Carpe Diem et Venatus!

4 Dec

What makes me a gamer?

I suppose I could attempt to answer this in a number of different ways, I could compare myself to others and I could cite history and societal trends. If I did that though, then there could be no chance of me finding a personally satisfying conclusion.

I could blame society. When I was but a little kiddy, I was taken to my father’s work. He had Day of the Tentacle installed on his work PC, along with Star Wars: Dark Forces. I can’t pretend that I understood exactly what I was doing on Day of the Tentacle, I was only four years old and as such my attention span was a little limited. I still remember sitting on his massive leather chair, while he and his friends chatted in the corner, and entering the world of Luke Skywalker. The chance to blast Stormtroopers with a laser pistol was something new to me, and certainly put my childish and incoherent world of make-believe to shame. Videogames, despite the pixellation and limited interaction, offered a clarity of vision and pure fun. They were just so cool. I remember entering cheat codes on Dark Forces for the first time, the sense of power that came is something that Ill never forget, and the kudos that it brought me with my friends cannot be overstated.

As the years went by, games were increasingly something that my friends played. I owned a Sega Mega Drive, I played Sonic the Hedgehog constantly, I went from lobbing grenades at Gammoreans to spinning the living daylights out of Dr Robotnik. I loved both games, owning Sonic and then Streets of Rage meant that I could play with my friends, and eventually my younger brother. Then came the Sega Saturn, and then the Playstation. I was never interested in Action Men or any of those other toys, save perhaps Lego. Videogames were the height of cool.

By this point I was around eight years old. My library of games expanded considerably, I played Tekken 2 and 3, Gran Turismo, Crash Bandicoot 3, Spyro the Dragon, the list went on. Either by myself or with friends, it was increasingly how I chose to spend my time, sometimes to the detriment of my health and appearance. As birthdays and Christmases went by, so my collection increased. I would travel to my best friend’s house, he had a Nintendo 64, we’d play Mario 64 when his parents were there, then sneak his dads copy of Goldeneye from the high drawer and giggle as we shot each other to pieces as obese midget Koreans. Another friend had a good PC, he introduced me to Age of Empires, I was enthralled. I look back at this time and I dont see it as a childhood wasted, I spent plenty of time outdoors, gaming was a healthy part of my social life and development, I wasn’t good at sport and this was something I could enjoy despite my less than stellar hand-to-eye coordination. I also now recognise the potential that videogames have to warp the development of children, much the same as too much of any good thing having negative effects. I could have played less, but I’m fine now, mostly.

Then came the Gameboys and Pokemon, suddenly having those oversized calculators was the most important thing in the world, and battling oddly shaped monstrosities against each other became the only thing I cared about. My devotion was religious, as it was for all the other children in my class. Kids traded the cards and chatted about their progress in the game, it had the power to unite and was an inherently social thing. However, some stole cards, other kids got in fights over them. The adults didnt understand, perhaps if they did then so many schools wouldn’t have banned the damn things.

Then came the PS2, and Grand Theft Auto 3. Games suddenly went into unknown territory, I adapted to the violence of the game with frightening speed, my parents were none the wiser. My friends and I had been indulging in virtual slaughter for years, I was as adept at dropping men with a single shot at 300 yards as I was at stomping Koopas to death. Again, the parents either over-reacted or didn’t care at all. It was just what the kids did.

It was after this that high school came, and with it the apathy and stigma of the teenage years. Suddenly gaming went from being something that everyone did and became the occupation of a subset. It also became something that boys exclusively did. I was a flake and didn’t want to be associated with that particular group, so I disowned my consoles and played my PC in secret.

Society introduced me to games, encouraged my addiction and then took them away from me.

I didn’t just game because it was something my friends did. I gamed because it meant something very personal to me. I played Age of Empires, later I played Civilisation, eventually I played any strategy game I could get my hands on. I loved the sense of control, the power that came from ordering large groups of tiny men to attack differently coloured large groups of tiny men. This is something that cannot be overlooked, when you are an outcast of sorts it is very tempting to roleplay, I just chose to be a god.

Mostly I loved the history. I can honestly say that it was my childhood love of Age of Empires that inspired my general love of history and eventually led to me taking my undergraduate degree in history. They taught me a passion that my teachers could never instil, despite their best efforts. Games have an ability to engage that other kinds of interaction do not.

Throughout my teenage years, I played my PC, the consoles gathered dust except for the occasional bout of Timesplitters on local multiplayer with my brother.

My brother is dyspraxic, he has poor dexterity in his wrists, making writing difficult among other things. He is also six years younger than I am. We shared a room for a considerable period of time during our childhoods, and I can honestly say that it was gaming that allowed me to bond with him. We’re very different people, we have totally opposing interests, and given that for a large period of his life he has been physically smaller than myself, we couldn’t play sports on an equal level. What we could do however, is pick up two separate controllers and play the same game. This created myriad shared experiences that laid the groundwork for the relationship that we have today.

I’d play when I was alone, I’d play when I felt down. Given my library and knowledge of the medium, I had a game to suit any situation, any mood. I had a number of other hobbies and a healthy social life, I loved to write and play basketball, I read constantly and spent a good deal of time hanging about with my friends. The one constant though was my love for videogames, I’d never stop coming back, even as I grew older and my interests changed.

I can’t blame society for my love of videogames, I can’t cite it as the reason that I am a gamer. I can’t bring examples of social history or quote statistics, nor can I compare myself to others. My experience was original amongst millions of other original experiences. I game to relax, I game to cope, I game to socialise, I game to escape, I game for adventure, I game for control, I game because I always have done and I game because I am.

For me, the interaction of the medium, its ability to unite, inspire and drive the nature of entertainment into strange new realms is what lends it worth. In a world where all current forms of entertainment have remained essentially unchanged for a century, gaming is the means by which we will carve something new and exciting for ourselves.

Despite whether it made me irritable, gave me occasional anti-social tendencies or caused me to harbour the odd sociopathic sentiment, gaming made me who I am, and for that I am eternally grateful. I am who I am because I game, and that will never change.


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