Confessions Of A 40 Year Gaming Addict (Part 2)

Ok, here we go again with today’s GenForward Living Legacy free genealogy blog. This time it’s back as promised for part two of my confessional about my history with video games and how at times it got well, out of hand. Now we move onto the real big problem areas:

After my Amiga I had a bit of a break from gaming generally as life kinda got in the way. I moved out of home, moved houses a couple of times, bought a house, moved from the country to London, basically I was all over the place. Then the mid 90’s hit. A little sanity returned to my life, and I had time to re-engage with my gaming addiction.

I have always been a PlayStation Guy. Have had all 4 generations, more than one of some generations. Even now I have a PS3 and PS4 sat hooked in upstairs in the games room. I was always aware of other consoles but the PS series just seemed to me to always be the one ahead of the game. Over the years have also had a SNES and bought my son a Wii and an x-box (it’s quite cool actually, the Star Wars Edition decked out like R2D2 with a gold C3PO controller) which still live upstairs with the other consoles, just rarely played now.

So, let’s begin with the first of the gang, the one that first shipped over 100 million units, the original PlayStation.

 

With the PlayStation, my gaming split into two distinct parts. One, was the stuff I played alone, the other was what was played when a bunch of mates got together over one of our houses, the competitive stuff.  There were a few games I really liked, and also a small handful that I got really badly addicted to but they fell into the solo gaming category. The worst two were probably the original Gran Tourismo and Final Fantasy VII.

 

Until very many years later when the worst of my addictions hit, GT held the record for longest continuous gaming session, 36 hours stopping only for drinks and hot pockets (I say stopping but that’s not really right as these were consumed during replays or loading times). A lot of the time wasn’t spent racing as such, it was spent on getting all of the required licenses. For anyone who’s been through this process on ay of the later releases of GT, it became a LOT easier. The original however was tuned very tight and it was not uncommon to have dozens of runs at a test, each time missing by less than 1/10th of a second.

I guess something about the difficulty appealed to me because it was a lot like the original Formula One Game on the Amiga. You’d start off first go and think you were doing ok, only to find yourself 3 seconds off the pace. Then run by run you’d shave smaller and smaller slices off the time till eventually you’d hit everything perfect and crack it. Real sense of achievement was available because of this difficulty.

Talking about difficulty has just brought to mind another gem that was however, on reflection, sadistically difficult. I’m talking about the original Stuntman. The basic idea was to race your way through a series of checkpoints whilst being “filmed”. The courses were great and had easily recognisable scenes and stunts from stuff like The Dukes of Hazzard, Hooper, and James Bond.

 One problem was that the handling of the cars was a bit on the wobbly side. This meant that if you were slightly offline you might his a ramp or checkpoint at just the wrong angle and career out of control as everything was done at flat out speed. The other issue was that unlike most race games with checkpoints, you couldn’t build up spare time by finishing a section extra fast. This was because, firstly it was night on impossible to arrive too early because the game was tuned so tightly, and secondly because you had to arrive at just the right time for the fictional camera to get the shot. Getting there early could penalise just the same as getting there late.

You put together the bouncy car handling, full tilt speed, courses with little margin for error and this thing was like something Dante could have come up with. IT was SOOOOOOO hard. Even when you knew the course backwards, one slightest variation in takeoff angle and instead of landing on the gap on the moving train or whatever bit of insanity you were trying to pull off) you’d get crushed by it. I never actually made it past the James Bond Snowmobile level. Loved the game, great concept, but BOY was it hard.

There were other games that I spent a lot of time with, like Tenchu, Stealth Assassin (trying to get perfect clears was quite hard and addictive to me), some of the James Bond Stuff was good, really there were just so many games available it was beyond belief. However, the other real “problem game” that came along was Final Fantasy VII.

SO many hours! You could burn half a day just messing about with Chocobo racing. It was also one of those games where there’s pretty much zero chance of you working out half of the combo effects that gemming your weapons could have. Some of it was so obtuse. But there was no substitute for hitting the next big cut-scene or even better you next god summon.

Then there was moving about on the world map. Literally every 2 inches you moved it would drop into another battle, and another, and another, till an hour had passed and you’d got half way to where you were going. Invariably this always happened at about 2 am when you were in the “I’ll just do this one more thing” mode. Then it was daylight again.

