Gamers, we need to talk about what is up with all the lights.
For years now, more and more stuff marketed to people who play games has heavily leaned into the aesthetic of a Swedish metal band who got tangled in discount Christmas lights on their way to Eurovision.
Everything is named after poisonous creatures, and features black metal with unforgiving curves and enough flashing lights to make ravers raise an eyebrow.
For a group of people trying to throw off the image of being the basement-dwelling weirdo, we sure are into the aesthetic of one. Of course, you can now also get specialised gaming accessories in Boring White That Stains Easily*, and The Kind Of Cutesy Pink With Ears That Makes Me Feel Vaguely Uncomfortable And I Can’t Tell If It’s Because Of Internalised Misogyny Or Because Of How Infantilising It Seems In A Culture That Already Has Trouble Recognising Women As Real Human Adults*.
(*Not the actual colour names.)
But, hey, they also light up.
So, why are gamers (or, more accurately, companies that market specifically to gamers) so into flashing lights?
Like, yes, deep down my monkey brain also goes “flashing lights pretty”, but they’re distracting and it doesn’t make sense to layer sensory overload on what is already a pretty sensory intensive hobby. You need to focus on the game, and have invested a lot of money in fancy graphics cards, and yet we surround ourselves with violently flashing lights that compete for our attention.
According to Stephen Westland, a professor at the University of Leeds who specialises in colour, different colours really can have different effects on the body. Red makes your heart beat faster, seeing green and blue light in the morning can help wake you up, and the absence of blue light in the evening when the sun goes down tells your body to prepare for sleep.
There’s also plenty of theories going around that the reason why we love seeing lots of bright colours so much is because back in the cave person times, colour meant safety, or food, or close access to water or something else primal. There’s something about seeing a particular bright green that immediately makes you feel like you’re out in a beautiful verdant, healthy meadow and all is well.
Following that, the aggressive RGB flashing in keyboards, desktop towers, in mice, on the sides of monitors and mousemats, and on wall mounted custom lights, must mean that gamers want to feel everything all the time as much as possible.
On a more practical level, it could have something to do with the evolution and affordability of gaming computers happening around the same time LEDs became more affordable and more colourful. LEDs are now a simple way to provide customisation options, an easy thing to put in that allow players to feel like they’re making their mass produced gaming rigs, keyboards and mice unique.
They sure do look good in marketing materials and in the backgrounds of streams, I guess.
Whatever this compulsion is to make our expensive gaming peripherals resemble the dodgy kebab truck at the petrol station that might be a drug front, I love it and I hate it.
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Alice Clarke is an award winning freelance journalist, producer and presenter. She also co-curates the PAX Aus Diversity Lounge. In her spare time she plays the drums, lives in Forza Horizon and builds Lego.