This post is sort of a companion piece to the post I wrote a couple of weeks ago explaining the name of my blog that I’d been meaning to write for a while, but when I saw Mickey’s call out for bloggers to share their ‘origin stories’ I knew I’d finally have to get off my duff and write it. While my other post deals with how I got into games in a serious way, I realized I still hadn’t really explained what it was about video games that got me excited enough to start a whole blog about them. So, here goes nothing.
As I alluded to in my previous post, I’d never really considered myself much of a gamer until well into starting this blog. Being a child at the height of the first video game boom (yes, I know I look a lot younger than I am, thanks for noticing), video games were all around me in the culture, but neither of my parents were particularly techie so bringing that stuff into the house was never really that much of a priority for them. As a kid my parents spent more money on experiences, like family trips, than things, so we didn’t get anything resembling a computer until around 1988 when my parents found a Texas Instruments TI-99/4A at a garage sale. It came with two game cartridges, but the only one I remember (because it was the only one I played) was Space Invaders. I never got very good at it, but I still loved playing it, watching those pixelated aliens zig zag across the tiny black and white TV my parents had sacrificed to our digital dreams. I don’t even think we had the disk drive add-on for the thing, and in any event we had no floppy disks (yes, I get it, I’m old) so we couldn’t actually save anything, making it useless for anything but playing one very old console port.
Later that year, or maybe the year after, we got an NES for Christmas and my brother and sister and I traded off playing Super Mario Bros. and Bubble Bobble. Being that there were three of us and only two controllers, my younger brother and sister somehow found a way to dominate our play time and I became more interested in more ‘mature’ things like boys and makeup (although I was never very good at either of them). As much as I wanted to get into video games, I knew I’d never be able to dedicate the time to actually get any good at them.
In high school a boyfriend introduced me to Wolfenstein 3D and our local arcade (man, could I date myself any more in this post?) and our parents finally got a computer we could use for school. They also got us three games, all with some sort of educational bent: Where In The World Is Carmen Sandiego, Life & Death, and Treasure Mountain. The former had actually been bought for my younger brother, aimed as it was at kids aged 5 – 9, but to this day it is one of only a handful of games I have successfully played to completion.
Being involved in figure skating and my growing interest in film meant that again time was the enemy of me getting any good at video games and they sat on the back burner of my interests until my second year of university when I started dating my first “hard-core” gamer. His father was a computer engineer and he’d spent his childhood playing with computers and computer games. When we met he was working part-time at an EB Games while attending a local college. He tried to introduce me to games like Grim Fandango and Quake Arena, but already my lack of fundamental skills (and a rig at home to run them) meant that I could never keep up with him. While I did read his PC Gamer and PC Accelerator magazines cover to cover, developing an interest in the culture and history of games, a spectacularly messy break up (99% my bad) left a bad taste in my mouth where games were concerned and I developed a very “anti-video games” stance that held more or less until I moved to Montreal.
Upon arriving in La Belle Province, I was able to use my bilingualism to get a job as a translator/tester at a mid-sized mobile game developer. This is where I met Rick, and my new journey as Gamerwife really started. Being into film and pop-culture in general, the leap to learning about games wasn’t dramatic, but my journey was helped along by two simultaneous developments: the rise of mobile gaming (this was right at the dawn of the smartphone era) and the ascent of indie games. While I’m sure part of me had always been interested in video games, up until this point I had been prevented by a lack of skills and prior knowledge from really engaging with them. The barrier to entry was too high. The controls too obtuse. The time investment too daunting. But now, all sorts of weird and personal games were getting made. And everyone now had a game console in their pocket.
This is a lot of what inspired me to start Gamerwife. To give a voice to people like me who were interested in video games and saw the significance of their cultural impact, but hadn’t grown up with them to the point where playing a game was like breathing. I love games because of the opportunities they represent. Games can be used in so many interesting and innovative ways and we’re only starting to scratch the surface of what those are. Because they are interactive, the story telling and teaching opportunities games could facilitate are limited only by our imaginations. I believe in the good that games can do, whether that be teaching empathy or motor skills or just as a creative outlet for someone to create something meaningful. If only for them.
I also think writing about video games is interesting to me because we’re at a very crucial point in the history of video games. The question of whether games can be art has more of less been answered with museums around the world showing games regularly, but we still haven’t really figured out how to talk about them. Especially academically. There is no Cahiers du cinema for video games. There’s no established language for how to discuss games seriously. Borrowing from classic art or film theory is a start, but in most cases those forms are based on a passive observer. How does what a player does in a game affect the intention of the work as art? Should games be discussed as products or as works? Can the same language apply to an auteur work like The Stanley Parable as to a huge AAA title like Assassin’s Creed? And where does the internet really fit into all of this? Can websites that give favourable reviews in exchange for review copies be trusted to discuss games seriously, or should they just be considered as part of the marketing machine?
I don’t know the answers to any of this. But I can’t wait to see where things go from here.