What the hell just happened? I didn’t see it coming, but from nowhere I appear to be crap at playing computer games.
I used to be alright at this lark, I spent many, many hours of my youth (probably too many) playing various computer games on various systems. I’m not one of those hard-core gamers but I could always hold my own at a game of Tekken, and even managed to complete Final Fantasy 7 many moons ago.
Yet now, my mojo has left me. I think this might be the first stage of admitting that I’m getting old. I’m the wrong side of 40 and despite still loving computer games I seem to have drifted to a state where I’m nowhere near as sharp as I was. How do I know this? My son reminds me every time we play on the Xbox 360. It only takes a game or two of Pro Evolution Soccer for me to realise how far I’ve fallen. This used to be my game, the one I could confidently predict that I stood a good to high chance of beating all-comers. But now my 7-year-old son takes me apart on a regular basis. Like a professional footballer whose best days are gone, it’s a chastening experience to see the youth overtake you.
It started when one of my older sisters got a ZX81 (I told you I was over 40), we programmed our own games from magazines full of code only to type “run” and see a message that there was a syntax error on line 2. Much practise ensued, and on the occasions that the computer didn’t overheat we got to play games and a passion was born. I won’t kid you, I never got the coding bug, I got the gaming bug. My best friend had a Spectrum and I graduated to a Commodore 64. Those glory days were characterised by having to play 2 player games each using different halves of the keyboard; constant arguments about which was the best joystick on the market; spending our pocket money on computer games tapes (yes, tapes); and engaging in all sorts of despicable cheating to ensure we always got one over on each other (pulling the joystick lead out of the computer when your mate was on a vital downswing in World Class leaderboard still ranks as one of the most satisfying ways to piss someone off).
Then consoles hit and I got a Megadrive. Sonic ruled, as did Gunstar Heroes and Road Rash. FIFA and the John Madden became the competitive games of choice and then the Playstation arrived.
How can I put this shift in gaming into clear focus? Edge magazine one reported that Sony took computer gaming out of the bedroom and into the living room, which is true as it had previously (mostly) been the domain of boys. Playstation changed all this. It also changed on the playground too as suddenly it was cool to own a Playstation. Sony created a marketing monster and engineered a huge cultural change in the way computer games and consoles were viewed in society. The game Wipeout personified this, as did club culture in Britain at the time. The crossover was huge and this was a great time to play computer games.
Next up was the Dreamcast, for my money one of the best consoles ever made. Somehow Sega managed to drop the ball and it spelt the death of the company as a hardware manufacturer. It also spelt the death of my beloved Dreamcast. I remember the day perfectly, I was living in a shared house in Ipswich and went to play a game of Jet Set Radio after work. I pressed the “on” button and nothing happened. I pressed it again, still no response. Slightly unnerved I called one of my housemates into the room and between us, we couldn’t get it to function. We just sat there, wordless. Gutted. Bizarrely I hung onto both the machine and the games for a year or so, possibly in the hope of some Lazarus style miracle.
Barring the brief return to Playstation, I am now up to date(ish) and own an Xbox 360. It does me fine for my gaming needs and, truth be told, I own more games than I’ll end up playing (and certainly more than I’ll end up completing). My son and I engage in regular matches of Pro Evolution Soccer, Lego Star Wars or Harry Potter, and he’s taught me how to play Minecraft. And that’s another one which blew me away.
I didn’t think much of it when I saw the screenshots, I thought it was just a kids fad, and then I played it. I was astonished at the depth of it and had no clue what I was doing. Fortunately, my son has put in all the effort and he regularly looks at me like I’m stupid when I ask him how to craft a torch. His patience with his dopey old dad is amazing, and we have ended up creating new worlds together and having a blast.
And here’s the kicker, I think that these days I’d rather put on a game where I don’t have to think too hard. It’s easier for me to play a familiar game than work out something completely new. There’s nothing that worries me more about computer games than having to learn a new control interface or spend all that time getting into the story. I have only just finished Mass Effect. The first one. A combination of time, patience, working out what on earth I’m doing, and forgetting how the game works in the 6-month absence since I last played it all conspire against me.
I still love playing computer games, it’s a great pastime, but I’m certainly not the best player in the world. I’m not even the best in my house! And games are everywhere these days, on computers, consoles, tablets and phones. There’s never been a better time to play them, and I look forward to both my children realising that dad isn’t actually that good at them, no doubt they’ll end up teaching me (assuming they don’t think I’m completely rubbish).
Before I go, here are my top 5 favourite computer games of all-time (at least the ones I can remember right now):
- Turrican (C64)
- Road Rash (Megadrive)
- Red Dead Redemption (Xbox 360)
- Emlyn Hughes International Football (C64)
- Soul Calibur (Dreamcast)