What made you a gamer?

This was one of the Talkback Challenges during 2015’s Newbie Blogger Initiative. I said I might get round to addressing this after #NBI2015, but I clean forgot… so here I go now.

If I drill down into that question, like, really deep, I guess the answer would be not what but who – one of my aunts.

Game Boy

Game Boy

Because the very first computer game I ever played, if we count handhelds, was Super Mario Land on the Game Boy she got me and my brother as a random present during a visit to grandma’s. The invoice appears to be dated September 1991 (damned doctor’s handwriting there!) so that’d make me six when I first gamed.

My earliest memories of gaming are of sitting on granny’s bed grasping the clunky thing, wondering why there was sound but no picture, and my dad (a notorious technophobe) telling me the game was just ‘warming up’. The real problem turned out to be the contrast slider: nobody noticed that it was turned up to full by default. Badum tsh!

Game Boy cheat codes

I still have that Game Boy, now yellow and mildewed – with its box, manual, and many of the game cartridges too. (I don’t know if it still works.) Folded slips of notepad paper secreted in the battery compartment hold reams of cheat codes, learned from hearsay or acquaintances privileged enough to regularly afford game magazines.

The joys of the pre-Internet age!

Sega Mega Drive 2

Mega Drive 2

Continuing the tradition of family starting my gaming journey, we upgraded to consoles years later when my brother purchased a Sega Mega Drive 2. I still have it as well – along with its golden old games like Sunset Riders, Alien 3, Mortal Kombat II, and many more.

One of the last games I played on it was Mortal Kombat 3 – I even remember the year, because we went out and bought a 1995 issue of EGM that said it contained MK3 ‘tips & tricks’ (it turned out to be mere character profiling, which shook my youthful faith in game journalism!).

What I don’t remember is what I did for gaming fun between then and 1998. I suppose I ho-hummed my way along with the Mega Drive 2, the aging Game Boy, and arcades at the local country club.

It was also around this time that I discovered pen & paper gaming. Not D&D, mind you, or any commercially available PnP system – homebrews. I probably still have some, written by either myself or my childhood friends, hiding somewhere. They represent an early and important milestone in my creative career.

And then, in 1998, I took my first step into the Information Age. And once again, family led the way.

Master race blah blah

That was the year my parents got us dial-up Internet, and our very first proper PC – a HP Pavilion with a laughable 48MB HDD and, what, half an MB of RAM? And the first true PC games I ever played on it came from a surprise garage sale at our country club: Savage Warriors, Dragon Lore, Star Control 3, Wing Commander IV: The Price of Freedom, and lots more.

I’m also fortunate enough to have experienced the classics: Command & Conquer, Warcraft II, Diablo, StarCraft, and so on, but those require no introduction, so I won’t waste time touching on them.

What I will touch on is Rise & Rule of Ancient Empires, which, along with the seminal Age of Empires, did far more than entertain me as a gamer. They sparked my passion for history. This is perhaps my strongest case for the positive side of gaming: it’s a wonderful way to get people interested in subject matter they wouldn’t pay attention to otherwise!

Beyond PC gaming

The pre-MMO years also saw me introduced to Fighting Fantasy and Lone Wolf gamebooks, which led to homebrew gamebooks (I kept every one I wrote, but no, I am definitely not sharing pictures!), as well as MUDs. For a total of about four or five years, I was a member in good standing of the Legends of the Darkstone community, which left me with my fondest memories in online gaming. Magical thing, MUDs. The kind of experience no MMO can hope to replicate.

This is where I began to notice the differences between my attitudes towards gaming, and those of the folks around me. I had always delved deeply into the games I played, paying attention to their lore, their production, and other details unrelated to the actual gameplay – but no one else did. Gaming was, to my peers, a mere distraction, like a movie you stop talking about after you leave the cinema. Even the rare ones that played MUDs treated them as either ‘free games’ or combat simulators – exactly the mindset many took towards F2P MMOs years later.

It didn’t affect my self-identity as a gamer. We all played games, after all. But it did push me to develop my self-identity as a discerning gamer, for which I am grateful.

The end of the beginning

On the PC gaming front, it was all smooth sailing from the early 2000s on. One rig to another, one game to the next, dabbling in e-sports (Unreal Tournament) and browser games (Utopia, Grendel’s Cave, and the like), and then eventually MMOs – Hellgate: London, WoW, LoTRO, what have you. And so here I am, one among many.

What made me a gamer? I did.

But what made me the gamer I am? The (somewhat) unwitting support of family. And the unwillingness to conform.


6 Responses to “What made you a gamer?”

  1. I rarely see people mention Hellgate: London. That was a remarkable game just for being so different. It mixed magic and technology in ways that most games don’t dare to replicate. I’d say the only games I’ve played since that come close are the Shadowrun games, but that’s obviously a whole different perspective.

    I wouldn’t mind seeing something like it again on the market.

    • I agree. HGL was one of the biggest wasted opportunities I’ve ever seen in gaming – right up there with Lionheart: Legacy of the Crusader. I’m working on a post looking back on my time in its Asian community.

      • I look forward to that. I think I mentioned it in one or two posts back when it was still around. Might have a screenshot or two on the blog, but my memories of playing it are hazy as it was short lived.

    • I agree. It was a shame because I didn’t get around to it until after all the servers went down, but I loved some of the mechanics in it and the mix of themes.

  2. […] came across a post on ‘The Iron Dagger‘ called ‘What Made You A Gamer?‘ and then I realized this was something I’ve never written about myself; Why did I […]

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