Prior to Xmas we’ll be running a number of blogs written by residents of our district. They’ll write about their hobbies, an area of expertise, or what has helped them cope during lockdown 1 and 2. Below is the first instalment.
My name is Graham. I am a gamer.
I’ve been a gamer for the last 40 years, after I got a 2nd hand Atari 2600 console when I was 11.
This would’ve been back in 1980, and at the time, the graphics, and available games were a revelation, albeit being very crude and simple, viewed through today’s eyes.
It provided an avenue of escape from real life, and all its attendant stresses, it was exciting, therapeutic, and yes, even educational.
I loved my old Atari,and was heartbroken when it finally died. I mourned it. Yes, yes, I know…
A year or so later,a whole new type of console came out. This was called Vectrex (pictured), and it was unique in that you didn’t need to plug it into the telly. It had it’s own! You just plugged the games cartridges (remember those?), into the slot in the side, and off you went!
The 80’s were the start of the console wars, fought between the only two names in the business at the time; Nintendo and Sega (Sony still, at the time, making walkmans, stereos and TV’s,and Microsoft not existing).
This “war” lasted the whole decade, and encompassed at least two generations of consoles each. Nintendo’s being the NES (Nintendo Entertainment System),and the SNES (Super Nintendo Entertainment System),and Sega’s being the Master System, then the Mega Drive.
After this, the game world got a bit complicated, with new versions brought out, new accessories, this, that and the other happening, and it began to get hard to keep up with. And those were the early, simple days.
During this time, I was firmly in the Sega camp, Nintendo’s cartoonish graphics not working for me, but due to better advertising campaigns by Nintendo, compared to not much advertising at all from Sega, the eventual winner was Nintendo, despite Sega producing (arguably) better consoles. Atari deciding that making hardware wasn’t for them, and settled for making software instead.
Not advertising, is a lesson Sega seemed unable to learn, as a few years later,they launched the Saturn (pictured), which went head to head with Sony’s new Playstation. Sony advertised the hell out of it, while Sega barely bothered, so perhaps unsurprisingly, they got trounced, and following Ataris’ example, decided to just make games instead. I had a Saturn. It was pretty good. It and the Playstation were the first generation to have games on disc, rather than plug in cartridges. Graphics were unbelievable at the time, gameplay was fast and smooth, and all was well on Planet Gamer.
Sony had it all it’s own way, more or less. Nintendo’s popularity had waned a tiny bit, and Microsofts X Box hadn’t yet made an appearance, but when it did,it went up against the Playstation 2, and a 2nd console war began.
This would have been in the late 90’s, early to mid 2000’s, and my personal gaming mania was at its height. But which one to get? I agonised over it for weeks, weighing up the pros and cons of each: price, games, availability, etc before going for the PS2, not a decision I regretted for a moment.
Racing games for when I was relaxed, shooters for when I wasn’t… there seemed to be a game for my every mood. I was in love! A bit too in love, perhaps, as I started to neglect real life and my friends in it (sorry guys and girls, but I still love you). So I tried to strike a balance between worlds, managing my gaming time, juggling it between work and what social life I had left, and unfortunately, my gaming life suffered for it. But did I quit gaming? Did I hell! I condensed. Limited my collection of games to three or four core titles and concentrated on those in the time available.
It worked pretty well. I got used to gaming less, but enjoying them more, having a social life, and actually getting some sleep, and when the next generation came out (Sony’s PS3,and Microsoft’s Xbox 360), I was ready and waiting. I’d even bought a new TV to play them on. (This was about 2005, 2006)
I got a 360, and to say I was impressed was an understatement. Once again, my jaw dropped, as it often had. Every time a new console came out, in fact.
Wireless controllers! Thumbsticks! Rumble pads! Multi function triggers! All commonplace now, but new and fresh back then, and it brought the games alive! See and hear a game explosion? Sure…but now you could feel it in your hands too!
The increased power of the new consoles meant that game graphics, which had steadily been improving in leaps and bounds since the single-pixel-as-the ball/main character/monster days, made a quantum leap in realism, and things were shiny.
But, as the saying goes,“Every silver lining has a cloud“, and despite the games looking and playing better than ever, they’d become huge corporate assets, and were driven by the money, rather than a love of games, as in the pioneer days. It showed. New games were being made less, as demand for sequels to popular games boomed, and, in my opinion, gaming as a whole paid the price.
As did the gamers, as prices for the consoles, and the games began to get silly. It seemed to me that we gamers were paying more and more, for less choice.
By this time I was in my 40’s, so I was slowing down a bit, and online multiplayer gaming had become huge, with millions of gamers from all over the world coming together in huge open game worlds, just to play their favourite game. A true Global Community in many ways, but one I, personally, had no interest in joining. Why? I don’t really know, but my age probably had something to do with it… that, and not wanting to be shown up as the average gamer that I was ( and still am) on a Global stage. There. I admit it.
This left me, and probably many other gamers my age, feeling a bit left out. Single player games were feeling more and more like an afterthought, and an obligation to tack onto the multiplayer aspect, rather than the purpose of the game itself. Or maybe it’s just me fossilising and turning crusty in my old age.
I’m still trying, though. I have a relatively new(ish) console, which is hooked up to that there interweb, and I’ve even downloaded games! Single player only, though; I’ve not changed that much.
I have been feeling, well, left behind in recent years, truth be told. I still love gaming, and now I have the time, I play whenever the hell I like, but I can’t shake the feeling that consoles and games are moving forwards faster than I can keep up.
I hope I’m wrong.
So, we come to the present, and a new generation of consoles is among us, Microsoft and Sony’s new offerings. Nintendo is still hanging in there, but as far as I can tell, their star is falling. But I could be wrong about that, too.
Will I be getting a new generation console? Truth is, I don’t know. Not for a while, yet, certainly.
I’ve never been an early adopter. I prefer to wait till bugs and glitches are ironed out before I invest what would be a not inconsiderable amount of money on it. Also, there are still hundreds of games for my current console that I’ve not even heard of, let alone played, so I suspect it’ll keep my thumbs busy for awhile.
To me, gaming has always been more than saving princesses, killing monsters and blowing up buildings, as fun as all those are. They’ve been an escape. When real life was too much to deal with, and I was too agitated to soothe myself with a book, I turned to games. A few hours, shooting hordes of bad guys often restored my equilibrium, and allowed me to deal with the world again. Gaming was a friend, it helped me cope with some very dark times, and it even played it’s part in educating me. I had a game that was steeped in the lore and myth of ancient Egypt, and I learned about Karnak and the Valley of the Kings. Games being educational? True!
I will keep gaming for as long as I can. I’ll probably be found with a controller clutched in my cold, dead hands, and my mouth still open from shouting at the screen.
I can live with that.
My name is Graham. I am a gamer.
The Shepway Vox Team
Journalism for the People NOT the Powerful