I’ve never really been what you’d call ‘a gamer’. Oh I’ve played games, don’t get me wrong. Quite a lot. Many many hours of playing games. More hours than my parents would have liked me to, that’s for certain. But it’s never felt like an identity to me, never resonated with me the way it seems to with many people I’ve seen online.
Perhaps this is because I never really saw it as something that a community could be built around (although, clearly, it is). When I was young, we didn’t have a games console. We had an Amiga 500, with 500kb of RAM – amazing enough, I know, but at one point we upgraded it to a whole megabite! That was an exciting day in the Kurd household, I can tell you. Games loaded much… er, well, they loaded much the same as before, slowly and loudly. But they ran more… er, well, they didn’t really run that much better either. Come to think of it, I don’t recall seeing any significant difference from the upgrade in memory. Shame.
Still, I had immense fun. I can still remember the games now, along with how to play them and their little quirks. The Secret of Monkey Island, with its Caribbean setting and superb humour. Eye of the Beholder, with its catacombs and fiendish puzzles. Shadow of the Beast. Lemmings. Bubble Bobble. Jumping Jackson. Hybris. The Lotus racing games. The first two Populous games. The list is pretty much endless. I’m having fun just remembering them. Turrican! Last Samurai! New Zealand Story! James Pond! Robocod! Pang! No, not Pong. Pang. No, seriously, it was called Pang. The 90s were a strange time.
Anyway, there’s one important thing to remember about this. I played alone. My sister and I never really played computer games together, I think partly because the 2 player games we had just didn’t interest us both at the same time but mostly because we only had one joystick and getting another was a bit out of our price range. So it was just me, basking in the glow of the flickering screen, until my mother would force me to turn it off and go read a book or do something productive instead.
And let’s not forget, there was no internet – well, not as we know it now. I’m told Usenet and BBS and other strange words were around at the time, but that’s a magical mystical otherland as far as I’m concerned. Growing up in Jordan in the early 90s, an internet connection might as well have been a rocketship to the moon or a gold-plated mansion. I didn’t even get a PC until 1997ish, let alone an internet connection. I had to wait until my return to England to join the hordes of dial-up cursed households.
So this, coupled with me having very few friends way back when, meant I lacked a basic sense of gaming community. Fast forward to early England, early 00s. The internet, soon to be upgraded to glorious broadband. More and more powerful machines, running better and better games. Fallout. Baldur’s Gate. Might and Magic XI-VIII. Star Trek: Birth of the Federation. All a bit pants by today’s standards (many a bit pants by the standards back then), but compared to the blip-blip-blip of most basic Amiga games? I was in heaven.
Then came the PS2, my first console, and an explosion of video gaming up in my room in the long hours of the night. Something about the ease of play – stick it in, now installing required, easy gamepad control. I started to game less and less on computers, and to this day I favour the Xbox 360 over computer gaming. That said, a large part of it will be because as our computer grew obsolete I wasn’t able to play newer games. The laptops I’ve had have always been geared for functionality rather than gameability, so it’s natural that it just tapered off. The advent of Steam has meant that I own plenty of games for when I have a better machine, but I can’t see myself ever really dedicating huge chunks of time to it.
Even console gaming has dropped off for me in recent years. There initial happy reason for this – I’m much better at making friends now, and usually there was something I could be doing, either attending a Scifi society event or meeting friends for a barbecue. Latterly, though, it’s because I spend a lot of time either working, travelling to/from work or doing sundry chores like washing and cleaning and fending off bouts of depression. None of which is conducive to gaming.
I’ve never seen ‘gamer’ as a badge to wear to identify with, and do so even less now that I game rarely and shallowly enough to be considered a ‘casual’ gamer – a tag that apparently rhymes with ‘scum’ in certain circles. Seriously, I’ve seen terrible vitriol and bile aimed at people who just play casually. What’s wrong with being casual? I didn’t realise I was meant to commit to the cause before picking up a gamepad. Do I need to beat every Zelda game 3 times over and get every achievement in every Assassin’s Creed club to get my card? Does it entitle me to any discounts? Is there a membership fee?
At the end of the day, playing videogames is a hobby. I know people who are more serious about it than I am, keeping up with the industry and producing Let’s Play videos and similar content. That’s cool, but it’s not for me. I’d like to just pick up a game, play for an hour or two then get on with other things. I’m just glad the games are good.
1MB RAM. Wow.