I love computer games. In fact I’ve been an avid gamer now for over thirty years. You can probably tell this by the way I referred to them as ‘computer’ games rather than the more up to date epithet Video games.
Eeeeeeeeeee *shakes his stick at the young kids of today*
It occurred to me recently, when I was knee deep in the virtual blood of my fallen foes, that things used to be simpler when I was young. Video games (dammit! They got to me) today seem entirely reliant on tremendous amounts of violence to carry a story along. Now don’t get me wrong, I’m completely fine with murdering thousands of fictional guards with little common sense or regard for the dangers that bullets represent, but I wonder if I’m just beginning to get a bit jaded by the predictability of games?
When I first started back in the early eighties, there was bugger all chance that my little ZX Spectrum would be able to render any kind of realistic graphics at all. This ensured a definite disconnect between the things on the screen and real life. Because of this limitation creators wrote far weirder games, often involving llamas, pigeons, and occasionally Paul McCartney as principal characters. You also had plot lines that involved drunken lords having to collect flashing items from his peculiarly designed house before his maid would let him sleep. Of course today the wealthy gentleman would probably set himself up with a sniper rifle and double tap the unruly servant from a few hundred yards away. Ah, progress.
It was a more innocent time, a golden age, an oasis of innovation set against the depressingly cruel stage of an eighties England slowly tearing itself apart in street violence and trade disputes.
Hmmmmm, or was it?
I came across a link to the Internet Archive the other day which allows you to replay classic games. With joyful tears in my eyes I clicked at great haste to travel back to my childhood. What did they have? Aaah! The Hobbit! I loved that game. Wait… Karateka? Let the melee begin again. No……Knight Lore!!!! Wow, this was going to be great. I loaded up the game, watched the classic splash screens appear, replete with 8-bit art, smiled, rolled up my sleeves and got to work.
Bloody hell…these games are awful!
Karateka requires a thousand keystrokes to execute a kick, Knight Lore boasts the most ridiculous navigational control idea ever devised by man, and The Hobbit seems intent on denying any knowledge of the English language whenever I asked it to do anything. How did I survive these torments, and then come repeatedly back for more?
It was a sad moment. Like meeting your favourite uncle after many years, the one you thought was cool and funny when you were a kid, and realising that he’s a slightly boring old man.
I suppose it shouldn’t come as a surprise. After all, we don’t pine for many earlier iterations of computers or software in general.
‘No, I don’t want these modern fangled Google Docs! Give me Wordstar instead, and a dot matrix printer while you’re at it!’
But it’s odd when you confront such a different experience to the one your memory curated for you. I remember playing Flight Simulator by Psion for hours when I was ten years old. The forty year old version of me might last a couple of minutes before falling asleep, or whipping out the iPad to check Amazon for books on travel, while the badly drawn plane edged slowly towards its destination.
Just like the faithful old bike that you first ventured out on as a kid, these games served their purpose well. The laughable graphics and crazy control systems played their role of training wheels, until the day when I could balance myself and leave their restrictions behind. And just like real life, you don’t really want to ride on that bike again once you get the chance to sit in your first car.
Games may be hitting a wall creatively at the moment, but in the past two years I’ve played Mass Effect 2, Skyrim, Bioshock Infinite, and the Walking Dead – titles which would have dropped my younger self’s jaw to the floor. So things aren’t too bad at all.
It’s good to remember where you came from (in all walks of life), because sometimes it helps us to see that the best really could be yet to come.
Regular readers of this site will know that I have a somewhat idealistic take on technology. The possibilities of the internet paired with powerful mobile devices and reliable, easy to use, interfaces still excite me on a daily basis. Maybe it’s a sickness. Quite possibly. But in the spirit of those immortal words sung so convincingly by Luther Ingram in 1972 – ‘If loving you is wrong, I don’t ever want to be right’.
Of course that song was actually written from the point of view of a lover involved in an affair with a cheating husband, and you can imagine that after the music faded someone ended up hurt and alone. Maybe it’s not the best analogy to use. Ah, you’re an intelligent bunch, you can work through the moral disarray.
In short – technology is great. So to celebrate this I decided to illustrate some very simple but wonderfully convenient ways it has changed over the years to make our lives better.
When I was merely a snippet of a lad the only mobile technology I came into contact with was a remote control for our brand new, top-loading, VHS recorder. I loosely use the word remote because rather than the infrared devices that clutter up the gaps in our sofa cushions these days, the one we had actually attached to the front of the machine via a cord. So remote became a very subjective word. If six feet was remote to you then you were in luck, otherwise it seemed that you’d been given a quite close control, one that really offered little advantage over just getting up off your backside and turning the video on or off yourself.
