A Life In PC Gaming: My Shame

I have, at least, never broken a monitor

I’ve been playing games on computers for the vast bulk of my life. From BBC Micro to Spectrum to 486 to assorted Athlons to the quad-cored radiator I used today, I’ve rarely been far from a keyboard. I have seen much, I have played much, I have learned much. But learning so often comes from failure. There have been many, many failures: these are but a few.

  • I spent what was then my life savings on a Voodoo 2 card – my first ever 3D card – specifically to play Half-Life. Excitedly fitting the card and installing the game, I was depressed by how poorly it performed, how the game would only run in software mode, and how any sequences that involved swimming were impossible because the entire screen turned flat, soup-thick grey. I should have bought an ATI Rage, I thought. I didn’t play many games for a while, because they either didn’t run or looked hideous. PC gaming wasn’t me for me, I decided – too expensive, too inconsistent, too mysterious. It was a full year before, when opening up my PC to fit a new hard drive, I realised the Voodoo was only resting lightly on the edge of its slot. A little gentle finger pressure later, a whole new world awaited.
  • Having breezed my way through Quake 1 on easy with only a few hundred deaths, I confidently accepted the challenge of an older acquintance to hook our PCs together with a serial cable and engage in dramatic deathmatch. I’d absolutely murder him, I was sure of it – and I told him so. I think I even bet him a Mars Bar or something. Of course, he knew what strafing was. I didn’t. And I was playing on cursor keys with left and right set to slowly turn rather than sidestep. And I wasn’t using a mouse. I believe, to this day, that this was the formative moment that made me primarily a singleplayer gamer, often nervous to the point of terror about stepping onto a server in case that dread childhood humiliation is repeated.
  • A little later, after my Voodoo 2-inspired sabbatical, the release of Aliens vs Predator led to my deciding to build a new PC from scratch. I’d never done this before, but I had upgraded pretty much every common component at some point or another. What could go wrong? Blazing, humiliating rows with the impatient manager of a PC hardware shop in Swansea coloured a full month of my student life, with him stubbornly refusing to refund what I’d paid for a motherboard that clearly did not work. I can’t remember how we worked out that I’d bolted the board directly onto the PC case – no static-blocking separators or washers or the like, just screwed straight onto the bare metal. The first time I turned the new build on, the motherboard and everything attached to it was instantly fried. So I never did get my refund from that angry Welshman. But I did send the motherboard back to its manufacturer, plead ignorance and somehow wangle a replacement.
  • I was convinced Thief was a jolly cartoon PlayStation platformer until around 2001. I have no idea what I was actually thinking of.
  • The first time I played it, I couldn’t complete Doom II without cheating. From the second level onward.
  • I managed to hack some ancient, incredibly basic but undeniably entertaining DOS game about trying to catch fish that fell from the sky with a basket so that the introductory screen declared I had written it. This copy of the game somehow made it all the way over school, most every pupil with access to the computer room spending their lunchtimes playing it. Normally something of an invisible man to my peers, for a short time I was approached with something like reverence. “Did you really make that fish game?” I’d smile smugly and say something like “oh, y’know, piece of piss.” My invisible status returned all too swiftly when another pupil wandered in one day with an elderly boxed retail copy of the Spectrum version of the game in question, whose manual declared a rather different author.
  • As a young boy impatiently wanting to access to my family’s PC so I could play more X-COM, I would occasionally sneak out to the garage and flip the electricity breaker switch to interrupt my mother’s word processing (she was studying for an Open University history course) in the hope she’d give up. “Another power cut?” I’d wonder innocently as she fumed. “This probably wouldn’t happen so much if we didn’t live in the middle of nowhere.”
  • In my initial forays into World of Warcraft – on its original beta – I had no idea whatsoever of MMO lingo. Playing primarly solo as a Night Elf priest, I fought what I believed to be a titanic battle against a pack of gnolls (about three), somehow surviving by a whisker. Another player had wandered up to watch me and my eventual victory, and as I self-adoringly wrote in a magazine preview of my experiences a little later, he uttered “way to go” in awe at my actions. Because I was amazing – he knew it, I knew it and the reading public of PC Format magazine should know it. Of course, what he’d actually said was ‘WTG’ as he’d spotted how cackhandedly I was fighting and thought I needed a hand, but I didn’t know the abbreviation for Want To Group? back then. Thank the lord not too many people were still reading PC magazines by that point.
  • I critically mis-described the Witcher 1 combat controls in a magazine review, which was then used as incontrovertible evidence by a small but very loud and utterly fearsome contingent of outraged Witcher fans as to why my 68% score for the game was because I was an idiot, rather than because I didn’t like it that much. I will, I suspect, never escape that shadow. (It was a lousy review in many other ways, in fairness – I’d been given way too short a deadline for a massive game, and did a horrid rush job. Lesson learned: I always take/ask for more time if I need it now, or pass the game onto someone else if I can’t/aren’t allowed to give it the hours required.) I still shudder.
  • I’ve said this before I know, but I was humiliated in front of my entire history class for drawing dozens crude Dune 2 Ornithopters on my exercise book when the teacher noted my lack of attention and asked me who Churchill was.
  • Believing it to be my likely big break, I sent a reader review of Deus Ex into PC Zone. It was 90% ranting some crazy grievance about ladders I can’t even fully recall now, and said nothing of the game’s achievements. Suffice to say they didn’t publish it, but I live in fear it still exists in someone’s inbox and could be unearthed.
  • I bought the PC version of Street Fighter II.

