With now only the whims of our Fed Ex driver standing between me & the arrival of Fallout: New Vegas, I’ve been thinking a little about my history with video games. Not so much all the places I’ve been, but rather, how I ended up back here.
I could certainly detail the various game phases of my life. There was Pong, and after that Intellivision. I wouldn’t want to sell B-17 Bomber short by any means but that ground can be covered another time. Then came my coin-op days. I wonder how many people actually remember the arcade across the street from The Donut Shack in Jasper? I sure do, thanks in no small part to Missile Command. It wasn’t long before gaming shifted to Galaga at the Jasper Game Room by the old Depot & Ms. Pac-Man at the Country Cupboard by the hospital. Then, for me at least, came the Sega Genesis. Ah, the hours spent with that sweet black console.
But after that I kind of drifted away. Partially to the PC but mostly to a different genre of games there, text-sims & specifically sports text sims. That shift, plus the return to dice-and-chart games similar to my youth, is several blog posts in & of itself. As my son got a little older, an X-Box came into the house and while I dabbled a little here & there with a few of the sports games, I really didn’t pick up the console gaming bug again. Somewhere along the way they simply added too many buttons for my then-30-something brain & fingers to navigate. Despite the presence of a developing Halo addict in the house, I just wasn’t going there, I’ve got plenty of things to frustrate me to no end & saw no reason to add another. Besides, I’d added online MMORPG’s to the mix, it wasn’t as though I was lacking for games to play even with the next-gen 360 now in the house.
Speaking of which, I know Farmville & the like are all the rage these days, but as much as I enjoy those games on Facebook, they’re old hat to some of us. Omerta anyone? You don’t know from non-FPS (First Person Shooter) internet gaming addiction unless you lived through it’s heyday. I mean, I’ve never gotten a long-distance call from someone I didn’t know personally to tell my my crops were about to wilt, but I got one on a memorable Saturday morning as someone tried to help me save a character I’d worked to develop for a year. But that’s another story too.
This entry is really about October 2008 & how I returned to console games. You see, that’s when I discovered Fallout 3. If you haven’t played it, I can only assume you don’t enjoy RPG styled games. That’s fine, diff’rent strokes & all that, but we’re probably going to have a tough time relating to each other when it comes to gaming experiences.
The lure, beyond a really insistent child, was in V.A.T.S. In game terms that’s the Vault-Tec Assisted Targeting System. For someone with older reflexes like mine, it means you can still shoot things when necessary even if you as nimble & rapid-fingered as a chimp on meth. That’s a pretty big deal, it at least meant I might have a chance to, you know, kill something without dying 200 times in a matter of minutes. That made an impressively detailed story accessible.
What made it near addiction was the open-world aspect. For non-gamers or very casual gamers, that basically means that you aren’t pushed straight down a narrow path to completion. Wandering around isn’t aimless, it’s rewarded, either with new challenges & accomplishments or simply interesting sidebars to the story you would have otherwise missed. And that’s important to my return, the writing here is not kid stuff. It’s not Shakespeare, but the choices are often dark & unpleasant, the decisions are often between the slightly better of some bad options, but ultimately how your character developed was significantly up to you. It’s been done in more detail in other games, perhaps even better in a few games, but this was my first real foray into that sort of game. In a post-nuclear holocaust alternate timeline universe set in a nearly accurate but scaled-down Washington, D.C., there’s a lot of room to work.
Having discovered Fallout 3, it was only a matter of time before I’d backtrack to Oblivion. No, not the state of being (or not being), I mean the 2006 game from the same developer, Bethesda Softworks. Same incredible depth, same open world model, but this time set in fictional universe akin to medieval times. It was Fallout that brought me back to the console but it may very well be that Oblivion that set the hook even more deeply. Well over 100 hours worth of hook & I’m still not finished, thanks to my desire to advance through the story as slowly as possible & the game’s willingness to deal with that preference.
Once you’re off the wagon, it’s easier to find other ways to feed the monster. None worse for me than Modern Warfare 2. In spite of massive sales & critical acclaim, it’s an awfully flawed game in many ways. It’s significance for me lies with breaking the online-multiplayer barrier that had always remained up in my life. I never enjoyed playing games with random strangers & still have some resistance to it, but there’s something to be said for a game that I’ve racked up over 200 hours playing to date. That’s not a typo folks, that’s over 9 days of actual time spent. For about $80 investment, it beats the heck out of most things when it comes to bang for the entertainment buck. Factor in some 250 hours my son has spent with it, that’s 450 hours at about 17 cents an hour. Compared to something like movie prices, the value is pretty obvious.
That would roughly bring us to today, as I wait for a package to arrive at my door. Not quite as enthusiastically as my son perhaps, but I’ve got a lot of years of cynicism practice on him. Still, plenty excited at the prospects of having another world to visit. Given that it’s a world blasted by nuclear weapons, besieged by warring factions that kill without hesitation, plagued by mutated scorpions the size of a large truck, that says as much about how much I’m currently enjoying the “real world” as anything I suppose. For my fellow gamers, this helps explain how I came back to the consoles. For non-gamers, well, it’s probably a lot like the quote attributed to Jeff Jarrett about professional wrestling (and to at least dozen others about other topics): “For the people that won’t get it, no explanation will be good enough. But for those that do, no explanation is needed.”
I offer no apologies, feel no need for excuses, I’m just sharing a little bit about the journey from one strange place to another.