Classic Computer Games, and why we should let them rest in peace

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?

the-lords-of-midnightWhen 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.

Gandalf, carry me East.

game over screen

The Girl with the Digital Face

It was the strangest thing. For weeks something had been whispering at the back of my mind. An idea that would tiptoe around the edges of my understanding, then disappear the moment I tried to gather it closer. Like a glitch in the Matrix, or that dawning horror of a forgotten anniversary. Then it revealed itself…how could I have missed this for so long?

The moment of revelation came in a recent episode of Dexter. I’ve long admired the show which features everybody’s favourite serial killer, but it was during the last season that this gnawing feeling had begun to manifest. More specifically whenever a certain actress was in a scene. Yvonne Strahovski plays the beautiful, but very deadly, Hannah McKay who charms her way into our hero Dexter’s rather black heart. There are many reasons why you’d be drawn to her whenever she’s on-screen, her copious gorgeousness not withstanding, but I knew it was something else. She seemed…familiar. I don’t know what finally made the connection, maybe her head tilted at a certain angle, the light dancing across her cheekbones, or a dreamlike wandering that placed a laser rifle and supernatural telekinetic powers in her elegant frame, but in an instant I saw it.

‘She’s the girl in Mass Effect!’ I cried to general disinterest and probable confusion.

Miranda for real

And there it was. For the first time in my life I had recognised an actress who had appeared in a video game, but not from her voice – as you would more reasonably expect – but from her actual face. Now, any gamer out there who has ever gone to a sci-fi convention or Googled the word Cosplay has probably seen ladies and gentlemen of the more flamboyant persuasion dressed rather convincingly in the costumes of their favourite avatars. We’ve all wondered at the copious Lara Crofts, Master Chiefs, and Little Sisters that decorate those environs, but to have it happen in reverse…well, it was odd.

It created a strange mental relationship with her. After all I had fought the greatest threat to the galaxy mankind has ever known with her, or Miranda Lawson as she was going by then, at my side. We had clashed over her elitist views on alien integration, then shared moments of intimate confession as she told me how her father had scientifically experimented on her. We had rescued her sister, saved the universe, and engaged in awkwardly animated conjugal relations on the mid decks of the Normandy spacecraft. We had history.

Now she was this….woman. Flesh and blood arranged in a spectacularly pleasing fashion. But she wasn’t the same. Hannah McKay had no military training. Not once in the series did I see her pilot a spacecraft, shoulder a pulse rifle, or don an incredibly tight uniform and stand with her bottom directly in the line of the camera. What was happening?

Now the mirror has been cracked, who knows where it will end? Will Cortana turn up as a Dornish maiden in Game of Thrones? Shall I brace myself for the sight of Mario playing a mob-leader suspected of murder in an upcoming episode of Castle? Or Marcus Fenix singing his favourite show-tunes on Glee?

Be afraid people, be very afraid…