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.
Gandalf, carry me East.