What do Tamagotchis, the Virtual Boy and FarmVille have in common with asbestos and the real-world version of Agent Orange? They are all named among “The 50 Worst Inventions” by TIME Magazine.
It comes as a bit of a surprise that not just one, but three video game related inventions made a list that includes an infamous carcinogen, a birth defect causing Vietnam-era defoliant and other inauspicious developments like leaded gasoline, Clippy and DDT (it’s usefulness in the game Millipede notwithstanding). While they might not be the best examples of gaming, can they possibly be as bad as chlorofluorocarbons or the Pontiac Aztek? We take a look and try to find a reason to take them off Time's list.
Why it exists: The year 1996 saw the dawn of digital life on Earth. It was not only the year that Pokemon was launched, but the year Bandai gave birth to their first line of ‘virtual pets.’ These creatures came in the form of small electronic devices with LCD screens and a few buttons that controlled the life of pixilated organisms.
Why it’s bad: Tamagotchis force children to deal with the cruel reality of life: that it is brutal, often short and frequently out of their direct control way before they are emotionally able to handle those facts. Not to mention they're an incredible time suck.
Why it’s good: Tamagotchis must be attentively, almost perpetually micro-managed allowing users the excuse to ignore their own messy and/or inconvenient sociobiological needs, to pay attention to your surroundings and learn how to handle and replace tiny batteries. It also had a clock in it!
Why it exists: In between the “giant ants” 3D of the 1950s and the “giant smurf cats” 3D of 2010 there was technology called Virtual Reality that was going to remake the way we worked, played and even how we loved (at least according to The Lawnmower Man). Nintendo, coming off a long series of wins with both console and handheld gaming, thought they had the next big thing with this tabletop set of electronic goggles that would take gamers into another dimension.
Why it’s bad: It turns out neither it nor the public were ready for the new world offered by the Virtual Boy. Nintendo supposedly rushed it to market and humanity hadn’t evolved yet to the point where one could stare into a burry, monochromatic red 3D simulation without risk of headache, nausea or eye bleed.
Why it’s good: Virtual Boy is and will forever be the trump card for any argument with a die-hard Nintendo loyalist. It even works in arguments that have nothing to do with video games at all! For instance:
“Why didn’t you take the trash out?”
“Oh, ok. Sorry to bother you.”
Why it exists: To cross promote retail and entertainment services in a largely passive and non-aggressive manner by providing a mostly free casual gaming experience.
Why it’s bad: FarmVille has become a GDP-sapping time-sink on the macro-scale. Its combination of steady and simple gameplay has triggered a primitive, endorphin producing part of the human brain that is mesmerized by slowly repeating and predictable patterns that is otherwise dormant outside the application of police procedural shows or Michael Crichton novels.
Why it’s good: Casual or not, anything that gets people hooked on video games is good for the gaming industry, a large and growing segment of the world economy, that and it’ll keep your significant other busy while you’re watching sports/Gossip Girl.