The stuff I played with my mates was a different bag. There was the obligatory golf plus whatever version of Madden Football that was out at the time. I pretty much ruled the roost on that one. Then we had other stuff like Super Puzzle Fighter and Bishi Bashi/Super Bishi Bashi.

 

Puzzle fighter was a Tetris variant 2 player game. Essentially you built up big blocks of colour that turned into gems, and then you could break the gems with a special token. This cleared your own screen, gave points, plus more importantly dumped a load of junk bricks onto your opponent’s side. IF the chain you set off was big enough you could fill their screen in one drop. The game was played with side by side screens but you were playing so fast you couldn’t watch your opponents screen.

You could however hear it. The second a massive explosion went off you hit panic mode. Your only option was to set off a chain of your own to reduce what was coming at you after you played the bricks that were in play at the time. Anyway, good fun game and let to lots of swearing and stress, apart from when playing one of my pals in particular. He was brilliant at it. No matter what you did, just as you were about to let off the mother of all explosions you’d hear a crash from next door and then your screen would fill with junk, game over. It was ridiculous. I can’t remember him ever losing a game to anyone. It was like playing the Borg (I’m talking Star Trek here not tennis’ Bjorn, although the effect was probably similar for his opponents).

Then there was Bishi Bashi and Super Bishi Bashi. These were silly little games where it would pit you head to head in a series of random little silly events. The events were so simple anyone could so it. Might be run as fast as you can then throw a custard pie, or sometimes spin shapes round to match colours together, or a guitar hero bit where you push direction buttons in time as they light up. Either way stupidly competitive but again, the same friend seemed to have a brain that just existed to match colour together. If you drew too many of that type of events you were onto a loser every time. I’m not even sure how mainstream these games were but seriously, if you want a good 2 player mess about, look ‘em up.

I got myself the obligatory PS 2, 3, and 4 when they came out. Although they all had great games it seemed that most of them were either shorter to actually complete or not tuned quite so viciously hard as some of the PS 1 stuff was. Either way, I managed to negotiate all of those without too much difficulty. My troubles lay elsewhere…………..

In amongst all the PlayStations, I’d finally got round to buying myself a PC. All had been well, having much fun on stuff like Call of Duty and Soldier OF Fortune 2 online, with the occasional adventure game thrown in for good measure. Then came the fateful moment when I first discovered the MMO.

For those of you not in the know, an MMO is a Massively Multiplayer Online game, usually some kind of role playing effort. The first one I got into was something called City Of Heroes. Basically you could design your own superhero, give him a backstory that others could read, customise his super powers, and then head off to generally do good in the world, accompanied by hundreds of together players who were all doing the same thing playing on the same remote servers, thus creating an inhabited “world”.

You had quests which you could do on your own, like go and beat up a certain amount of bad guys, or go and retrieve an item, or you had “instances” where you could team up with up to 3 other people and all go off and superhero together. I have to say I really enjoyed it and, now having more experience with some of the bile and hatred that can exist in MMO gaming in particular, the atmosphere was really positive. It seemed like everyone was trying to be a Superheroey as possible.

Many times you’d get yourself in trouble only for another passing hero to come in and bail you out. This is of course in contradiction to the correct MMO procedure of laughing at you as you die, then running over and looting your corpse or stealing your kill. If you can throw in stealing the mining node or herb in the area as well, all the better.

I maxed levelled a few characters, mostly tanks because I liked the whole protect the group and soak up the hate thing. Then I got introduced to what would become the bane of my life. World of Warcrack…er I mean craft.

This thing took everything to a whole new level. It totally raised the bar for MMOs. IT also added the ability that had not been in City Of Heroes, Player VS Player Combat. Thins meant that instead of just watching someone die and laughing (which was of course still an option), you could now actively go out and kill someone. Being new to the whole thing, and spoiled by my experience on City Of Heroes, I had ZERO idea how much this difference would affect the whole experience of the game.

Mostly the change was just for the bad. Too many people out there who considered running around interfering with others while they are questing or levelling up. Or just using the fact that they are 20 levels higher to just walk over and one shot kill you. But occasionally, just occasionally things played out more in the way I am sure was intended. Many a happy hour was spent getting involved in mass battles around Southshore and Tarren Mill. Running in, killing what you could in the 5 seconds before you got shot, then doing it all over again. Some of these battles would run to hundreds of players.

