Guest post by Rob Fernuk...definitely not Tristan Mowat!
I have to be completely honest - I am a terrible gamer. So why would this fledgeling gaming blog let me write an article for them? Because I suspect there are lot of you, like me, out there.
I grew up a child of the 80s. My first console was a Nintendo, but I also played Atari games at a friend’s house. A neighbour who must have been into computers let us play some of the earliest computer games in his bungalow. I remember him as an Asian man with an impressive beer belly who wore stained wife-beaters and always looked like he just woke up. He paid me to mow his lawn once a week, after which I experienced Pong and Space Invaders while they were still pretty new. Asteroids and Tetris might have been in the mix too, but my memories are fuzzy on the details now - which games were on which gear and when, I no longer know.
But Mario, he was my dude. I had a birthday party at a roller-skating rink and the theme was all Mario Bros. The air-brushed supermarket cake had a rubber model of Mario shooting a fireball from his hand. I probably still have that stashed away in a box of childhood trinkets somewhere. I knew that game inside and out. I remember finally successfully performing the trick where you jump on the turtle shell on the stairs up to a castle end-zone so many times that the game starts giving you extra lives for each jump. I jumped until the timer ran out, the life counter passed 99 and became just symbols. The week following I refused to turn off the Nintendo until all those lives were eventually used up, though my parents were bothered that the red light was always lit and complained that I would “ruin the machine”. Those were the days.
When I was 13 or 14 my parents bought our first family PC and I got into Adventure games during the heyday of Full Motion Video. Myst, 7th Guest, Gabriel Knight, Tex Murphy, Phantasmagoria… As a young teen I was able to disappear into completely new worlds and walk around in them, even if it was just a CG rendered slide show. Sierra, Broderbund, Cyan, Trilobyte; all names that held magic to me for they were the builders of these worlds. I knew the names of Jane Jensen and Roberta Williams, female pioneers of digital storytelling.
I played these games. I completed these games. Usually there were no walkthroughs to be had until Prima Publishing started putting out books you could buy - and I did. Perhaps that was the beginning of becoming a terrible gamer.
There were early signs that I was really not that talented at playing games. I couldn’t get through a few levels of Rebel Assault without exploding on the canyon walls over and over again. I did eventually see the level where you perform fly-bys on Star Destroyers while shooting at them, but I never could pass it. Rumour had it that in later levels you could fly across Hoth and shoot at ATAT Walkers, but I never saw that for myself.
Eventually I got into MMOs with a friend, and finally the other shoe dropped.
For me, it started with WoW, but eventually I got into Guild Wars 2, SWTOR, and The Secret World, and I dipped my toes into others like Wildstar, Elder Scrolls Online, FFXIV, and Tera. I loved them. They were everything I wanted to play in a game. New worlds. Flexible playing styles. Huge open maps. Seemingly unlimited potential… Until a random player from an opposing faction came along and gutted me like a fish. Well then. Clearly I was on the wrong server. Live and learn. But it was more than that - I struggled in these games mightily, and not in a way that excited me. I always felt behind the level curve, under-powered and over-matched. In some cases I could barely proceed without my friend practically carrying my useless carcass through to the end of a story instance. It was just a frustrating experience for everyone.
Part of my problem is that I hate to grind. As an adult (shudder) I now have a professional job. One that I am dedicated to. I pay rent and taxes. I work to live - as much as I am loathe to admit it. Who has time to GRIND??? Well apparently lots of people do, but not me. If I’m playing a game and progressing through its quest chains and geography, I have some expectation that my level will increase in sufficient time to reach the next area with appropriate power to kill the next tier of enemy. This is rarely the case. Game designers seem hell bent on keeping players behind the curve so they have to do extra killing or crafting or other menial tasks just to boost their level to reach the next area. If you don’t you’ll get your ass kicked. I got my ass kicked a lot.
Can we talk horror games? I love horror. It’s quite possibly my favourite genre in film and literature. For me, the best parts about the horror genre are atmosphere and world building. I love a decrepit, derelict building like none other. I love the sounds of horror, the look of horror, and as we get ever nearer my favourite season of Autumn, I love the smells of horror. Turns out what I don’t like are jump scares, and that seems to be what the horror genre in games has in spades. I simply can’t do it. For example I want to love Five Nights at Freddy’s. I love the idea of it, certainly. I love the look of it and the design of the creepy animatronic robots. I love the lore - which I’m happy to watch endless YouTube videos about (shout out to The Game Theorists’ excellent series which you can find on their channel, here: https://www.youtube.com/user/MatthewPatrick13). But I don’t think I’ve played more than two hours of the first game so far, because I just can’t deal with the jump-scares. Even when they are earned, they feel cheap. But worse is that they work on me. Yes, I jumped, you nearly gave me a heart attack by blasting loud sound and having something leap towards the screen. Good job, you win, I’m out.
As I grow older my fingers will never be coordinated or dexterous enough to win at a MOBA, or score enough kills in a competitive shooter. A million teabaggings will forever be performed over my digital corpse by children who have fucked my mother. Sorry mom.
Do you know what? I’m okay with that. I’m okay with all of this. Gaming may be slowly getting too hard for me, or perhaps I never really had the chops to begin with. Perhaps reading Prima strategy guides spoiled my patience to slowly work through a game, or life has taken my time and will to do so. But the one thing you cannot take away from me is my love of games. If you’ve gotten anything out of reading my recollections above, I hope you noticed that my fondness for games is still ever present. My trigger timing will slow. My aim will get worse. And I’ll still always hate to grind. But I’m still a gamer, dammit, and I have some more games I need to play.
By Rob Fernuk