Why do I play games? Why is it so important to me? Speak to people in the gaming community and you’ll hear a variety of reasons but for older gamers like me you’ll probably hear them say that games are ‘art’ and like other art forms it can be appreciated. Maybe this is a response against feeling judged to have, what is traditionally thought of as ‘a childish hobby’, I don’t know. It doesn’t help when the media constantly speak about gaming in negative terms, a form of entertainment which encourages violence and depravity. Whether games are an art or not can be discussed at another time but to be honest when I started gaming I didn’t sit there thinking ‘Wow, this is art… look how cultured I am’.
So why my interest in gaming? Well to
understand we have to go back a little to when I first experienced ‘games’. I
first played on arcade machines in classics like Pacman and Donkey Kong but my
first home experience was on the ZX Spectrum when I was 6 years old. However my first deep game experience
was with my oldest and best friend who was given a NES with Mario Bros. 1 for
his 9th birthday. I went to his house and ate lots of junk food and we played
the game for over 8 hours straight. When I got home that evening I promptly
vomited, but my eyes were truly opened to the world of gaming.
I got my own first computer for my 10th birthday, getting a second hand Amstrad CPC 464 (this was in 1991 when the Amstrad was already well into obsolescence and the Megadrive and NES were in ascendency). I played that computer for many years and still have it now in storage, but the game that truly immersed me and engaged me was ‘Fantasy World Dizzy’. It is now considered a classic and rightly so. It featured state of the art graphics for the time and a simple story of rescuing your family, a bunch of eggs called ‘Yolkfolk’, from the evil King Troll. I remember loving the fact that it had an inventory system where you could hold only 3 items at a time, so each new discovery of an item felt truly wonderful yet at the same time offered a dilemma. My brother and I played that game for months on end and I remember vividly the moment we became stuck (this was a time before walkthroughs and guides) and my brother discovered that the rope could be used on the crocodile to close his mouth, so we could jump across to another part of the world.
I think this was the first time that this joy of discovery really hit me in computer games, the fact that there was an immersive world which you could explore and by using your wits and guile could slowly unravel. A lot of other games at the time were very simple quick game fixes but this; this world was another thing all-together.
In recent years Dizzy has had a little revival due to iOS gaming (Prince of the Yolkfolk has been released on the app store) and frequent mentions in the many Zero Punctuation review videos, where he refers to it as “the best game ever” but clearly taking a well aimed snipe at those who look back through the rose-tinted eyes of nostalgia.
In recent years ‘Geek-chic’ has become a part of popular culture, with celebrities purposely seeking to present this image but back when I was a kid being a ‘geek’ was not a trend, it was just a way of being. I loved the ‘Fighting Fantasy’ novels, watched ‘Knightmare’ on TV and my favourite series was ‘Mysterious Cities of Gold’ (it still is). I wasn’t bullied and didn’t feel like an outsider, gaming wasn’t the world I went to shut out the world. Instead it immersed me and engaged me and brought me and my friends together. I felt a real sense of community in gaming and even now, when I meet a fellow gamer there is an instant connection of something shared.
Gaming is a deeply personal experience for me and as I have grown older I have definitely become more discerning and particular with the games I play. Due to time constraints of work and marriage gaming isn’t as big in my life as it used to be but it is just as important, for me it is a big point of identity. That is why when thinking about creating an educational ICT and Games Based Learning blog, Simon and I wanted to look at the various aspects of gaming. Rather than just being a ‘this is what we are doing using computer games’ we wanted to create a forum of ideas and discussion, not just about educational aspects of gaming but gaming as a whole. I saw this poster on the internet and don’t know who created it (if you know who created this please let me know and I will credit them here) but would like to use it here as for me in encapsulates what gaming is. I hope you will join us for this journey and contribute.