This is my shame. What is yours?


  1. Hypernetic says:

    I spent a good portion of my childhood believing that RPGs were stupid and boring despite never really understanding what they were. The first RPG I really played (unless you count games like Zelda) was Final Fantasy 7 at a friend’s house. I didn’t own a PS1 at the time so I just sat there playing FF7 in his room. Eventually he asked me to leave, but I didn’t want to so he said “you know what, you can borrow my playstation. Bring it back when you finish the game”. So I did and my obsession with RPGs began.

    Next I downloaded a ROM of Chrono Trigger and started playing that. I was then “sick” and missed three days of school so I could beat Chrono Trigger.

    I now consider RPGs my favorite genre next to FPS games and am really embarrassed about comments I made to friends in the past about RPGs.


  2. Threepbrush says:

    I finished Ravenloft: Strahd’s Possession and Stone Prophet back in 1994/95 without using a single healing potion. And later Fallout 1&2 without using a single stimpak. And lots of other games the same way. Whenever I took too much damage I would rather re-load the last save, again and again. Yes, it was absurdly time consuming and ridiculously meticulous. I’m not sure if I make much sense, but I considered the potions/stimpaks to be too valuable to actually use, so I just hoarded them. I even managed to crash Stone Prophet when I added one last potion (i like to think it was 257th) to a humongous pile at one of my “safe places”…

    The sad part is, I’m still like that. I just hate disposable artifacts and often end up never using them, even though I know it’s supposed to be a part of the game’s mechanics.

  3. Njam says:

    – Couple of years ago I got my first SATA HDD. Yay, I thought. Then I brought it home, I installed it in my case, screwed everything in, connected the cable and then it didn’t work. I got Dad to drive me back to the store, bringing with me not just the hard drive but the entire case. So after a brief discussion with the sales guy (never even got the case out of the car trunk) I figured i didn’t have a SATA power cable. “So I need a second cable? Yeah, well, that explains that other, larger connector on the drive.” Man, the guy even asked me if I was sure i have all the proper cables when I bought the thing.

    – Halfway into Fallout I discovered that I could right-click the weapon button to switch to reload or VATS. It became quite easier from then on. I also couldn’t wrap my head around turn based combat for quite some time.

    – I am extremely proud of myself when I don’t use a walkthrough for an adventure game. Even if it’s a game I already finished several times before.

  4. Jonesy says:

    I paid full price for Drake of the 99 Dragons.

    The box said it had slow motion, wall running and jumping, and loads of great guns to shoot. I loved both Max Payne and POP: SOT, so thought it sounded like a great combo. I rage quit an hour later and started reading game reviews for the first time (since, money gane, I could now only read about people playing good games).

  5. yarry says:

    – I bought Left 4 Dead 2 for the full price of 50€ at a retailer… (Valve sold it for like 20€ on Steam at that time), I didn’t play it after the L4D1 Update (I think that was like a few weeks after I bought it)
    – I bought DNF and didn’t finish it to date. (played it like… once, a 2 hour playing spree and never touched it again)
    – I was so fascinated by the Street Fighter movie (1994) back then when I was a kid, bought it via amazon (no, I did not read any of those reviews… I should have) and was left with pure disappointment.
    – I bought TF2 for 20€ instead of the Orange Box for just 10€ more (I still regret it)
    – I remember having played Doom 3 something like 5 years ago. on midnight. Installed it, played it for like… 5 minutes, went to the other tower and I think by the time the scientist mutated into a monster I just killed off my PC and uninstalled it on the next day.

  6. adammtlx says:

    I spent my childhood learning how to get computer games to work on DOS and Windows 3.1 since my dad, despite being a computer virtuoso, wanted very little to do with such trivialities. But this worked out well, as learning about hardware interrupts and pif files and the like prepared me for, on my own, learning how to program, upgrading my existing computer in my pre-teens/teens and successfully building my own computer from scratch when I was 18 (couldn’t afford it before then). No shame there.

