||The Firing Line #12
August 26, 2003 Brett Todd
Summary: Brett's getting married. He's looking at his married friends. All his married friends are ex-gamers. All ex-gamers are married or dead. Coincidence? I think not. Operation: Rescue Brett From Ball And Chain Death has commenced. Your task: brief yourself on the situation!
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Brett Todd on The Firing Line:
The biggest reason why Joe Two-Point-Five Kids doesnít get gaming
I donít have a whole lot of friends that I see on a regular basis. Society seems to be sending me a message of late, with all of my old buddies getting married, having children, or getting so caught up in the suit-and-tie world that they no longer have the time to crack open a few cold ones with me on Monday mornings. But that seems to be the way that life goes when youíre cruising into your mid-30s. And the aches and pains havenít moved into my prostate yet, so I really canít complain.
Though I really would like it if I still had at least one good real-life friend who liked to play games. At one time, everybody I knew messed around with console and computer games. In university, I sat around for hours playing classic EA Sports titles like NHL 95 on the Sega Genesis, classic Dungeons & Dragons Gold Box titles like Pool of Radiance on the Commodore 64, and classic strategy titles like Empire Deluxe on the PC. My girlfriend back then played everything she could get her hands on and could run rings around me in Sonic the Hedgehog. My girlfriend now (soon to be wife, so Iíve really got no grounds for bitching that my pals have abandoned me) plays golf and canít get by the mechanical jumping fish in the first seconds of the first level of Sonic the Hedgehog.
But probably the biggest problem that I have with the whole ďno game friendsĒ thing is that I have to endure a lot of stupid comments. All of the non-gaming people in my lifeówhich means all of the people in my life, with the blessed exception of the golfing girlfriend, who may not understand why I spend time with things called Choo-Choo Rocket but at least leaves well enough aloneódonít get why Iím still involved with things they left behind in 1989. They know the money angle, seeing as this game reviewing gig affords me just enough cash to keep the electricity on and buy an odd round, but they never stop thinking that Iím a little long in the tooth to be dancing with the magic fairies in that online game thatís killing people.
The worst part of all this is that I canít really explain the attraction. Games arenít easily rationalized. Get into a long-winded explanation with my buddies about the great-looking jungle landscape in Vietcong, the kick-ass defensive-back logic on display in Madden NFL 2004, or the remarkably playable yet still historically intriguing tech tree in Rise of Nations, and I might as well be talking about registering for wedding shower gifts at Pottery Barn. Limit explanations to saying that games are ďfunĒ and you get a glazed look accompanied by some comment like ďHow about that local sports team?Ē Which is pretty understandable when you consider that most of my buddies left ďfunĒ behind for good when their second kids were born. Still, seeing as thatís the only actual reason I think of when justifying the need to numb my buttocks every time a cool new shooter comes out, I figure it should be good enough for the rest of the world.
SIDEBAR: Iíve held on to my Nintendo GameCube just because of the Sonic Mega Collection. Nothing else exclusive to the system interests me, but Iíll always keep it around to satisfy my recurring jones to play Genesis-era Sonic.
That it isnít prompts some good questions, though. My Firing Line colleague has a longstanding aversion to calling games ďfun,Ē saying that the term is meaningless since everyone has a different interpretation of the word. Heís got a good point. Especially when it comes to computer and video games. And you can extend that definition of fun to the entire gaming hobby itself, as just telling someone that you enjoy playing games is akin to saying that you like moving your limbs at the local YMCA. Without specificsóI like shooters! I like aqua-fitness because Iím 74!óa phrase like that is impossible to quantify.
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The gaming experience is so varied that it does the hobby a disservice to lump everything under a single term. Aside from the fact you sit down and stare at a screen, what are the similarities between Unreal II: The Awakening and Civilization III? Between Microsoft Flight Simulator 2004 and Madden NFL 2004? Between Knights of the Old Republic and Super Mario Sunshine? You need reasonably good hand-eye coordination and motor skills for all of those games, though you could say the same thing about driving a car and eating dinner, and nobody lumps together those two activities.