How times have changed.
The other day I was in the pub with friends and realised that I’d forgotten to set my PVR to record Match of the Day (if this is all becoming far too lad-like for you, I refer you back to the first paragraph which included references to a 1970s love song, albeit of rather questionable values). In the past this would have been resolved by going home, calling home, or just bemoaning the fact that I wasn’t at home and why couldn’t someone invent something that stopped this kind of tragedy from ruining innocent lives. But not this day. Instead I quickly whipped out my iPhone, launched the Sky+ app, found the program guide and sent a signal for my PVR to begin recording. It was right, just, and I swear I heard the faint echo of angels singing as I slid the magical device back into my jeans and lifted my glass in victory. This is how life was meant to be.
As a child of the 70s who reached those troublesome young adult years amidst the avarice, violent protests, and terrible synthesizer music of the 80s, there is one item that came to symbolise those difficult years. The Filofax. It was the age of share dealing, business meetings, go-get-’em young executives making huge fortunes on far east investments then losing it all before the end of the day. Buy low, sell high, act like an over privileged idiot and end up thirty years later working in a petrol station, with a haunted look permanently darkening your gaze.
So how could you achieve such heights? The trusty Filofax. A paper world that needed to look battered, and so filled with contacts, notes, and calendar entries that technically the item counted as a potential explosive. Everyone who was someone had one. That’s a lot of ones.
The other thing I remember about the Filofax was how remarkably expensive they were. So for what was essentially a smaller than usual, leather, ring binder you could pay quite ludicrous prices. Then there was the additional expense of the inserts you needed to stuff into the thing to make it actually useful. It really became the case that in order to own a filofax you needed to be a high earner just to afford the new ruler, business card holders, or latest coloured note pages. Of course as the collection grew so did the weight and size, until those desperate to look important were dragging around what amounted to a filing cabinet in their pockets. Hernia treatment clinics have recently been linked with coming up with the concept, but they strongly deny the allegations.
Where are these paper palaces now?
The smartphone appeared pretty much out of nowhere and wiped out the industry. There had been the initial PDAs that started the transition, but really the iPhone, Blackberry and recently Tablets have taken the place of these impractical, additional devices. Now instead of the type of leather you clad your information in it’s the type of manufacturer. Brand names are back in fashion – Blackberry for the business professional…who doesn’t keep up with the times. iPhones for the well heeled, and Android for the rebels. What’s that? Windows Phone 8? Your guess is as good as mine.
Oddly one thing hasn’t changed. We still stuff additional pages into the phones to make them do more and increase our productivity. We just call them apps now, and thankfully they have little impact on our spines. Until the evil Hernia people find their angle…
It wasn’t that long ago that relatives in distant lands would film themselves on camcorders while giving seasonal messages, proudly holding aloft new born babies, or expressing they love for those far from them. These video cassettes would then run the gauntlet of x-ray scanners, crazed postal workers, and differing manufacturing encoding standards in the hope of delivering their precious cargo. To be honest it was such a pain that most people didn’t even attempt this high-tech form of correspondance, instead electing to write letters and throw a few choice pictures into the envelope. Long distance calls were expensive and at times actually of low enough quality to make it not worth the effort either. But still we tried to keep in contact with family and friends on foreign soil. I know of relatives that recorded audio diaries, repete with bedtime stories, which they would regularly send to their grandchildren so they could stay present in their lives even if not in a physical form.
There is a certain romance to this. The effort involved makes the intent more admirable. The striving to stay in contact even though the world would do its best to keep you apart is a true measure of love. It’s something almost noble.
These days our options are wide, free, and – technical hiccups aside – pretty much instant.
Skype, and its digital ilk, has made a huge difference in the lives of families who move to distant parts of the world, or in some cases just to the other end of a country. Now bedtime stories can be read in real-time, and the reactions witnessed as Bilbo nears his final confrontation with Smaug. I’ve been at parties where someone who couldn’t make the couple of thousand mile journey actually spent the entire night in the corner of the room via her laptop. She raised drinks, took part in the jokes, and was able to feel part of her wider community all from her home a hemisphere away. Journalists like myself conduct globe spanning interviews with celebrities that would once have had to brave the press tours to promote their newest creation. Children talk with their school friends in the evening, not seeming to see it an issue that they’ve spent the entire day with them already. The world indeed has been made smaller. It might not be the labour of love that went before it, but I think anyone would take it in a heartbeat.
There will be a few of these musings on the way tech is changing how we do the things we’ve always done. Why not leave a comment telling me what your favourite, simple changes are? Maybe they might even make it into a future post.