Sometimes I feel like I’ve missed out on a whole heap of key moments in geek culture. I’ve never watched Naruto. I’ve never played a Legend of Zelda game. The only Avengers movie I saw was the first one.
Strangely, it’s the video game stuff I feel I’m missing out on most. As a kid, although I was never what you’d call a hardcore gamer, video games were still a big part of my cultural experience. I was the first (only?) kid in my junior school to own any kind of video game system – a Sinclair Spectrum ZX +3, with joystick and lightgun. My first video games came on cassette tapes, and I’d scour car boot sales for games that were easily affordable with my pocket money. I knew the frustration of the Dizzy games, and loved obscure and nigh-impossible stuff like the Monty Python game (only playable if you could pass a cheese identification test on the opening screen). During dull summer holidays, I spent my money on arcade games with my cousin, games like Street Fighter and Mortal Combat and cartoon adaptations – we lived for the Simpsons arcade game at Fantasy World in Cleethorpes, a huge four-player machine with seats that stayed in the same place in that arcade for about twenty years even after the screen colours had burnt out and distorted.
In my early teens, I played NES and SNES games at my uncle’s house (the only reason I ever visited him, to be honest). I played the original Mario Kart (and got all the gold trophies and hidden content). My sister and I got GameBoys one Christmas (hers yellow, mine red) and I was briefly obsessed with the trend of customising GameBoys by gluing a bunch of stuff to the outer casing (although no one else seems to remember this being a thing – my sister only claims vague memories of it).
At eighteen, I was lucky enough to get my hands on the first PlayStation, the year they were first launched. I played the original GTA, and Tomb Raider, and lost whole weekends playing Theme Hospital (rented from Blockbuster). I fell in love with story-focused point-and-click adventures thanks to the Discworld games, and love noodling around with promo games given away free with magazines.
Then…I don’t know what happened. I graduated university, got a job, started thinking of myself as a ‘proper grown-up’. I discovered online fandom, and enjoyed actually interacting with other people through a screen instead of just beating computer opponents. There were other things I needed to spend my money on instead of video games.
Only occasionally did a video game grab my attention enough to make me find some way to play it. Again, it was story-focused stuff like Portal or American McGee’s Alice, or innovative sandbox games like Spore. I never played a Zelda game, or a Final Fantasy Game, and I never ever played a Pokemon game until Pokemon Go!
Mostly I didn’t really think I was missing out on stuff. I watched the odd Let’s Play, thinking that was enough, as I really only cared about story-based games and didn’t actually need to play one myself to experience the story.
I want to say that what’s pushed me to try getting back into gaming lately is an appreciation for games as an art form – the idea that a game can be an immersive experience or an artistic experience in the way that a book or a TV series can be. I could even say I just want to keep up with the memes.
But no. You know what’s actually led me to buying a Switch Lite and spending money on games again? Untitled Goose Game.
I read about it several months ago and loved the idea of it. A game where the aim is to cause problems rather than solve them, but in a cosy and relatively harmless way. A sort of GTA: Ambridge*. I lost several hours to it last night, loving the way the puzzles hardly even feel like puzzles but like finding the best ways to have fun.
Obviously I want to play more than just this one game. I got a copy of Mario Kart 8 bundled with the Switch, the first time I’ve played a Mario Kart game in about 25 years. I was surprised by how quickly the muscle-memory came back, and how easily I got back into it. Looking through the games available, I’ve spotted a few franchises that I know barely anything about – Zelda, Fire Emblem, and more. So I’m tempted to try them out for the first time, and possibly even blog about my experiences of going into these well-established words as a total newbie.
Perhaps in weeks to come I’ll be adding a new series to this blog; a Never Have I Ever… series about experiencing these games for the first time. Watch this space!
*Ambridge is the fictional setting of British radio soap opera ‘The Archers’. Think quaint country village with bleating sheep as a constant background track.