bit-tech.net

This Isn't About Monkey Island, Honest

Writing a column that isn’t about The Secret of Monkey Island is something which is pretty hard for me as I’m a self confessed fanboy of the series. As such, you’ll have to forgive me if I ask you to jump through a few hoops with me for the first few paragraphs. I think you'll find it’s worth the effort.

So, where to begin? With my inspiration, of course. After all, in the last few months I’ve enlisted a host of indie game developers to write weekly columns for the site precisely so that I don’t have to write this kind of thing – I must have some good reason for taking to the columns page again!

The inspiration for this column though is simple. My girlfriend’s grandfather died recently and I received the message from her when I was at work. I won’t go into all the details of what is obviously a very personal event, but the point is that his death got me thinking about a few things. This is the first time anybody even remotely close to me has died and I’ve gone through what I suppose are the usual cycle of human emotions. In the end though, I came to one question that got lodged in my semi self-obsessed (at least) brain.

That question is; what will people say about me when I die?

"That evening I was at home and doing the washing-up when these thoughts came flooding back to me and I started to ask why I had ever become such a rabid gamer in the first place."

Now, as I’ve said before, despite all my exaggerations and pretensions, I know I’m actually a fairly dull person. I’ve done exciting and interesting things, sure – but no more so than anyone else. Not everyone can say they’ve been swimming with sharks or ridden in hot air balloons, but everyone can say something on more or less the same level and such things don’t really stand out in modern living unless someone goes home missing a limb.

As I see myself, I can only be defined in two ways and it’s in these descriptions that I think people will talk about me after my death.

Firstly, I’m a gamer and I have been ever since I first plugged in my Amiga A500+ and turned on a game I’ve promised not to discuss. Secondly, I talk a lot; often about nothing in particular, but mostly about computer games. Are games an art form? What is gameplay? Will the industry inevitably stagnate? These things weigh heavily on my mind and I orate about them near-continuously.

Orate. It’s not a word used to describe chit-chat and smalltalk – it’s a word for describing the process of taking a passion and giving it a voice. I orate about games and have done ever since I discovered The Game That Cannot Be Discussed.

"This is an invitation. It’s me asking you readers, whoever you may be, to tell me what game it was for you that first hooked you to this way of life. If you can fathom the answer, tell me why."

The evening of the death I was at home and doing the washing-up when these thoughts came flooding back to me – I started to ask why I had ever become such a rabid gamer in the first place. I started to wonder why it was exactly that, even though almost fifteen years had passed, I still carried such a raging passion for That Game. There have been other, unarguably better games since then – games I have enjoyed more. Yet, somehow, The Unnamed Game will always be at the forefront in my mind whenever I sit down to work.

It’s at this point you can stop jumping through hoops. You can sit down, here next to me, and think for a moment about the destination we’ve arrived at. The point of this column is about to be revealed.

I think the experience I’ve had with the adventures of Guybrush Threepwood is one that is mirrored in the vast majority of, if not all, hardcore gamers. There always seems to be one game which draws a person in and cements them permanently to the gamers way of life.

Back to top

Joe Martin

It’s a phenomenon I’ve spotted in other people from time to time, so I know it’s not just me.

For instance: I have this friend who I’ve known almost all my life. For the first 18 years I was alive he lived down the road from me and ever since then he’s either lived with me, next door or less than an hour’s train ride away. Let’s just say that he’s one of my closest friends.

This friend, who for the sake of personal privacy we’ll call ‘Ken’, is a Doom fanatic. How I feel about That Game isn’t even skimming the surface of his love for the Doom games – even the last, really bad one.

"I don’t believe that our loves and losses are preset in life. Instead I think we make our own choices even though we rarely understand the choice we are making and can never fully predict the effect."

The earliest clear memory I have of Ken comes from when we were about nine or ten years old and he bought a book into school which he somehow ended up showing to everyone at playtime. That book was the Doom Construction Kit from way back when the original Doom games were doing the rounds. Even though the book itself was incomprehensible to children of our age, he was obviously lapping up the lore of ‘his’ game with a passion. I was already an ordained geek at that stage and even to me the book was dull – but not so to Ken.

Now, I don’t believe that our loves and losses are preset in life. I think we make our own choices even though we rarely understand the choice we are making and can never fully predict the effect. So it seems to me that hardcore gamers are people who once made a choice to play a single game that hooked them. They aren’t programmed from birth to be geeks, they just happened to stumble across something once that they latched onto for the rest of their life, dooming themselves to a lifetime of constantly trying to recapture the horror, humour or fascination they unearthed so long ago. The fact that one experience could potentially shape someone’s entire personality is something which fascinates me.

For me, that game was The Secret of Monkey Island (sorry!). For Ken it was Doom. My father has Thief: The Dark Age. My girlfriend Hannah loves Sonic The Hedgehog. Richard; X-Com: Terror From The Deep, while Tim played Asteroids religiously.

Most columns that get written at bit-tech aren’t like this. Most columns are a chance for the writer to sound-off on something or rant about their pet hates. This isn’t that.

Instead, this is an invitation. It’s me asking you readers, whoever you may be, to tell me what game it was that first hooked you to this way of life. If you can fathom the answer, tell me why you loved that game so much – not just that it "was funny" or "was cool", but the deeper meaning. Have a glass of wine and think it over first. There’s no catch or incentive – I’m just interested in what it is that makes people like games. What is it that hardcore audiences are trying to recapture? I simply want to know what game it was that ‘got you’, so drop your story in the forums or email it to me directly if you'd be so kind.

That way, when I die, maybe they’ll be able to say that Joe Martin was a gamer, a talker and a listener. And I’ll have Hannah’s grandfather to thank for being that much more interesting.