I played my first video game at the age of four, that being Skyroads on my dad’s ancient MS-DOS machine. Just a few weeks after my seventeenth birthday, I quit from the gaming scene. Tony Hawk’s Project 8 on the PlayStation 2 was the last game I played before retiring – forging no interesting memories. I sold off my original PlayStation, PlayStation 2, my entire collection of games which amounted to approx 110, and hid away my Game Boy Advance to the darkest area of my cupboard. Since I wasn’t a dedicated PC gamer as I’m now, I didn’t had to format my computer. This hiatus lasted four years, from 2009-2013.
I took this time to pursue other interests, mainly reading literature classics and learning Latin as a second language. I even borrowed an extensive encyclopedia on Greek mythology and poured heart, body and soul into it. Admittedly, as of late my knowledge is getting slightly rusty but I can still answer complex questions and explain certain myths with impressive detail. However, despite my active interest in other fields – For instance, I could also tell you the make of a car just by looking at its headlights and recite poetry like the back of my hand, and still can – I missed the feeling of being an active participant. The feeling of receiving an instant response after giving an input or series of instructions or simply a touch of a button. I knew I had to go back to video games and re-kindle that spirit, for better or for worse. So I injected myself with a healthy dose of Electro Bolt plasmid and went back to what was once familiar and routine to me, with the PC version of Bioshock.
This game in many ways changed how I perceive and play video games. Until Bioshock, I was a die-hard console gamer, giving little to no notice to PC gaming, and generally used my computer for graphic designing and programming. But I did play lot of PC games: Half-Life, Operation Flashpoint, Sacrifice, Deus Ex, Black & White, The Sims, Project I.G.I – games that though are also available on other platforms, are most famously known for their PC versions. Back in the day before online distribution was common place my dad used to bring home PC Gamer magazines from his office, you know the ones with free CD’s taped on the back it.
It was through these magazines that I learned how to wield a crowbar, hack a machine to fight the battle for you, and zipline straight into enemy territory without raising a single alarm. You will notice that some of these games are pretty narrative-driven – meaning they put story first and over-saturated set pieces second. Now, exposure to games like these at the tender age of nine should’ve disciplined me to narrative-driven games and PC-gaming as a whole, but due to my over-dependence on the PlayStation for (mainly) racing games and controller / joystick for support, I couldn’t be tamed – and thus, any game with a modicum of story bored me to no end. There are certain reasons for this – my being very young might probably be the most appropriate answer – but for the sake of keeping the promise of this article, I’ll cut this short and recount a particularly memorable (and frankly, quite scary) incident that occurred when I was around eleven.
Carmageddon 2: Carpocalypse Now. Inspired by the 70’s cult film, Death Race 2000, this racing game’s unique feature is that you can mow down pedestrians in visceral ways and earn points while doing so. Featuring insane amount of blood and gore, Carmageddon has rightfully earned its position among the most notoriously controversial games ever made, though in recent years its infamy has somewhat faded. Anyway, a good friend of mine installed this game on my computer, and I unbeknownst to the violent carnage, opened it with my family sitting in full view of the monitor screen. When the bloodbath began and the pixel people started screaming, I felt a strong hand yank me away from the computer, in a firm but fair manner. It was my dad, and he had a look of disgust on his face that both fascinated and terrified me. Without saying a word he played a couple of minutes of Carmageddon himself and was so shocked by the unabashed brutality of it that he demanded of me how I got hold of the game.
I told him everything and within minutes the friend and I were sitting side-by-side, listening to my dad explaining just how fundamentally and psychologically wrong the game was. He made us promise never to play it again. Never once through the lecture did he raise his voice nor did he displace his fatherly demeanor. Now I don’t know about that friend – with whom it’s been near eight years since I last spoke to – but I kept my promise and still to this day haven’t touched the game again. After this incident, my dad kept a very close watch at the games I played, and this continued for a couple of years until the aforementioned hiatus. True, I’ve indeed played significantly more gory and bloody games than Carmageddon in the years since, but I don’t look at the violence as an incentive “it’s there” reward or a source of fetishistic pleasure; but rather I approach it seriously and try to work out the logic and its placement in a grown-up way.
Coming back to the previous point I made regarding Bioshock changing my gaming landscape, it also enabled me to be more tolerant to story-heavy games. Besides that, it made me very comfortable with the classic WASD + Mouse setup and convinced me that is the perfect way to play first-person shooters. Being one of the very few games which I completed in one sitting, Bioshock showed me that without a good, absorbing, engaging, immersive, strong narrative, a game can, especially if its other aspects are poorly implemented, fall flat on its face. Half-Life, Fallout, Halo, practically every game by Valve and Bethesda wouldn’t be these fondly loved masterpieces if it weren’t for the stories they have to tell.
Sure, the advanced physics and A.I., the set pieces, the voice-acting and even the graphics would still just be jaw-dropping, but without a proper narrative to tie everything together they all would have had been one-trick ponies. I still remember playing Half-Life and listening to the colorful commentary of my younger sister who was so attracted to the lore of the game that she finished it a total of five times. I doubt she would’ve even feigned interest in the series if it weren’t for the cinematic-quality story-telling. And it’s highly unlikely I would be daydreaming about Fallout if there wasn’t a powerful and rich backstory to the broken world, motley crew of eccentric characters and rusty, steampunk paraphernalia.
I guess at the end of the day true gaming memories are forged not from how visually appealing the cut-scene was or how massive in scale, size and scope the end boss battle was – but rather through how the external world acts and reacts to the experience.
Article by Hamza