I have played many, many video games in my life. Thousands of hours have been poured into everything from Crash Bandicoot to Diablo, SimCity to Baldur’s Gate, Smash Brothers to Pokemon and most things in between (except for sport games, because: whatever). Rather than tell you about all the gaming I’ve ever done, I want to write more about the games which have had the greatest impact on me and what I think it says about me as a person.
The first console I owned was a NES. It had Super Mario Brothers, Duck Hunt with the awesome orange gun:
and a bunch more games that aren’t worth mentioning. Mario was the game I played the most, and I played it until it couldn’t be played any more. I found the challenge so compelling that I wouldn’t even notice that the horribly shaped controllers:
Ergonomics be damned!
… were hurting my hands, or that my thumbs cramped up from too much vigorous pressing. I played it through until I could get through the whole game without dying, and then doing the same on “Hard mode” where your life counter was replaced with a crown (ooh shiny reward), but I couldn’t do that without dying even though I tried so very hard! I remember bouncing around with joy when I completed a level and got the maximum points, and screaming with frustration when I died.
I played a lot of multiplayer games with my brother, and it was one of the activities that I really enjoyed. He was (and still is) far more active than me, and the “sitting down and playing” style suited me much more than his “go to the park and play cricket” mode of fun-having.
Christmases with cousins always set my envy meter to maximum. My cousins always had a console that was one generation better – their SNES to my NES, their Nintendo 64 to my SNES, their PS2 to my PS.
If my parents had bought me a 64 before it was already passe, I would seriously have been like this at Christmas:
Any excuse to post this video will do!
Anyway, my cousins always obliterated my brother and I, for obvious reasons. This was really, really frustrating to someone who prided himself on his mastery of any game he played! I have a strong memory of sneaking out of the room I was staying in after everyone had gone to bed. I memorized every move of Sabrewulf’s from Killer Instinct, playing him over and over again:
After a few days of this, being completely sleep deprived, I challenged my cousins to a game and BEAT THEM. I memorised the finishing moves just to give it a satisfactorily gory ending each time.
I don’t think my parents were too fussed about my gaming, but they saw it as a mere distraction – what was wrong with the games I had?, they would ask, and it would always take much begging for them to buy a new console or the latest game. I would play the games until every secret was unlocked, every part discovered, and I would fight the feeling of “diminishing returns” on the effort:fun ratio with every ounce of effort my brain and fingers could muster.
I didn’t own a computer that could play games, but I was always interested in computers. I wish I had had regular access to a computer from a young age (because I probably would have learnt how to program, as well, not just for the gaming times!), but instead I used to go to friends houses and take turns playing Doom or puzzle games or anything they had, really. I abused more than one friendship because of this, and still feel really guilty more than ten years on.
Eventually, we got a computer that could play games. Starcraft was the first game I ever really played. I enjoyed the micro-management combined with the intensity and adrenaline, the elation when you beat off an attack only to swarm their base, to time your hydralisks’ unBurrowing just at the right time for maximum effect… I rarely cheated, also, because I couldn’t claim to be the master if I was a filthy cheater, now, could I?
I never really enjoyed the more turn-based strategy games. Civilization and its variants were nowhere near as visceral to me, and that was an important reason why I played games. I wanted the adrenaline pumping through my body while I mastered the intellectual complexities of the game, and I wanted to be rewarded in both my successes and my failures. When I made the wrong moves in Civilization, I felt like a failure, and wanted to start again, as if I couldn’t shake off the choice to build my city in so stupid a place. When I made the wrong moves in StarCraft, I would hang on and build and build and see if I could recover and hold on for dear life as my people got obliterated right before my eyes, never surrendering before the relentless onslaught of the AI! The immediacy made all the difference. I used to spend whole days during the holidays drinking way too much coffee and playing StarCraft for 8 hours straight while my parents were away at work.
The subtle art of the zergling rush
Half-life was another game that I played several times through, eventually beating it on the hardest difficulty setting. I loved the immersion of this shooter, the complicated storyline. When the military who were supposed to save me started shooting at me instead it was such an enormous shock, I felt so personally affronted! I loved the aliens, the guns, the changing environments, the puzzle-solving and heart-racing action.
I also played a lot of the original Team Fortress and Counterstrike once internet gaming took off, but it was always so difficult due to my parents’ refusal to upgrade our internet to cable. Oh, lag!
Ye olde Team Fortress!
Final Fantasy X was another game I will remember forever. The storyline was good, but it was the strategizing and unlockable features, the secrets and the puzzles that had me going for hours. All up, I played it for over 150 hours in the five or six weeks building up to my year 12 exams; I defeated the final Monster Arena boss just before my Maths exam. If I wasn’t studying, then I was figuring out the optimal path through the sphere grid so that my characters would be the best they could be, running around the beatiful world capturing creatures and summoning my fearsome Aeons.
Crush them, Valefor!
In short, gaming was a huge part of my recreation. Writing this post has made me remember all the hours I spent, and the true joy I experienced while I played them.
When I moved out of home, I didn’t take anything but my crappy laptop with me – everything else was technically my parents’, and I didn’t leave on the best of terms. For the first few years of university, I didn’t game at all. I truly missed it. I would hear about a game, and realise I had neither the time nor the money to buy it, and no means to play it. When I wasn’t working or studying, I was spending time with Tabitha, which didn’t involve computers or consoles at all.
It wasn’t until my housemates started playing World of Warcraft that I got back into gaming. My new laptop barely ran it, but I enjoyed it so much. I only ever played in a group, and I have never liked playing WoW solo (questing just seems monotonous to me after a while), but I loved the PvP and group stuff. I played a healer, which engages all my multitasking skills and requires lightning-fast reflexes to snatch victory from the hands of defeat time and time again. Playing a support/leader role in a team situation rather than damage-dealer has always suited me, as I can keep track of everything and lead from the rear!
I just bought myself a new computer, and the main reason is so I can play Left 4 Dead and Team Fortress 2 without begging time from my housemates. Playing TF2 much better, richer, smarter, funnier and modern than the old Team Fortress, but it feels like coming home at the same time. I am still woeful, having only played it for about 4 hours total, but I plan to perfect my skills.
L4D, on the other hand, is something that I frankly rule at. I love how immediate it is, how intense and knife-edge the gameplay is, and how much it relies on teamwork as well as personal excellence. I love surging through zombies as fast as I can with my teammates, I love joining a team that’s losing and turing it around to victory, and I love to destroy the survivors as Infected with a well-placed smoker pull or Tank strike, exploiting the errors of the opposition to maximum effect. The atmosphere is perfect for the incredibly tense, immersive, edge-of-your-seat stimulation that I crave.
I’m glad to have computer games back in my life. I plan on turning Tabitha into an ubergamer, so I can share with her this thing I love so deeply (I will stack the fridge however you like if you play Versus with meeeee :D). I like how Steam operates as a way to connect with your friends through gaming, and I am seriously looking forward to doing a lot more of that in the days, weeks, months and years to come.