Ice Cube & Mario - Blurring the line between Hip Hop and Gaming

After watching the Straight Outta Compton trailer (NSFW) that dropped recently - which has subsequently gotten me more interested in the story behind NWA and the cultural shift that happened during this period in time - I got to thinking about why I am so into hip hop in general.

While it is no surprise to anyone reading this that I am a big fan of all things gaming, most people don't really know the full extent of just how much I enjoy hip hop music, culture and history. But why exactly is that? What draws me to this particular music genre over any other - particularly when I was into such different music when I was younger? I am, quite frankly, a young white male who lives in Australia. There is no apparent connection whatsoever between myself and the struggles surrounding the rise of hip hop from street music to worldwide cultural acceptance.

It wasn't until I watched a documentary on Tuesday night titled Atari - Game Over by Zak Penn, which detailed the rise of Atari, the beginnings of the home console video game era and the great mystery surrounding potentially the most infamous console game of all time - E.T. for the Atari 2600 - that I started to really see the connections between these two forms of entertainment that I love so dearly. (as an aside, if you are into gaming history and haven't seen it, you should. it's available free to air on Xbox consoles or on the web here)

Both mediums were born out of a time of social rejection for the pioneers of their respective arts - the ghettos of America were shunned by society and treated like scum, while those who were picked on by their peers for being different at school found solace in computer programming at home. The hardships suffered on both ends caused each particular group of people to find ways to escape their daily hardships, even if only for a short while.

In the days before the internet, finding others to share this with was a blessing. Each form of escapism for these parties was a heavy draw for like minded people - whether it be battling on the corner over a beat produced by someones fantastic beatboxing skills, or creating interactive experiences others could lose their minds in. Around these groups, cultures were born.

One interesting link I was kind of surprised to find between the two was the use of drugs. While even to this day, rapping about rolling a joint is still a part of everyday life, gaming has also had its fair share of "medicinal" influence. In the documentary mentioned above, Howard Scott Warshaw talks about his first day at Atari, which involved taking in a blunt of his own to share around with everyone, as was custom.

With both industries being born merely several decades ago, they are both still relatively young when compared with their respective mediums' competitors - gaming is to media entertainment what hip hop is to music. The very fact that these concepts are still fresh means that each has their respective groups of legendary figures that are still relevant today. Revered artists such as Dr. Dre and Snoop Dogg are comparable to gaming legends like John Carmack and Shigeru Miyamoto in their respective fields - all of which still are working in their industries, creating new bodies of work and pushing their mediums forward.

This youthful outlook on both gaming and hip hop has allowed innovative young people to continue to bring new and fantastic ideas to the table. Kendrick Lamar and his take on ghetto life with Good Kid Maad City has caught fan's attention in a way similar to the indie darling of 2013, Gone Home. These experiences are not only fresh and new, they are placed equal to other works that are seen as 'the greatest of all time' in their respective areas. When was the last time you heard a modern day piece of classical music that was lauded as being equal to a piece by Mozart?

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Each medium isn't without it's own issues however. Fans and non-fans alike believe it lacks originality - there are many people saying/doing the same thing over and over. Some of the truly innovative creations are shut down by the general population of fans because it doesn't quite fit with current standards. The medium has issues with women, with some people within the industry thinking that a woman can't perform to the same standard as a man, or believe they must have slept their way there. Wait, was I talking about hip hop, or gaming?

The interesting thing is these issues relate to both forms of entertainment quite intimately. There are plenty of rappers that seem to only follow the trope of "get money, f*** b****es" in the same way that white male dudes make up a large percentage of gaming protagonists. Artists such as Lupe Fiasco are often shunned by some fans of the art in the same way that some gamers cry out about how Dear Esther is not a game. I don't think I need to explain the issues each medium has with women.

It's not all bad news though. Each form of media may be fighting these massive issues - but the point is that they are fighting them. Their are artists and fans on both fronts working to bring equality, diversity and new experiences to the people.

For example, this piece paints a picture of a woman who is beautiful yet capable, in the same way that Bioware portrays characters such as Leliana in DA:I as a graceful yet powerful woman, equal to any man.

What I think is the key draw for me with both hip hop and gaming is the fact that both forms are used to tell extremely interesting stories. While plenty of other music genres also do this in the same way that movies and TV can weave an interesting narrative, gaming can create connections between player and character that expand upon the story - through interaction and imagination, the story plays out as much in the players head as on the screen. In the same vein, rappers can create whole stories simply with rhyming words over a beat in such a way that it weaves through the mind, painting a picture of a situation with a detailed beginning, conflict and conclusion in a mere 4 minutes.

The stories that I tend to love the most from both the hip hop and gaming worlds tend to be ones about overcoming something significant, which is often a theme both mediums share. Becoming one the greatest rappers of the current generation is as much an underdog story as inhabiting the would-be hero of a well crafted video game.

 

When you think about it, hip hop and gaming aren't so different after all.