I have a day job that pays the bills, so a lot of my free time is taken up by writing. Writing is work, but it also feels vital to me. Vital to my sanity. But it’s not a pleasure thing, a stress reliever, or even what I would really consider fun – at least not all the time. I love writing and I need to write, but when it comes to pleasure my passions are really traveling and video games. Traveling is a recent passion (the bulk of which I chronicle here), but I’ve been a gamer since I was about 8 years old. I don’t play quite as much as I used to, but there’s still nothing like plunging into and losing myself in a great game. I got started at the end of the text days of Colossal Cave and the beginnings of the graphical adventure games of Kings Quest and the slew of games put out by Sierra in the following years. Back in those days there wasn’t much multi- involved in playing. With the exception of Multi-User Dungeons (MUDs) on BBSs, everything was pretty much single player. Sure the arcades had 2-player fighters or top down shooters, but even in arcades I preferred to play solo. To me the social aspect of gaming was in sharing experiences and totally raping someone’s high score.
For me, the gooey warm center of gaming was on computers and it was all single player. Story was king, everything else was excusable. Years went on, first-person shooters took over, and then suddenly it all became about the multiplayer experience. In the early days of online gaming it was exciting and exclusively with people I was already friends with. Tying up a phone line to have a 1-on-1 game of throwing pipe bombs at each other in Duke Nukem 3D was cutting edge stuff. I got big into Tribes, then Half-Life, and then found my calling in Counterstrike and group games of Age of Empires II. At this point my gaming fervor was at an all-time high. I was volunteering reviews of video games for websites in exchange for free games. I was churning out 4 or more reviews a month all while going to school or working or both. It was a golden age of gaming for me. And then things started to shift. Where it was once single-player games that happened to have a multiplayer component, the single player aspect began to take the back seat and I started finding myself unhappy with these changes. Multi-player was for when you thoroughly trounced the single player portion of the game, but loved the mechanics enough to want to play more. Now games were becoming nothing but mechanics built around a multiplayer concept.
Today I buy maybe 4 big games a year, and supplement that with a handful of indie games here and there – especially during a good Humble Bundle or Steam sale. I like the Fallouts and Assassin’s Creeds and Metal Gear Solids. Large worlds with deep mechanics and occasionally a decent story. I like the Swappers, and Braids, and Trines that make you think and sometimes make you feel. But I don’t do the MMOs, MOBAs, Call of Dutys (Duties?), Halos, Gears of Wars. Several of which started out pretending to be games I might like (but usually didn’t cause the story was horrible) but eventually gave up all pretenses and became the kind of games where 12 year olds not only riddle my skull with bullets, but do so with insults and vulgarity that only Monster and Red Bull addled, corrupt fungus colonies they call brains could possibly conceive of. And I’m a foul-mouthed mother fucker! Now the thought of joining a quick deathmatch or raiding someone’s base fills me with an anxious fear and dread. I don’t want to know how bad I am at these games anymore. I don’t want to know what that kid that stabbed me in the dick plans to do to my mother. Games now tout the ridiculous number of ways you and millions of other players around the world can connect and mutilate each other or with each other. Friends talk about “prestiging” in Call of Duty, running raids in Destiny, team strategies in League of Legends. And all I want to do is play a bald guy with a silenced pistol and meticulously, painfully slowly execute my assassination (though those Hitman games are starting to get pretty shitty in the story department).
In a lot of ways it feels like the encroaching decrepitude associated with Get Off My Lawn Syndrome. It might make me feel old – OK it definitely does – but I had those old man tendencies before they were cool (I know, they’re not remotely cool). Those new-fangled multi-whatsits will rot your brains kids. The truth is really that I am and have always been somewhat of an antisocial gamer. When I would play online it was always with a small group of well-known friends. I play Metal Gear V in offline mode because I don’t want to have my shit ransacked (and having all my in-game money reliant on their sluggish online service is a pain in the ass). I don’t even really like playing co-op games. Having to defer playing until schedules align, being the dead weight or having a friend be dead weight, trying to explain complex ideas over voice chat (I hate talking on the phone too, btw) – none of this appeals to me. Luckily there are still enough games with a decent single-player experience to sate my thirst for quality gaming experiences. As much as I was disappointed in the story that made up Fallout 4, I’ve found enough meat in the side quests and general entertainment of murdering Gunners and Super Mutants that I’ve sunk an embarrassing amount of time into it and I’m really looking forward to the DLC that should be start trickling out in the next few days. It’s not all bad news for the antisocial gamers out there – there’s a new System Shock, a minor resurgence in old-school computer RPGs (think Baldur’s Gate or Icewind Dale), and the flourishing “indie” scene is a hotbed of unique if not well crafted single-player experiences. Don’t be surprised if I chime in on whatever my current obsession is from time to time. For now I’m going to go back to being antisocial and start killing some robots since there’s new DLC for Fallout 4.