Life, The Universe And Gaming: Everyone Has An Origin Story
Pictured: The Big Bang. Or an orgasm. Likely both.
It is said that in order to know where you’re going, you must first know where you’ve been. Pseudo-intellectual philosophical and existential debates about history repeating itself aside, I tend to think of this saying as having an eye on the past while you think about the future. After all, if you are aware of your mistakes and your challenges in getting to where you are, then you will have that much easier of a time in getting to where you want to be, right? At least, that’s how we tend to rationalise the idea of work experience; it’s the difference between knowing a bunch of things and being able to productively connect those things together.
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In recent weeks I’ve thrown some strong opinions onto the internet and been criticised, in isolated cases, as someone who either hates gaming, loves gaming too much, hates Xbox, hates Sony, is jealous of next-gen gamers, so on and so forth. I think a few people actually referred to me as a “pathetic excuse for a journalist” during one of those articles. Taken in my stride though they were, it being the internet and all, I was forced to really think about how people can react in such ways to opinions that disagree with their own.
This leads me to today’s column, which I assure you is going to read in its entirety like a blog post. It’s an extremely personal entry that I am going to keep that way on purpose, so if you’re not interested in my life and would rather read about what new dumb things EA are saying or how much worse Watch_Dogs looks this week, then by all means feel free to close this article right now and go about your life. I promise, I’ll only cry a little. That said, if you are sticking around then I appreciate your interest even if just voyeuristic, and hopefully you can join in the fun by commenting when you’re done reading this.
So. Origin stories. We all have one, right? Almost every noteworthy comic book character has had an origin story created for them and sure, some of them were far better suited to allusions of mystery and intrigue rather than a set-in-stone canon, and sure some others (*cough* Deadpool) have absolutely the most confusing origin stories in all of comics but more often than not, a character’s personality traits and behavioural habits are explained entirely by their origin story. I think the most well-known origin stories of them all are those of Batman and Superman; perhaps also Iron Man. We know where they’ve come from which helps us to understand the whys and hows of what they are.
Likewise, as gamers we all have our own origin stories with gaming and I’d like to share my own here, in a few hundred or so words.
Growing up I had a lot of interests that came and went like the whims of a teenage girl discovering her sexuality (perhaps not the best comparison to draw?) and so at different times I was passionate about such things as football (also known as ‘soccer’ in America, Oceania and South Africa only), skateboarding, cricket and cars. Sure there were other interests the likes of Formula 1, wrestling (we all had this phase, admit), chess, volleyball, reading and so on but the first few were the ones I got really into, as in at different stages of my life I could name every first team player for South Africa in the past twenty years, I could quote batting averages for those players, I could name every famous skateboarder and tell you their signature moves, I knew every single player bar none in the 2002 FIFA World Cup, I could name every Manchester United player for the past half-century, I could quote engine dimensions and drivetrains on every single Porsche to have ever released including the elusive-but-amazing 935 and 959 supercars. I was something of a boffin, owing mostly to my obsessive-compulsive nature.
Thing is, during all that time these were just passing fancies for me, again like the whimsical sexually curious teenage girl I mentioned. The true obsession for me was always gaming. When I still had milk teeth, before I could even count to ten, I was obsessed with games. We had an old Golden China ‘TV games’ console with a bunch of old cartridges and I adored that thing to bits. I would play all sorts of games the likes of Excite Bike, Othello and… look it’s been a long time, I can’t remember the names of all of them. I would make every excuse to go along with my family on Sunday afternoon to the flea market in the hopes that someone there was selling cartridges that I could then force my parents to buy (read: cry until they did) in order to come home and play games. It rarely worked, but I was ever so incorrigible, even then.
My parents always thought that I was quite an outgoing child who loved everyone because I would always want to visit family and friends of family and stay over, but my parents never figured out that my outgoing nature had purpose; there was a pattern you see: Every family I wished to stay with, even if just for a school weekend, had some form of gaming device that I wished to get contact time with. I stayed over with a friend of my mother’s, at the time a complete stranger to me, because I really wanted to play some sort of magic-themed game on their Windows 95 PC. I would regularly visit cousins just to play the likes of Contra, Need for Speed and Tomb Raider. I would then try where possible to borrow these games for myself, although I was completely useless at installing and playing things at the time.
I pestered one of my cousins for weeks — read: weeks — just so he would come home and install The Lion King and Aladdin onto my home PC for me. He never did. But perseverance was my greatest attribute and I really just wanted to play all things. At primary school when the Computer Literacy course was introduced, I was always the first to line up outside the computer room high up on the third floor of the school’s multi-storey ‘junior primary’ building. Mind you the only games those old, useless PCs had was Dave, but I didn’t care. I played it and enjoyed it, regardless.
