“Pulp Gaming”

Art by Astor Alexander

If these yarns were trash – and millions of parents must have regarded them as such – then they were the best of all kinds of trash. They were trash for connoisseurs of trash. Trash for people who understood just how good trash could really be.
-Don Hutchison, The Great Pulp Heroes



FF3-NES-Geomancer “The following is a contributor post by the Optimistically Sentimental Alabaster Mage.”

On my way home from work today I stopped into the 7-11 down the street from my house…

This past Saturday my wife and I spent some time with her sisters, we had a bar-b-que at her older sister’s girlfriend’s house. It was an evening of throwing back a few PBR’s, eating street-style tacos, listening to 70s/80s/90s music, and reminiscing about the past while comparing notes on the present.

One of the things that came up in conversation during the bar-b-que was Mickey’s—I haven’t drank a 40 in YEARS, probably before I even met my wife.

As I was perusing the cooler in the back at the 7-11, I noticed that there was a single and lone 40 ounce bottle of Mickey’s. I couldn’t resist, I had to buy it. Does it taste the same as I remember? Who drinks this stuff anymore, anyway?

I was home before my wife, and I jumped in here to the computer room to start writing… Already had the 40 cracked open and was enjoying the taste of my youth. Ironically, though not so surprisingly, as soon as my wife walked in she said something to the effect of, “is that Mickey’s? What are you sixteen!?!?” My response was only laughter, and to regale her of the conversation I had with her co-worker at the bar-b-que. I’m not sure that malt liquor is something that I’ve particularly missed. But, the taste definitely sends my mind back, and it got me thinking… Malt liquor is cheap, cheaper and heavier than the cheapest beer on the shelf. It gets you there quicker, with less volume of liquid to consume, but it isn’t as deviant as picking up a pint of gin. It’s a drink for the proletariat masses, it’s a working-class booze for the mildly alcoholic among us. It’s an introduction to a much more broad and diverse world of somber and melodic tastes. Forty ounce bottles prepare an otherwise unrefined pallet for a wealth of other experiences… Or, maybe that’s just your jam, and it’s something you won’t ever fully give up on, even well into your 30s.


Art by Astor Alexander

Recently I’ve been digging into the history of “the pulps.” It’s an interesting medium of writing, the pulps were literature for the masses, and the working-class. It was throw-away entertainment only because it was cheap and traded, it was escapism on a massive level. Though, there’s something very Americana about the whole endeavor, but it’s a people’s history, you won’t find many scholars waxing intellectual on the voluminous output of single-serving stories that flooded newsstands during the depression, and, to a certain extent, I think the same can be said for various different aspects of the gaming industry currently. We’re in a unique moment where the ubiquity of gaming (especially with mobile phones) has reached the working-class proletariat masses on a level that is not unlike that of pulp magazines.

Free-to-play monetization models are starting to seep into the triple-A landscape, and you’re seeing larger studios focus on “games-as-a-service.” Gone are the days of just owning or playing one or two games a year because the cartridge costs $80 or better. Digital distribution is offering access to a plethora of games that are sub-$20. Designed and developed by small teams, offered as quick downloads, and there are hundreds of these games.

Surely, you can go to Polygon, Gamasutra, or [insert pretentious media outlet here] to get an expose on the latest indie darling, and a healthy dose of liberal bias carved up and served on a platter of inter-sectional analysis of race/class/gender. The type of article written to show off a political science degree from Dartmouth that cost and arm and leg, and the degree itself is buried under a mountain of debt. But that’s not how the majority of people who play games consume their media surrounding the hobby. If you aren’t actively trying to dissect the medium of gaming and game development, then websites like Polygon aren’t places where you want to go to read up on games. So, what’s left? Where do the “average” people go? Well, that’s a bit of a rhetorical question. Because, you’re here, reading this, and because the landscape has changed.

Welcome to Pulp Gaming: Your grandmother is in the other room playing Candy Crush right now, as your dude-bro jock brother tries to tackle Dark Souls across the hall. As you sit quietly in the darkness, and the silence of your own mind, you only hear the subtle pops and piano noises of King’s modern classic. “SWEET!” A few moments pass… “SWEET!” You know it doesn’t mean much… “DIVINE!” Memaw is getting ready to drop five bucks on a few lollipop sledgehammers to get past level 287, because she’s been stuck on the same level for a month now. From across the hall you can hear faint mumblings, but you can make out the expletives easy enough. What you can only assume is a Dualshock 3 has just thwacked against a stud and is most likely stuck in the drywall like a Nerf ninja throwing star.

You open up your laptop to watch some Twitch and try to focus on some real gaming, unfortunately your sister (who has been hogging the desktop PC downstairs in the den) is on cam with her cleavage hanging out playing CS:GO, her bright pink AWP flickers in and out of frame as she frantically switches between that and her $300 digital knife, mimicking the same type of ADHD behavior you’ve seen in some of your favorite streamers and professional players before. Maybe it’ll help her rack up some kills. You think about the fact that you just used the word “rack” in your mind, and your eyes wander down to the viewer count;

“How in the hell does she have 869 viewers right now?”

You try to convince yourself that it would be impossible for that many perverts to be on Twitch ogling your sister, and then you realize you don’t even want to think about that right now. Ever so gently you proceed to slamming the lid down on your laptop to black out the room once again. The faint sounds of Memaw’s Candy Crush come back into focus… “TASTY!”


