What is it with these electronic cartoons that has us so obsessed? Video games have been causing controversy as long as they have been in existence, be it the addictive nature of them, the gratuitous content often found in them or generally just the fact that they’re an incredibly fun form of entertainment and so must be deemed unholy. In an effort to have a look at the pros and cons of video games, let me dip into my own history with them.
My earliest memory of playing a games console was waaayy back in 1992 with the Commodore 64. Flimbo’s Quest, Paperboy, Terminator 2: Judgement Day; a plethora of wonderful games that, even T2 included, couldn’t be classed as anyway controversial, namely because a gun equalled a single pixel and nothing could be deciphered on screen. But my strongest early memory of the C64 was not a game. No, booting up the console sans game afforded you a DOS screen wherein you could type words, and they would appear on screen…. Mind boggling. On this, at the age of five, I typed out the sleeve notes and snippet of narrative from Jeff Wayne’s War Of The World’s vinyl LP. I remember my father being fascinated at this. It couldn’t be printed, once the console was off that was it gone. But it was space age. It’s the first time in my life I ever typed anything, just like I’m doing right now as I write this and as we all do everyday keeping in touch with others. This wasn’t a mindless boring trawl through a fictional metropolis or apocalyptic wasteland, it was the ushering in of a new era for my generation. Looking at kids walking around now with more higher powered than their parents realise internet tablets in their hands, I can’t help but feel envious. How I would have killed to have something like that when I was younger.
Jump ahead a year or two and the home video game console became king. Without giving the wrong impression of my parent’s parenting methods, which as far as I’m concerned were spot on, one of my next earliest memories involves the Nintendo Entertainment System and the very first entry into the juggernaut Mario franchise. The night that my brother reached the final level of the very first Mario Bros title we had a dilemma – it was a school night! and of course, without the ability to save one’s progress, there was only one solution, leave the console on all night. Leaving things paused until the morning, we got that all important sleep, woke early ahead of school and my brother finished off the level. Taking things another step further, my father hooked up our old brick of a camcorder to the television and recorded this momentous occasion. Sad? Maybe, but it was the early days of the middle class consumer computing, something that has become a mainstay today that we couldn’t conceive of life without. Something that we don’t appreciate anyway near as much as we should.
So we fast forward again slightly, to 1996. Aside from it being the year my brother got a boombox and two CDs, The Best Of U2 and same for David Bowie, and a musical shift rocketed into my life, it was also the year of, the Nintendo 64. The Super Nintendo Entertainment System had come between the NES and N64, and had brought with it many innovations, but the 3D spectacular that was the N64 opened up a realm of possibility in home consoles that has expanded to become the unstoppable force it is today. Sitting there on Christmas Day, playing Super Mario 64 with Ground Control crying out for a response from Major Tom in the background, my eyes were alight with this technological revolution unfolding before me. But if Mario 64 was the New Hope, Goldeneye 64 was the Empire Strikes Back of my childhood (alongside the actual Empire Strikes Back of course).
No, it didn’t invent the first person shooter genre, but bloody hell did it popularise and justify its place in the home entertainment consumer spectrum. Nowadays, console shooters will keep a log of your time spent playing it, throwing all level of stats your way, letting you know how much of your life you’ve handed over to it. How grateful I am that Goldeneye didn’t have that feature, for I surely put in enough hours on that game that would nearly, just nearly, lend credence to these naysayers with their derogatory opinions on the addictive qualities of video games. But above all else, for all its merits and innovations, where Goldeneye needs and deserves the most praise is in the fact that it was a social experience. The single player was definitely fun, no question, but the four player multiplayer, oh deary me. What an exquisite gaming experience that was. Slappers Only, Golden Gun and of course Odd Job, the amount of fun I had with mates after school as we tried our best to out do each other via skill, jammyness and general divilment. Where some can look upon this as unhealthy recreational time, I couldn’t disagree more. There are poets, politicians, athletes and more in this world, we were and still are gamers.