154154-lana-del-reys-video-games-and-well-video-games/