We donít often appreciate the different experiences that games afford us. In the massive amount of time that Iíve spent with my computer and console over the past two weeks, I could have restored a dozen classic automobiles and become a Cordon Bleu chef (and probably lost a few pounds), yet I never got bored. While it looked like I was just ďgaming,Ē I was actually sneaking down castle corridors in Thief, honing my skills with the Force in Jedi Outcast, haunting frat houses in Ghost Master, perfecting a draw play with the Cowboys in Madden NFL 2004, duelling with baddies CCG-style in the Etherlords II beta, playing gladiator in Nexagon, and even seeing how badly I could hurt a stick figure falling down the stairs in Porrasturkat (check it out for yourself).
Joe Two-Point-Five Kids doesnít get that, seeing only a mesmerised stare straight out of Children of the Damned and a great way to develop carpal tunnel. I think thatís the biggest reason why thereís still a great divide between people who play games and people who donít. Games may be getting more mainstream than ever, but itíll take a hell of a lot more than Tiny Fey joking about Grand Theft Auto on Saturday Night Live for the average person to understand what theyíre really all about.
SIDEBAR: Even the hottest women canít survive regular exposure on TV. I used to find Tiny Fey ridiculously hot, even with that little scar and slightly lopsided face; now itís like Iíve been married to her for 25 years.
Iím all for adding new holidays to the calendar, even stupid Tom Chick-created ones like Game Memorial Day. Seeing as Americans celebrate Labor Day every September despite its vaguely socialist origins that go against everything that flag-wavers claim to stand for, why not give us another long weekend for reasons that people donít really want to look into.
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Though if weíre going to go through all the hassle of shutting down the banks and post offices, we might as well add the condition that the games being, um, memorialized have to be at least a year old. Hell, make it two. There are so many old games that need to be honored, especially now that my system is starting to chug when faced with most anything intimidating and new. Just bringing a copy of Half-Life II anywhere near my desk this fall will probably cause the old hoss to throw a shoe.
And before I dig under the mattress for the spare cash needed to upgrade, I want to spend a few more weeks with the likes of Thief, Thief II, Jedi Knight, System Shock 2, and Unreal. Iíd even like to give Undying another go. I didnít finish it the first, second, or third times I installed it, and probably wonít finish it the fourth, but thereís something retro and cool about it now so maybe I might. Why not? If weíre marking Game Memorial Day and adding days to the calendar (maybe Iím missing a funny here, Tom, but September only has 30 days), anything can happen.
Yeah, I know that Iím missing the point. Tom was actually commenting on how we forget about games two minutes after they leave our hard drives because there are a thousand others tugging on our sleeves. Iíve got nothing to add to that other than ďItís true.Ē We all have too short memories when it comes to games today. Sometimes I think weíd be a lot better off if we just refused to buy any new games for three or four months out of every year. If we just learned to appreciate what we had, and didnít rush blindly forward.
Of course, thatíd take willpower and common sense. And if gamers had any strengths in those departments, Electronics Boutique wouldnít be taking preorders right now on the Nokia N-Gage.
SIDEBAR: There is no Memorial Day in Canada. We have Victoria Day at about the same time, which marks the big day in each spring when kids makes the change from winter to summer hockey.
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Horror movie mavens should hie thee to a software store today and pick up a copy of Ghost Master. Itís arriving in North America without much fanfareóokay, without any fanfareó this week, but for my two Canadian cents itís one of the most purely entertaining games Iíve played all year. Sick Puppies has reversed the usual horror game shtick and given the gamer control over a legion of ghoulies and ghosties skilled at scaring the h-e-double-hockey-sticks out of mortals. Reasons arenít all that well explained, though the scenario design is first rate and the game has a fantastic dark sense of humor. Think George Romero does Dungeon Master.
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Above are a few shots from fun (thereís that word again!) moments Iíve had playing an advance (the title was released to the great unwashed in the U.K. last spring, so donít be too envious of my press connections in this case) copy of Ghost Master this past week.
So what do you think of poor Brett? Is he getting too old to play games or is this his secret call out to the world, begging someone Ė anyone! - to save him from his impending marriage? Come on Brett, admit it, you donít want that Ring because youíll end up just like your friends with 2.5 kids and not a clue about games! And the rest of us, weíll Sound Off! in the news comments and make fun of married men.
One Ring to rule them all
One Ring to find them
One Ring to bring them all
And in the darkness bind them.
-JRR Tolkien, on marriage
SIDEBAR: I lived in a haunted house in my last year in university. My ghost didnít try to drive me away, though he did swipe a lot of small objects and open doors and turn lights on and off. He might also have killed my tropical fish, though I didnít help matters by leaving them without food during Christmas break.