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I have a burning need to know stuff and I love asking awkward questions.

Monday, April 23, 2012

Thinking About: Gaming

There are many potential words you could use to describe me – some of them are even printable. One I would have no issue at all with is “gamer”. I have been regularly playing computer or ‘video’ games since the early 1970’s and would argue that I have a gamer mentality even before that. I seem to have treated a large proportion of my life as a game and this outlook colours much of what I do on a day-to-day basis.

I first encountered video games in a hotel in the French Alps during a school skiing trip. Tucked away in the corner of the ‘games room’ was one of the early Pong games where a pair of operators used dials to move a paddle to intercept a bouncing dot. Missing the dot at the vital moment would result in you conceding a ‘goal’ From my very first encounter I was hooked and spent nearly all of my holiday money in small change pumping Franc after Franc into the slot. Of course I just had to get my hands on a device that could produce such delights and (many) years later managed to get myself – after borrowing money and begging a lift off family members – a brand new Sinclair ZX Spectrum in 1982. I remember using this rather crude machine as much as humanly possible, not only buying pre-designed games but spending a great deal of time programming it line by line from a plethora of Spectrum related magazines. I wonder what might have happened if I’d had the opportunity (or at least the time) to keep programming rather than going off to University in 1983 to study Humanities. Of course I found student life to be very computer game friendly – especially as the hours of study, in the first year at least, were hardly onerous. The early 80’s was the time of Space Invaders, Missile Command and Galaxions. But the game I remember most from that time was a Star Wars game based around the X-Wing attack on the Death Star. Living in a seaside town a few miles away from the University gave me dozens of different games to try out on a regular basis and, yet again, I probably spent a significant percentage of my grant money on arcade video games in those 3 years. It was time and money very well spent!

In the late 80’s I moved to London to take up my first full-time paid employment. After a few years in basic administration jobs (having no previous work experience to draw on) I manage to drift into an IT position where I stayed for well over 10 years. Almost immediately I fell in with fellow gamers one of which was the teams network expert who just happened to have his very own lockable ‘workshop’. It was in here I spent many a happy lunch break playing networked Doom with up to three other players. Being in a confined space and being able to hear everything the other players said gave the game a whole new level of immersion. I never forgot the joy of those days. Around the same time I had installed, though I really shouldn’t have, a copy of SimCity on my desktop so I could play it at lunchtime or after work for an hour or so. I was subsequently told to delete it but not before a disastrous reactor meltdown had taken most of the PC with it.

Moving to my present location and planning to stay here for some time I finally had the stability and the money to buy my own PC – never having had the Console bug – and began working my way through games almost too numerous to mention. My favourites were always RPG (Role Playing Games), RTS (Real-Time Strategy) and to a lesser extent (FPS) First Person Shooter despite my love of Doom. One of the highlights of this time was a game called Total Annihilation where you picked one of two sides fighting a robotic war over a number of planets somewhere in the galaxy. The ultimate aim was either to destroy the galaxy (from a safe place) or prevent its destruction. Needless to say it was far more satisfying blowing it up than saving it. But the best part for me was the almost Zen-like trance states I used to find myself in when fighting apparently impossible odds for 5, 10, 20 minutes at a time. Any hesitation indeed any thought was lethal. The only way to win was with no-mind. Later I played games such as Age of Empires, Cossacks and other RTS classics such as Command & Conquer. I still remember on one occasion when I thought that my PC had suffered a spectacular system crash only to discover that my PC opponent had nuked one of my installations!

Of course by this time many of the stand-alone games had become (at lest partially) networked allowing multiple players to join in the fun. Still working in IT at that time I had several good friends spread across the local area who could join me on my evening adventures. Together we really did command armies and conquer worlds. Mostly we played the Dawn of War series of games with their various add on packs fighting Orks, Eldar, The Tau, Necrons and Tyranids in the name of the Empire of Man. Much carnage ensued especially when my regular playing partner Ali P ‘modified’ various aspects of the game to make it that much more lethal. With much practice we became very good at speedily setting up our defences and taking on multiple all-comers before crushing them mercilessly. Then onto FPS again with Battlefield 2 which I loved dearly – so much so I even played it on-line on my own. Then inevitably I joined the big-boys to play various editions of CoD (Call of Duty) which, at least initially I found incredibly frustrating when I kept dying so much. Learning anything was a great struggle but eventually I did develop a style of play that allowed me to survive long enough to learn, to kill opposing players and to really, really piss them off. My favourite comment of all time is still ‘Die you camping bitch!’ which appeared on my screen just after one of the enemy wasted a hellfire missile on me. I laughed so hard I think I pulled a muscle somewhere. I think this was the largest group game I played with up to 5-6 players interacting with each other on Teamspeak. That was one aspect I really loved about it especially when sometimes 3-4 of us carried Stinger anti-aircraft missiles on our backs. It was a definite competition to see who could shoot down an enemy call-in first. If it flew it most definitely died – often before it fired a single shot in anger. After that we kind of oscillated between Company of Heroes (a WW2 RTS) and Borderlands (FPS) which was another game I loved mostly for the inbuilt off-beat humour. I’m looking forward to the next version.