You could then select to play one of two factions, Horde or Alliance. Again, being the virtual MMO virgin, I just picked a server at random and decided that horde would be cooler. Little did I realise that most people on that server didn’t agree with me so it was spit 80% Alliance, 20% Horde. Needless to say, when you’re always outnumbered 4 to one and can be gang killed at any time, life can be tough. It wasn’t long before I would roll a rogue, just so I could be invisible: P

The other big draw was raiding. This invariably involved joining a guild. At the time this involved getting together 40 people, all of whom had spent countless hours levelling and gearing up their characters, in order to take on the Main endgame instance together and try to kill Ragnaros, the final boss in the game at the time. Each instance was populated by multiple bosses, each of which required different techniques and skills from the group. Trying to co-ordinate 40 people with the ballet like precision required for some of the bosses was a skill beyond measure.

The problem was that in the early days, you couldn’t “carry” weaker players. Everyone had to be on top form. Once you’d made the kills enough times and got the best in game items they dropped, then you got strong enough so that it got easier. WoW later dropped 40 man raiding in favour of 25 and 10. Far easier to manage but did miss something.

Another area of the game I did enjoy was the Alterac Valley PVP battle. This was, from memory at the time, a 40 vs 40 battle in a huge zone. Each had their own fortress with a boss, and a second summonable boss that could be called on to help out in the fight. The idea was to kill the opposing boss.

My overriding memory of this was from the early days of Warcraft (Vanilla). The battle was supposed to be evenly balanced but if one side had 20 and the other side had 30 or 40 it would still start. Also as people left, they might not be replaced by others, particularly on a server short of your faction. As with many things on WOW Vanilla, it was very much geared towards the alliance. They had a stronghold with a single way in over a bridge you could be knocked off and killed. Horde had a rickety wooden effort with so many holes in its defences that it leaked like a sieve.

Anyway, 1 AV battle, in excess of 24 hours. And I was there for all of it. It was epic. It had been the usual back and forth depending on who had the numbers advantage or their helping boss out at the time. It went on and on. We even had the two helper bosses having a scrap with each other in midfield at one point as the hours wore on, the numbers in the AV got smaller and smaller. BY midnight Horde was totally out numbered and pinned back at the entrance (the main one rather than the 20 other holes in the defences) of our own fortress.

It was like Rourke’s Drift. But we held, and held, and held. BY about 6.30 am, some of the early risers started to appear and our number grew again. 4 hours later and the Alliance Boss was dead. 26 hours in total, one fight. I would have gone to sleep but of course everyone then started to hear about it and we had to tell the heroic tale to all our guild members and anyone else who would listen.

Anyway, that’s just a tiny spec on the scale as to how hooked on this game I became. I had multiple top level characters of multiple servers. I set up my own guild which I ran for 2 years, becoming one of the top 5 guilds on one of the top 10 servers in Europe. It’s really hard to get your hear wrapped round how many people were involved in this at the time. And the difficulty pulling yourself away when the world never stops. Log off and you might miss something.

Expansion pack after expansion pack came and went. I actually finally quit we had killed most of the bosses in the Cataclysm expansion on hard modes. I sold my account to a friend for a few hundred pounds. By the end of it all, I had probably 15 top level characters. The most played had over 500 days played, 3 others had over 400. Now bear in mind, these are REAL days spent actually logged online. We are talking YEARS of my life spent plugged into that thing. It had to end.

I did go back for a little while for a couple of the expansions after that but it was pretty much limited to me running around solo and levelling up. I steered clear of joining a guild and raiding, knowing what a slippery slope it could be. The game had changed beyond all recognition by this point anyway. IT wasn’t nearly as tough. Blizzard had deliberately tuned it to be more “casual” gamer friendly. I can see the sense in that, but it lost its soul in the process.

Anyway, now I do still game, but not much. It will be restricted to something like a new Drakes Fortune or Dishonored coming out. Me spending 15-20 hours finishing it, and not really going back. I still enjoy it, but I’m out of the woods. I just steer clear of MMOs. I also intend to steer my son off them, or at very least manage his exposure. Spending years on end, literally, in front of a computer screen is not good for your life really. I know you’re interacting with people still, and mostly talking to them on things like Ventrilo and TeamSpeak, but it’s still a big no.

What do you think? Have you suffered the addiction as badly as me? (UI know there are worse out there for sure). How do you handle it with your own kids?

tom@genforward.org

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2Comments

2 thoughts on “Confessions Of A 40 Year Gaming Addict (Part 2)”

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