    Several years later (about 3-4 years ago) I bought a new video card for my then-three-year-old computer. In blind confidence I didn’t really bother to make sure that my PSU could handle it. I seated it (it barely fit in the case) and it worked fine for about 3 weeks. Then I started getting all sorts of crazy errors and restarts. Fortunately, I didn’t fry anything, and one $250 750W enthusiast-grade PSU later, I was back in gear.

    I replaced that computer and its $500 worth of upgrades not a year later. :(

    Few other funny things:

    My first online Diablo character’s name was “Sadistic.” I couldn’t understand why people wouldn’t join my games to play with me.

    At 14 I tried to write a BASIC Mario-like game by leveling instructions like 10 CHARACTER MARIO 20 HAIR BROWN at the interpreter. I was very proud when I managed to get a blue graphical screen to appear.

    My brother and I managed to get a networked game of Warcraft II running on a null modem cable on our COM ports, back when I’d never heard of NICs or LANs. I remember how excited I was when we could communicate via HyperTerminal (we were in the same room) before starting the game up. Still surprised that actually worked.

    I can still remember my first one on one with MSDOS when I was about 9. I remember typing something in (probably “play game”) and DOS responding:

    Bad command or file name.

    So… I typed in my name. :(

    I took out a hard drive once and accidentally screwed in the wrong screws when putting it back in, damaging the PCB. I thought it was a lost cause, but now I know how easy of a fix it is. Lost a lot of stuff on that drive…

  7. llamaboy says:

    Note: I’m 23.

    I, too, bought the 3 1/2 in floppy disk version of Street Fighter II, and thought it was a lot better than the Genesis version. Unlike you, I bought it at a dollar store. It was down there, lonely on the shelf. I really wonder how they ended up with it.

    I have 175 Steam games, and yet still tons and tons of those stupid, fat cases with discs in them. Just got done tossing out 95% of my jewel cases; games put in a huge binder.

    Got a demo floppy of X-Com that I just can’t throw away. Has a cool picture of one of the aliens on the front, and was the first way I played the game on my Packard Hell.

    Used a Pentium I at either 120 or 166 Mhz (traded the 120 for a 166 at one point) up until Christmas of 2003ish. My friend had a similar Packard Bell running an even older Pentium @ 75 Mhz…absolutely MINT condition, looked like he had just bought it. That thing was glorious; we would fire up games like ChemLab (not really a game, Chemistry sim) and Terminal Velocity.

    I still have a Toshiba Satellite with a Pentium 120 and a PASSIVE MATRIX LCD monitor. I bought it to play Daggerfall, thinking passive matrix wouldn’t be that big of an issue. It was. Awful tech.

    Used a ball mouse up until 2008, when I replaced it with a Logitech G5, which I used until a few weeks ago. I think I’m going to hook that thing up again; I saw it in the garage earlier….found it…aww yea…that feels good. So slow compared to the new laser, but…huh.

    Just ripped a 6800 Ultra out of a dead Dell XPS prototype laptop from about seven or eight years ago. It’s a lot smaller and wimpier than I thought it would be.

    EDIT: I forgot all about hyper terminal! Thank you person above me. Friend and I used to connect over the phone line to trade .jpgs. Mind you, this was well within the internet era (2004ish); it’s just more fun that way. If you have a land line and know someone else that does, DO IT. It’s just really cool; I think it’s some nostalgia value mixed with finding a really old form of communication not used much anymore.

  8. Otimus says:

    I’m 28 years old.

    I didn’t even own a computer at all until 2004. I bought it used from a guy on the internet. It had a biscuit in it. I’m not kidding. There was actually an old hardened biscuit inside of it. It was also riddled with viruses. It also had Windows 2000.

    I went from that, to buying a Dell a year later. To building my own two years after that. To also owning a netbook two years after that. Then, building another new PC a few months ago.

    Also, I didn’t get broadband until 2006 :/

    Saaaaaaay, how did I use the internet before having a PC?

    I fucking used a Dreamcast. A broken Dreamcast. That was held together with a rubberband.

    For years. Prior to that, a WebTV.

    If I had to go back to either of those now, I’d just hang myself.

    The sad part of it all is, though, that ever since I was about 5, I had wanted a PC. Very bad, too.

    I remember this one christmas, a fairly wealthy aunt of mine, at my grandma’s had a huge box, and I thought she had gotten me a PC. Instead, she actually got my equally as wealthy as her cousin one.

    And me some fucking Mickey Mouse doll-thing where you put cassette tapes in it and it “sang” them. That’s not a fucking PC at all!

    I used to like, play around with the PC’s in stores like Walmart and Office Depot. I’d watch these shows on public access and stuff, about all kinds of PC games and I wanted to play them :( I also watched these shows that taught you how to do HTML. And I’d write it down. Why the hell did I do this? I don’t fucking know. But I did. and when I went to those stores, I’d practice it :x

    In hindsight, I might be one of the worst losers ever!