Why do you play?

war games, videogames, indian summer

Or, more precisely, what are games to you? What niche in your life do they fill? Feel free to post your story and tell everyone how you got to where you are today.

For some, they are a simple distraction. For others, the main focal point of their life, their animus, the thing that drives them and defines who they are. For me? well, I’m probably most from the former, and a little bit of the latter. In terms of playing games, I’m probably fairly casual. They are a pastime, something to relieve boredom or stress. A way to work out the tensions of a crappy day at work, or the tensions and strains of everyday life. But, to a certain degree I would say that I have a passion for games. Not all my life, and not so much that I will put everything else on hold. But enough to keep me watching what is happening in the world of video games, and anticipating the next game with baited breath.

But why? Find out after the jump.

I think, for me, as a tried-and-true FPS gamer (yes, I know the arguments about “gamer”, but I can’t think of a better alternative right now), the games I play tap into that inner child that used to play with toy guns as a kid. You know, running around, acting out pretend gunfights with your mates, making those “eh-eh-eh” machine gun noises amidst shouts of “Got you!”, “No you didn’t, you missed!”.  Ah, those halcyon days.

In those days, as a kid growing up in the 70’s, the battles (we called it “toy fighting”, I have no idea why) were always based around shooting Germans. Perhaps I should qualify that better to sound less xenophobic – we were playing Allies fighting Nazis. We knew nothing of Vietnam or Korea, nor real politics or conflict. We grew up on “guts ‘n’ glory” WWII films, Action Men figures who were REAL soldiers from WWII and not lah-de-dah eco-warriors with jet-skis as they are today, and toy guns that looked like the real thing and fired plastic cap strips. Nazis weren’t people to us; they were just the only real available “bad guys” that we were aware of in our juvenile culture at that time. Other than sports (which I hated) there was not a lot else to stir our imaginations. And to young boys, growing up in the 1970’s, WWII was just…well, cool. But I’ll come back to that later. How did I get started?

Growing up, my first experience of videogames was an orange and black Binatone pong console, played on a tiny black and white portable TV that had twiddly dials that looked like they had been lifted straight off of a classic 50’s American car. I was maybe five or six. With tennis, football, squash (my favorite) and…um…I can’t remember what else…it was a radical thing.

Then my best friend Trevor got an Atari 2600. For the first time, there was color. I was blown away. I was, perhaps at this point, a tiny bit hooked. But not that much; the other distractions of everyday childhood steered me away.

In the early 80’s, my parents bought an Atari 400. Cartridge-based personal computer. 8k of memory. Flat, keyless keyboard. Power brick ALMOST as big as an Xbox 360. I had truly embraced the modern age! My brother programmed on it – that’s just how he was – and I played games. This was the era of loading games off of a cassette (unless we could afford a cartridge game). I will never forget playing 2-player Asteroids with a neighbor, who hadn’t got a clue what to do. We were in hysterics. Caverns of Mars – I loved that too. There were others, though sadly the memories are lost in the mists of time.

The Atari stood me well for a number of years, but still, even then, there was no addiction, no compulsion. It was just something I would occasionally do for fun.

Then came the Spectrum 48k. This was purchased for me and me alone, and lived in my bedroom. I was becoming more contemporary. I will never forget how amazed I was at Lotus Esprit (or somesuch name) – a black and white, pseudo 3-D game, where you could drive around streets and chase bad-guy cars. The thing that blew me away was the fact that  there were dudes! Walking on the crossways! Little stick men! And you could run them over if you wanted to! This was my first experience of any real depth and interactivity in gaming, albeit basic. That Spectrum lasted me a good few years, despite blowing up once when a joystick was plugged in whilst switched on, and keys falling out if you turned it upside-down. It was a prized possession, and for a while, I was hooked a little more.

Then came 1989. This was a true dawning, but not in the way you think. Not a dawning in terms of games, but in terms of computers, and what they can do.

In that year came a shift in animus, and the Commodore Amiga – where I first learned to use a computer to draw. I have always drawn, and cartooning is my passion. But for the first time, I could create images like never before. I was 18, and I created an image of a silver, reflective phoenix rising from the flames. I spent days creating the phoenix, which was in essence made of the reflections of the flames in the silver. There were games too, but my addiction here was art. I saw a future, and this was the beginning. But it was not to last, that Amiga.