We spent sometime after Borderlands dulled a bit looking for the next game. After several false starts – including a poorly designed Starcraft 2 – we settled on a game that I thought I’d never play. For probably the last 6 months I’ve been playing World of Warcraft and have honestly become a bit of a WoW bore about it – though I’ve stopped talking about it at work now much to the relief of the people I work with. I never thought that I’d in effect ‘rent’ a game but I’m enjoying it far too much to worry about £8.99 going out of my account every month. My favourite character/avatar is a tall and rather vicious werewolf called Hiasynth. She rocks and kicks some serious ass! I think it might be love…

Even though I’m supposed to be all grown up and mature – yeah, right – I have no intention of giving up computer gaming any time soon. That will only stop when I’m physically incapable of pressing a key or using a mouse/joystick. Long may it continue.


Sleepypete said...

The pay monthly model works reasonably well. It means you get a game that's stable with the bugs taken away (with Eve you get new bugs to patch the old bugs) and new content usually comes along too. Much better than paying £20+ for the yearly update to a game which is riddled with the same bugs it always had (Sports Interactive people hang your heads)

I've gone back to single player games now - bit burned out on the MMOs. WoW was awesome a few years ago but there used to be a lot more opportunity to bully elite mobs than there are now. Although solo-ing the 40 man Molten Core was funny.

PS Tie Fighter, Moo2 and MoM probably turned my degree into its 2.2 :-)

Mike aka MonolithTMA said...

What a fun post!

Of course, I would hope a post on gaming would be fun!

I got burned out on WoW and MMOs (again) last year.

Since last fall I've been playing Dark Souls and Skyrim. I took a break from Skyrim and now I'm taking a break, probably a much longer one, from Dark Souls.

I'm primarily a console gamer (XBOX 360 and PS3), but I play all of Bethesda's games on PC.

My gaming really began with the Atari 2600, though I had played pong, etc. at friend's houses. After that it was gaming on the Commodore Vic 20 and later the Commodore 64. Next I gamed on a Franklin Ace 2200 Apple II Compatible, and then a Mac. I didn't buy my next console (actually the first console I ever bought) until the twilight years of the Sega Genesis, but I did play lots of Nintendo at friend's houses. When the first Playstation came out I traded in my Sega Genesis for a discount on one and have been gaming wildly ever since.

I too plan on gaming until I am no longer able, at which point I fear for my sanity, as gaming is such a satisfying escape for me.

Mike aka MonolithTMA said...

Almost forgot to say that I just love the included picture, since Dark Souls is a game with no pause button, so once you are in the boss fight you are in it to win it or die. ;-)

CyberKitten said...

Pete said: The pay monthly model works reasonably well.

Much better than I expected.....

Pete said: Tie Fighter, Moo2 and MoM probably turned my degree into its 2.2 :-)

Brain the size of a planet and got a 2.2? Sounds like you had *fun* @ Uni.... [lol]

Mike said: What a fun post!

Thanks. I try not to be too serious all of the time... [grin]

Mike said: I too plan on gaming until I am no longer able, at which point I fear for my sanity, as gaming is such a satisfying escape for me.

Oh, indeed. I don't know what I'd have done without that doorway into other worlds in parts of my life. It may have warped me in some ways but it definitely saved my ass more than once!

Mike said: I just love the included picture, since Dark Souls is a game with no pause button, so once you are in the boss fight you are in it to win it or die. ;-)

Ah, Boss fights. Much fun in fighting for your life with no 'save' button at hand!

Sleepypete said...

2.2 - yeah. But that slide did start because for most of my third year, I was going out every night to avoid facing the debris of a failed relationship.

Plus I got bored of studying, treading the same ground that countless Elec Eng students had gone before.

Vancouver Voyeur said...

Pong was my first game. My mom got it for my my sister and me to share. We played it a number of times and we had fun, but it really didn't hold our attention. A few years later I got hooked on Pacman pretty good and realized I have an addictive personality and quit playing. I've never really gotten into video games since. I have played some Wii sports games, but it's like when I'm in a casino and see the slots, I not only have no desire to play, I'm irritated if anyone tries to get me to play. To me it represents something negative - just for me.

CyberKitten said...

v v said: A few years later I got hooked on Pacman pretty good and realized I have an addictive personality and quit playing.

Whereas I realised I had an addictive personality and played even more.... [grin]