I got my first PC in 1997, a second-hand Windows 95 antique that my parents picked up at a pawn shop for cheap. I used it primarily for Freecell, Solitaire and Minesweeper; I couldn’t wrap my mind around Hearts back then. There was also some Commander Keen and Quake thrown into the mix. I finished my first game in 1998; it was Super Mario Bros 3 on that Golden China, and a copy that I’d ‘lifted’ off a family member’s console and then returned later in a ninja-esque fashion. What? They wouldn’t lend it to me when I asked. By 2001, I had acquired a proper PC that was capable of some gaming and managed to play the likes of Need for Speed: Hot Pursuit, Tomb Raider 2 and some old Transylvania puzzle game the name of which I cannot recall, and I loved that PC to bits. I spent more hours playing Need for Speed: Porsche 2000 than I think some have spent playing World of Warcraft, I am not even kidding around about that. By 2003, after the death of the previous PC and some seven months spent without any form of gaming in my life — apart from a recently discovered magazine called NAG that I picked up at a local corner store — I was absolutely obsessed with gaming to the point that I would sit at the desk where my PC was and just imagine myself playing games. I failed two subjects in the term that I received my next PC because I only ever cared about playing games and gave zero flying fucks about any sort of homework.
It was that need to always be free at home to play games that led to me always completing my homework at school, when I was in high school, so that I could come home and play games. It got to a point when I would come home and fall asleep immediately after having lunch, and then I’d wake up hating myself because I’d lost some two or three hours of precious gaming time. And I didn’t even have a lot to play back then; indeed, a lot of time was just spent replaying the games I had already finished a bunch of times. I was just that obsessive about my gaming. To put that into perspective, I finished Doom 3 at least once on every difficulty, plus a bunch of other shorter runs, finished Half-Life 2 on every difficulty, twice, and then also finished the full fifteen-season career modes of FIFA06, FIFA07 and FIFA08, which perhaps explains why now I cannot go near a FIFA game without wanting to hurl.
I could go on about how much of my life I gave to games the likes of The Elder Scrolls IV: Oblivion, Freelancer, Dark Messiah: Might and Magic, Warcraft III: The Frozen Throne and more; perhaps even talk about how my addiction to DotA in 2008 pretty much eliminated my chances of successfully passing my Computer Science degree at university. But I think I’ve made my point, and talked up my origins enough.
I am obsessed with gaming. I think that kinda goes without saying at this point. I was that kid who turned down invites to parties and outings because he wanted to stay home and play games. How I managed to ever have experiences of drunken debauchery growing up, I still don’t even know. Sometimes it even boggles my mind to think that there are people in the world who would willingly have sex with me. But there you have it. I would much rather stay home in hibernation spending weeks playing Skyrim if I could. In recent years, I have at least accepted that anything in excess is unhealthy and so moderation is key. This is why I barely play that much any more, although I do take every afforded opportunity to get in some gaming.
Unfortunately life gets in the way of obsessions… well, life and restraining orders I guess. So if you’re in school now, you should definitely enjoy that free time while it lasts. Come university and thereafter employment, assuming you make it out of university in one piece, your time is going to become the thing you obsess over, because there’ll always be so much to do and so little time to do it.
Nowadays you could say that eGamer is my obsession, although I do have one other obsession in my life. Not relevant to this column. So when I go on about Xbox’s Games with Gold or when I criticise early adoption, you’d best believe that I am doing so because I truly love gaming and I want to see it progress. My first column for the year cautioned restraint by asking gamers to hold off on getting immediately hyped about the games they will see this year. It was a fruitless endeavour, achieving only around a hundred reads and barely any interactions. Perhaps that’s my failing as a writer. But the perspective is there; I do care about this industry and I want to see it progress, not be held back by the mistakes of the past.
It is extremely frustrating then to see the egregious defences that readers come up with, the insults and vociferous, vicious retorts that they use to defend their opinions just because they differ to my own. As if my words are poison to their minds or something. Don’t get me wrong though, this isn’t a knee-jerk reaction to their words. Like I said, I’ve made my peace with it. I just think that it’s worth pointing reference to and going, “Do you see what’s wrong with that picture?” And I really hope you all do.
Also I hope that you guys enjoyed this read. So I guess now it’s your turn, since everyone has an origin story. What’s yours?