Taken in for repair one day, the shop that took it went out of business, and my Amiga went with it. It would not be until the lat 1990’s that I again jumped into the world of computers, the world on which I depend for my online comic strip, my artistic creativity and my games habit. But I would not be jumping back in because of art. I would coming back because of games.

To be precise, I came back because of Quake. I saw it running on a friend’s PC, and I was amazed. As soon as I could, A PC was obtained, and for many a night I would sit in a darkened room playing my first ever FPS. I was hooked. Then came Duke Nukem 3D, a very brief flirt with Demolition Derby (“It’s the first race of the season!”), then Dark Forces. The PC got upgraded a few times. Then Dark Forces 2. Quake 2. At this time, I also began to re-awaken to the artisitc capabilities of the computer. Eventually, a graphics tablet came along. And the development of dogsounds.com, and the online comic strip Avoid Spikes. The PC was becoming the focal point of my life in those late days of the Twentieth century.

I was hooked. But still, I was not yet addicted.

Then it happened.

First-person shooters had always latched onto to come childhood ken, some distant desire to act out the heroic fight with fantastic weapons. A diet of films and action TV like A Team, Airwolf, The Fall Guy, Starsky and Hutch, V, and all the rest of the Saturday morning American TV we got over here gave us big kids the ability to understand the concept of the “lone hero”, which drove the majority of these early FPS games. It was natural, a chance to experience that which we had always known, but now interactively, not just as a passive observer. It was like we had changed role from being Al, the observer, to that of Sam Beckett, moving from leapee to leapee, affecting the outcome.

And then came Medal Of Honor: Allied Assault.

It was like a smack around the chops with a wet fish. Not only was it (at the time) the most awesome thing I had ever seen – the Omaha beach sequence – though dated by today’s standards – was, at the time, fresh off the back of Saving Private Ryan, and a mercilessly realistic and engrossing experience. But it changed me on two very separate and equally important levels.

Firstly, it was a form of realism in a game that I had never seen before. For the first time, I was a regular guy, fighting other regular guys. No sci-fi weapons, power ups, alien hordes or fantastical creatures. Just dudes. I was playing in places that really existed,  with weapons that really existed,  and all this in the most authentic, highest quality sound I had ever known. I had enjoyed shooters in the past, but I had never felt connected with them. I always had that feeling of being a God, able to defeat anyone, but here I was, storming Omaha beach, getting cut down time after time, thrown into chaos, carnage and unpredictabilty, taken out by an enemy I couldn’t even see. I was actually, and honestly, scared of being killed. And in the back of my mind that, although still unrealistic in many ways, I knew I was following in the footsteps of real people who had fought and been slain on those beaches. For a game to inject that  level of realism, well, it was just too awesome to comprehend. When I got past those beaches, I had an overwhelming and new-found utter respect for the real troopers that went there. For what they did, for the sacrifices they made. Not just Americans, but all of the forces involved, all the Allies and Axis, across the whole theater of battle. All driven by their own causes, right or wrong, to the point where the sacrifice of their own life was still , to them, something to worry about, but not cause to flee. Now I had experienced in just a tiny, quantum way, what it was like.  And I was shocked. When I cleared the beach, I remember saying “Jesus…Jesus…”.  Not because it was hard, which it was. But because I was able to start to realise what the real soldiers faced on that day. And that few hours of playing a videogame brought me closer to understanding the fear, terror and agony of war than any documentary or film ever had.

And the second part? It was the childhood games. I was fighting Nazis, the eternal and best-ever bad guys. The game ripped open my head, pulled out my brain, found the bits that had the memories of all those play-fights in the garden on long summer days, and prodded it with a big fat finger, mercilessly. Videogames had finally found a hook, an anchor point on which to moor, and they were there to stay.

I have never looked back. Now, although I will play any FPS that isn’t a pile of crap, there will always be a fondness for, and nothing will ever grab me as much as, fighting the Nazi war-machine. I don’t play FPS games ( I am including Gears of War here) because I like shooting or guns. I don’t play them because I like violence or carnage or because I am a frustrated gunman stifled by British gun laws. I have no interest in firing a real gun, much less actually shooting a human being.

But it is because it is the only way of playing those Indian-summer childhood games all over again.

“Bang bang, you’re dead.”



One Comment

  1. Posted August 29, 2009 at 2:07 pm | Permalink | Reply

    omgf that picture brought back memories of vietnam 🙂

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