Welcome to pulp gaming…


Art by Astor Alexander

Personally, I’ve been dabbling a bit with Paladins, and grinding out the daily quests. I haven’t spent any money on the game as of yet, but it’s nice to be able to hang out on the couch while my wife watches Criminal Minds—we’re on season 12 or 13 at this point, she’s almost all the way caught up and done with the show. I’ve been over it since they got rid of Gideon.

Paladins gives me something to do that isn’t mentally draining or requires much focus. It’s a mindless multiplayer endeavor that is a just fun for what it is. I’m sure we could argue whether Overwatch does it better, but I kind of feel like; “F–k Blizzard, that sh-t is still $60 brand new…” The same could be said about Bethesda and Skyrim though, and I ended up buying that on Switch even after I told myself I wasn’t going to spend the money.

As much as I’m the type of person who spent countless hours as a young man grinding out levels in Final Fantasy VIII to fight the Cactuar without dying after the first thousand needles attack, I’m also now in my 30s, and working a full-time job that requires that I actually manage the other younger Millennials around me. As Iliza Shlesinger has put it; I’m an ELDER Millennial. Spending time trying to conquer the various permutations of Gaia throughout Square’s flagship franchise just isn’t something that I’m able to do these days.

So, I spend my time between watching my nephews play Fortnite and trying to find a gaming fix that doesn’t entirely destroy my soul, or represent the most horrible aspects of the casual side of the industry. This is Pulp Gaming, and we’re all mindlessly wandering through the 1950s over again. By the time we hit our senior years, we’ll all be looking back at our youth and fondly remembering the hours and hours we poured into Super Mario Bros., while we’ll quietly despise the postliminary years of our prime and deny that anything which came after the year 2000 was ever truly real “gaming.”


The Optimistically Sentimental Alabaster Mage is also known as Berkough, you can find his other musings about video games on the blog section of his user profile at SIFTD.net (http://siftd.net/#!/profile/berkough), or by following him on Twitter @berkough.


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6 replies »

  1. I agree that the modern gaming industry and it’s market seems to be very different than in previous years. It seems that a wide variety of people would happily admit to playing computer games, while, in the past, it was considered a pastime only “geeks” enjoyed. This is probably due to some of the reasons stated in the article, that games are more accessible (as they can be played on common devices, rather than specialised consoles), they are suitable as a gentle distraction and they use a multiplayer element. Despite the popularity of these games, I have a personal preference for more traditional games that tell a story as I feel that some of the games available on the internet are designed to be addictive. I did enjoy the artwork showing the Mario, Legend of Zelda: Twilight Princess, Metroid, Resident Evil and Super Smash Bros. games as pulp thrillers.
    Do you still play the more in-depth games?

    Liked by 2 people

    • I do play other games. A couple of weeks ago when the NEXT update for NMS dropped, a friend of mine joined me online and we spent probably a full 8 hours on a Saturday scanning planets, building bases, fighting pirates… The time completely got away from me, but we had a lot of fun.

      Also been meaning to find the time to earnestly dig into Octopath Traveler. I’ve had it since release, but I’ve only put about 5-6 hours into it. I’m up to around 260 moons on Mario Odyssey, still plugging away at Rabbit Ridge Tower.

      Most recently I’ve been getting back into Star Trek Online and Neverwinter… The writing and story in STO is amazing, and NW does a great job at action combat in an MMO.

      Liked by 1 person

  2. I’ve long since tossed aside this kind of pulp (or, as someone I know once referred to it, “lifestyle games” — games you start playing that take over your entire enjoyment of the hobby) because they ultimately end up feeling so “meaningless”. I derive no satisfaction from them, and I don’t want to play something just for the sake of it.

    Gaming is my primary form of entertainment, so I want something that engages me and hooks me in to the exclusion of everything around me — and which has a clear beginning, middle and end. A project I can work on and then write about when I’m done with it; something I can reflect on when the credits roll. I can’t do that with the Fortnites and the Overwatches of the world… at least, not in the same way.

    Don’t get me wrong, I’m not ragging on those people who do enjoy this sort of experience, because there are plenty of them, and I know lots of people who have built up great friendships through ongoing multiplayer games. But there are a lot more “proper games” still out there than many people seem to think, particularly if you look outside of the triple-A space. And no, that doesn’t mean having to rely exclusively on Polygon-approved hyperpanqueersexual indies, either! 🙂

    Liked by 1 person

    • Haha! “Polygon-approved hyperpanqueersexual indies,” that’s genius… I may steal that if Zoe Quinn ever releases her next game… Because that’s exactly what her project with Chuck Tingle sounds like it’s going to be!

      I haven’t had regular TV or cable for probably about 15 years now. My primary sources of entertainment and unwinding at the end of the day have been video games, books, and documentaries I can find online. So, I’m totally with you there. Since I was little I’ve always been into gaming–mainly because my Dad used me as an excuse to get all the newest consoles, I’m the only person I’ve ever met who has owned an Atari Jaguar–but I did take a break for a while. The Elder Scrolls games got me back into gaming pretty hardcore in 2008. I realized I had missed Oblivion entirely, and Morrowind is one of my favorite games of all-time. So I also understand what you mean about immersing yourself.

      Liked by 1 person

      • I had a Jaguar for a while! Technically it was my brother’s and we only had Cybermorph for it (AVOID THE GROUND, WHERE DID YOU LEARN TO FLY) but I have indeed experienced the… uh… whatever the Jaguar offered.

        Morrowind is a great game. I haven’t resonated with more recent Elder Scrolls games nearly as much — I particularly disliked Skyrim for some reason — but I had a LOT of fun with Morrowind back in the day, initially on Xbox (those load times!) and later on PC when I had something that wouldn’t explode when you looked at water. 🙂


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