12. About Gaming, Part 1

A recent conversation with a friend went like this:

FRIEND
I can’t take it when I spend the whole day looking at the computer screen. My eyes dry up and they hurt like hell.

ME
Hey, don’t blame the computer. I play games all day and I don’t feel a thing.

FRIEND
All day? I did that once, and felt like my entire day was wasted. Don’t you feel that?

ME
I feel something, alright.

FRIEND
What?

ME
SATISFACTION!

(she was rather reluctant to continue that conversation)

I was first introduced to games when they were still being introduced on floppy disks, or on giant compilation CDs. The first game I ever had the pleasure of starting (but not finishing) was The Prince of Persia for DOS.

Some of you may remember playing that; and if you do, it’s about time you realize that you’re getting old.

The Prince of Persia for DOS was a pretty straightforward game: the grand vizier has usurped the sultan’s rule, thrown you into prison, and has taken the princess has hostage. You have one hour to navigate the 12 levels of the dungeon, crossing swords with guards, escaping deathtraps, leaping  across chasms from platform to platform, and figuring out if the colorful potion would give you one extra point of health, make you float, turn the map upside-down, or kill you outright. Needless to say, it was a pretty nifty game, and the mechanical sounds of metal jaws snapping shut still haunts me in my nightmares.

It was a 2D platformer, with no great graphics to speak of – every pixel that built up the character, the floors, and the torches that flickered in the background were as big as a button on a blackberry phone. And that was how I discovered computer games, from the very beginning.

The game that I played for the first time without any adult supervision was Red Alert. The first one, not any of its campy sequels. And like The Prince of Persia for DOS, it blew my mind: you could put cinematic interludes into games? You could finish the mission any way you wanted? So many choices of buildings, tanks, and ships to build? I can use an ATOM BOMB?? AWESOME!

(this game is also the reason why I knew what Tesla coils were YEARS before I knew who Tesla was. Until then I just assumed that “Tesla” was synonymous with “electrical death ray”)

The very first mission I played involved guiding an Allied spy (complete with a British accent saying “For King and country!”) into a soviet base to rescue a special operative named Tanya. The mission began with the spy landing on enemy shores, and from behind the shroud of war I could see a unit in red patrolling with a dog.

And I thought: dogs are good, right? Let me approach it and see what happens.

That, ladies and gentlemen, was how within the first 2 minutes of the very first mission I ever played in the original Red Alert, my spy was unceremoniously killed by an attack dog, and I failed the mission.

The very first First-Person Shooter I played was Doom. Not the original one – this one was titled “The Ultimate Doom”, and the cover art displayed a muscular man in a gladiator’s breastplate, a space marine’s breathing mask, cargo pants, dual-wielding submachine guns atop a mountain of corpses, and gunning down demons left and right.

I was seven years old, and it looked pretty awesome.

(before Doom, I played another game called Bounty Hunter, which also involved shooting people with guns – but Bounty Hunter was more of a scripted-events kind of game that did not really give you the freedom to roam around as modern FPSs do; and in my mind, an FPS that does not allow you to roam is not an FPS)

My father apparently did not even realize he had the game. To be fair, it was one of the many games available on the aforementioned giant compilation CDs. I was already in the second level of hell, gunning down imps, cacodemons, and pinkies before my father found me playing the game, and banned me from playing such violent games.

Of course, I didn’t listen to him, and I immediately regretted everything when the cyberdemon appeared. To this day, I have never replayed that level.

So kids, listen to your parents. Seriously.

(to be continued)

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