I had fun with the interview, and writing this piece in 2014. It originally appeared in SeethroughIt Magazine Issue 2. Some technology has arrived since the interview took place, so please keep that in mind.
If you were born in 1970 or after, you (like me) are quite familiar with the advent of computer- gaming. It started with those huge cartridge arcade-type games (The Last Starfighter kind) from ZX Spectrum and Atari that you would hook up to your TV. They seeped into the newly opening expanse of the home computer on the back of Commodore 64’s; replicating faster than Gremlins in those beige towers, keyboards and monitors which most middle-class homes and students owned by the onset of the 90’s.
There were the hand-held ones too. In a strange twist of fate, I was the kid in the family with the game, not my wee brother. The little green and silver calculator-sized thing looked much like the ones you still see today. It featured a man in a skirt with a long black thing in his hands, which I later realized was a sword, and strange humanoid black things falling out of the sky. There were no instructions. You had to catch the things falling out of the sky with the sword to get points. The game was called Shogun–– my first introduction to the concept of Samurai’s. And those black humanoid things were probably Ninjas. Not that any of that concerned me. What did was the score, which made the ninjas fall faster the higher it got. I gave it up in disgust the day I realized that the game was cheating-–sticking buttons and not crediting me with all the strikes! That’s the problem with playing against a computer–they cheat more and can’t think laterally. Fortunately, some bright people overcame this annoying problem by coming up with the intriguing world of Multi-player Role-Playing Games.
I had a brief, but telling introduction to them in the very early days when my not so wee brother allowed me to tag along to his friend’s house. We set off in his VW Beetle–the beige monitor, tower and keyboard we shared out for a jaunt in the backseat. At my brother’s friend’s house, a short technically intensive fifteen minutes had both computers connected and running the same program: Age of Empires. They didn’t explain anything at first. My usually patient brother grew very focused and snappy, banishing me to his more accommodating friend’s side.
The first thing that I noticed was that the screens were different. My brother’s had shown his village with his friend’s settlement in the distant background. His friend’s was vice-versa. Nothing seemed to happen for a while. Little figures seemed to be doing everyday villagey things like growing food and stuff. It looked quite boring. My brother and his friend just sat watching their screens with interest.
Mystified, I peeked at my brother’s screen. His character (or avatar), The Lord, sat astride his horse staring off towards his friends stronghold.
“What’s he doing?”
“Oh, he’s spying,” answered my brother’s friend, easily.
Shocked, I looked at my normally principled brother. He ignored me. A few minutes later, a bunch of figures from my brother’s village ran to his friend’s stronghold then back again.
“What are they doing?”
“He can’t do that!” I was almost yelling, using his friend’s favorite phrase.
“Oh, it’s OK. We’ll have the trebuchets in a minute,” was his friend’s unworried response. I thought I detected a hint of satisfaction.
“What’s a trebuchet?” I asked, mystified.
“That thing they’re building.” He was referring to his people on the screen.
And so I discovered what a trebuchet was. And how to use it against spying, thieving marauders who deserved to be pummeled into the dust! I was, naturally, cheering for my brother’s friend. My brother, back to his customary self, accepted the total defeat good-naturedly, declaring that it had been a good game. There was always the following week… And there was still Quake to play.
That had been almost two decades ago and multi-player role games have come a long, long way from a group of friends pulling an all-nighter in front of state-of-the-art S-VGA screens–in colour! Not all of the games were about building empires, or taking them down. I’ve had a taste of the shooters too, like Heretic and Quake, though only in the single-player demos.
Quite stress-relieving actually, once I’d gotten through the first 100 times of me dying within the initial 30secs of play–always happens to me for some reason… So I have some small understanding of the attraction of the vast Net universes out there filled with aliens, fantastical creatures and alliances that YOU choose; where YOU count; and where instant rebirth and redo’s are available unlike in this physical world.
As a singleton looking for a a good relationship, I decided that I should look at the gaming world again. Not as a means of meeting guys my age (though that may work with so many gamers being male) but with the insight that most guys my age have grown up within the gaming culture and still belong to it in some form or the other.
