I was at work today (I have a feeling a lot of these will be starting with that phrase), when I stumbled into a discussion among my colleagues on the immaturity of gaming. How those who spend all or part of their free time engaged in playing video games are seen as less respectable, as if they are doing something wrong with themselves. Though it was not the case today, I have heard the word “addict” being thrown around with the nonchalance that those who oppose the Bucharest stray dog cull compared it to the Holocaust. Now that I put the proverbial pen to the proverbial paper the very sound of the notion evokes the same reaction that “venereal disease” does. Say it out loud – “video games” – it’s visceral isn’t it? That reaction.
And yet, I am a gamer. I too spend a considerable amount of time playing games. Make no mistake then, mine is a biased view, though this alone does not make it wrong. One could question the reasons for which I am writing this apology, but to defeat it, only sound argument will do.
Gaming as we know it really picked up with the advent of digital computing and even though one could argue chess champions and grannies who play bridge every Thursday night at their retirement home are also gamers, this is not about them. This is about me.
The first PC game I have ever played was Dune 2. I remember it as if it were yesterday. My brother had brought me along on a visit to his best friend’s house. This guy owned one of maybe four computers in town at the time. I was six or seven years old and I was fascinated. This was right around the time my brother also introduced me to reading things other than folk faerie tales, and I found Karl May and ancient history just as fascinating as I did computers.
This game was a simple strategy game, among the first of its’ kind. You gathered your own resources and used them to build up a base and defeat the AI opponent. You could imagine your own story and watch it unfold in front of your very eyes, write your own history, and take part in it over and over again. It was a concept that still endures and thrives in the “industry” (such a cold word) today, and its’ many avenues, gimmicks, themes, settings and variations are a testament to its’ success. Multiplayer real time strategy games pit two or more human opponents against one another in a fast paced contest of will, skill and mental stamina that few human activities can match. In fact places exist where this sort of contest is a national passtime.
Time went on and around the age of fifteen, through my parents’ recognition of the fact that computers would soon become a very important part of our lives I got my first computer. It wasn’t much even back then, but it could run my favorite games and I was not complaining. I discovered (read – was introduced to by my brother) adventure games and the mesmerizing story of Guybrush Threepwood in “The Curse Of Monkey Island” a surreal adventure game by Lucas Arts. I didn’t know it was a masterpiece at the time as media wasn’t as readily available in 2001 as it is now and games didn’t make their way to my semi rural corner of Eastern Europe as quickly as they do nowadays. I would not do the story justice if I tried to tell it myself and so I point you to wikipedia.
Suffice to say that while I still enjoyed reading, being part of the story and having it told in such a compelling way was an altogether new experience. All manner of puzzles and witty dialogue abounded and made for what I dare describe as a new kind of art form. And that is not me saying it. It’s the British Academy.
Gaming has come a long way since those days. Demand for graphics that are more and more realistic put real strain on the available hardware of the time, and manufacturers continued to amaze by living up to those demands. In fact, my old two gigabyte hard drive could only fit a very small minority of titles coming out today. Gaming has been a driver of innovation in the past two and a half decades. There were others, but gaming has played a decisive role in bringing computers into our homes.
Once those computers were finally networked on a global scale, gaming became social, and has helped many of us come one step closer to living out the dreams of our imaginations. No longer would we be the seemingly unstoppable demigod-like heroes of Diablo, no – we are one of many. Why does that matter? If you were living in a small town where you felt like you didn’t fit in it mattered. Suddenly all these people you could identify with were there and you could talk to them. It felt liberating, and I owe the fact that no one believes me when I say I am a shy person these days entirely to gaming.
I believe that gaming is to what we see today as culture what cinema was at the beginning of the last century and I believe that games have the same artistic value as any kind of other creative endeavor. As such, there is such a thing as kietsch gaming and I will let you decide for yourself what makes a good game and what doesn’t. After all, beauty is in the eye of the beholder.