Sunday, February 8, 2009

I Got the Babel Fish.

So some other study says that video games are linked to frequent alcohol and drug use and low self-esteem and some other crap that really doesn't matter.

What I want to know is whether those surveyed were successful gamers or gamers who suck. Because I can tell you from experience that if you suck at games, the whole world sucks and you feel like shit.

When I was a young man, in my fifties, I played some computer and video games, but I didn't really care how I did. I played Pitfall and all those other games, but I never forgot to stop to have sex with my girlfriend, also in her fifties, ...yeah you got an image of that in your mind? Enjoy that for a minute.

But I remember the first computer game I bought, which was The Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy, a text adventure. The game loaded from a single floppy disk and cost me about $40. And because it was so expensive, I played it every chance I got for about six weeks, so you could say I was addicted.

But the thing about a text adventure is that once you hit a wall, the game is over. If you can't get a door to open or get a bird to drop a key, that's it. You can go back and see what you missed, but seeing is relative. You can't really "look" at anything unless you already know it's there. And having a bag full of crap you've collected doesn't guarantee that you'll learn how to use any of it.
So you keep thinking about the puzzles and you hope you figure it out. And since this was nineteen-eighty-something, there was no Internet to connect with to find a cheat code or walkthru.

Of course there were the InvisiClues (had for another $12) books, that had invisible text clues of increasing helpfulness that you would highlight with a special pen to make them visible. But after a few days, they would become invisible again and no amount of rubbing or wiping or threatening to burn a different InvisiClues book, like maybe its mother, with a lighter would
persuade it to reveal the clues again. So you had to write the clue out in pen if you wanted a permanent copy.

But eventually, with enough guessing or help, you would get the thing or open the door, and move on to the next puzzle. And you would feel a little thrill of satisfaction that you'd accomplished some seemingly impossible task. But the truth was, and I think it's a huge leap in one's level of awareness, is that each player suffered through the same difficulties.

In life, it's easy to say "you don't know me," or ever be convinced that someone else has shared experiences with you. But in these early text adventures, unless someone was given a complete walkthru, each of us had the same experience. It was like some kung-fu movie where you learn that Everyone Must Travel the Same Path and that Each Trial is Shared by All.

And there was nothing violent about the journey. Type N and you go North. When you get to the bird, kill it with the rock or give it an orange or whatever, and the bird does exactly what it's programmed to do. Killing it wasn't a reflection on your psyche, or something.

But then the graphical games came and everything I did was wrong. I didn't jump at the right spot, or I never learned to fly. The solution required too much coordination and practice. I could never win at Tomb Raider because I couldn't swim or jump properly. Jump. Fall and Die. Jump. Fall and Die. Jump. Fall and Die. Jump. Fall and Die. The game wouldn't take it for granted the Lara Croft would know how to jump.

So if modern video games make kids depressed or violent or drunks, it's because games provide no clear answers. Or maybe they force them to fly before they're ready, and they can't help but to fall and die.

Either way, I don't have time for games because I'm sleeping with someone who's old enough to be your mom... yeah, try to get that image out of your head.