But, you may scoff, playing computer games just makes them childish, immature and unable to deal with the real world! Really? Here’s what I learned from playing computer games:
Hand-eye co-ordination (didn’t have much before I started playing them)
Problem-solving–both logical and lateral
Interesting facts on things like trebuchets (some games are really well researched and realistic)
About human behaviour and responses to difficult situations
Persistence and perserverance
Management of Resources
Consequences of previous actions and decisions, as well as the cost of shortcuts
Don’t know about you but that looks like a pretty impressive set of skills and attributes in a potential match… But, you’re still scoffing, gaming is all in make-believe land. It doesn’t count in the real world, does it? Let’s look at it this way: your average gamer is practicing these skills every time they log into their multi-player role-playing avatar online. They are able to run through similar decision-making processes whether it applies to overcoming a super-skilled wizard in Alviraland or overcoming the marketing department guy who wants to release a product before it’s quite ready. Sure, gamers talk in a strange language, but if you can abbreviate words and phrases and have a slightly absurd sense of humor, you should have no problem figuring most of it out. At the very least, you could google it. You know how to google, don’t you?
You’ll never get your potential boyfriend to leave these digital worlds. And why would you when you could easily join him and save a few worlds and souls together. At the very least, you’ll improve your hand-eye co-ordination. At the very best, you’ve joined them and beat them!
To round things off and put you more in the picture, we got the perspective of a guy who’s been gaming for the past twenty years or so. We had a Q&A session with the guy who introduced me to trebuchets. Here’s what he has to say:
So how would you define a Gamer?
Someone who enjoys gaming on “more than a social level”, i.e. he/she (usually he) considers it something to dedicate time to. It’s the difference between being able to play a game and wanting to be good at it (Gamers being the latter). Having said that, more and more writers are trying to define different classes of gamers (social gamers, hardcore gamers, etc)
Is there a Lifer?
What’s the difference between an online-gamer and a playstation user?
Online gamers prefer playing real people to (the usually stupid) AI in games. They probably enjoy beating real people more than the console (I know I do).
How long have you been a playing online games? Do you play games simultaneously?
About 7 years, and yes.
How many hours a day do you spend gaming?
Depends on work, but between 5 to 10 hours a week.
Online gaming seems to have it’s own unique culture. Tell us about the whole scene. How does it differ from the playstation and home games scene?
Far more social interaction
How has it evolved from Heretic?
Sorry, but that’s like asking how the mobile phone has evolved over the same period–same basic idea but expanded to exploit new technology and meet gaming demands.
WeeBruv says gaming is a guy thing. Do you agree? Why?
Yes–the vast majority of gamers are guys–probably the same reason most fans of Die Hard (and action movies in general) are guys–the content appeals to them more than ladies. Guys get a kick out of seeing aliens being blown up (in the movies) or blowing them up (in games). Most games appeal to the same things men seem to prefer–sports (football, motor racing), action (FPS– 1st Person Shooter), fighting (Mortal Kombat, etc). You get the idea.
How does gaming make you feel?
Depends on the game–but usually excited.
Would you say it’s one of the biggest commitments of your life?
Not even close
Why do you play online games as opposed to other games?
I play both, but prefer the online ones because there is more “social interaction” (albeit via the web). Playing squad based shooters is fun.
What are the long-term benefits of playing?
You get better?
You planning to get better?
What are the long-term disadvantages of playing? And short-term?
How much do you spend on gaming and systems?
Way too much
What’s the best thing that has happened to you while playing?
What’s the worst thing that has happened to you while playing?
What do your friends and family think about your gaming?
They think I am crazy.
Has it caused you any social problems?
Would you say that you are addicted to gaming?
Is it easy to talk to non-gamers about this interest of yours?
No–they just don’t understand!
Any advice for people in relationships with gamers?
Yes–learn to game!
What life lessons has gaming taught you?
Really–well always shoot zombies in the head, hiding behind cover heals all wounds, I can’t sing, or dance.
Advice for newbies? What do you need to get started?
A good console, sound system, TV and friends.
Your thoughts on the future of gaming?
Where’s the VR they promised us in the 90’s? Probably more 3D games as the technology penetrates the markets.
Your thoughts of gamers in general and the culture being created?
Too tired to think now
What does your average gamer look and sound like?
They look like regular people
How do you spot a gamer?
Shout “Frag Out”–the ones that hit the floor are gamers.
Does your darkside come out when you play?
Would you act the same if you had the same multiple-lives and resources off-line?
That question is way too scary to contemplate.
And there you have it.
If you’d like to read more of my advice on finding love, you might want to read this.