Reflecting on things I take for granted, things which are an everyday part of how I play videogames today, I think of what used to constitute that for me. What was my Steam forums, my C:\Program Files (x86), my Catalyst Control Center, my YouTube clips, my memes, my take-the-side-off-the-case-to-stop-it-overheating? What seemed so important that it burned?
This is nothing more than nostalgia – I realise that entirely. I just forget so much these days that the act of trying to remember seems precious. There are the odd little things that stay with me:
- Laboriously creating a hidden virtual drive containing games pirated from people at school. My mum complained that she couldn’t understand why our tiny hard drive was so full, but was otherwise none the wiser.
- Being banned from using the pc for a week for repeatedly shouting “Jesus Christ aaaargh just come on” during a particularly challenging Syndicate level. This was seen as a sign that I was becoming a Bad Kid, which was and is laughable.
- Refusing to show an older kid on the bus the copy of Fury of the Furries (I know, I know) I’d just bought, because I believed that this cover art was so enticing that he would surely steal it:
- The one kid at school who had a copy of Doom Shareware before anyone else did, but refused to share it and instead regaled us, as we all sat rapt, with tales of how inconceivably terrifying and violent it was.
- Being humiliated in front of the entire class by my history teacher, who was furious that I’d covered my exercise book in drawings of Ornithopters from Dune II.
- Being so bad at mouse and keyboard controls that I couldn’t even manage the jump across the bridge that was required to select Hard difficulty in Quake.
- Running up the family phone bill with multiple calls to the Lucasarts helpline when stuck in Sam & Max. I’m pretty certain my dad thought I was calling phone sex lines.
- Getting a Soundblaster Pro for my birthday, primarily because I wanted to hear the music in Monkey Island 2. To this day I have no idea where my dad acquired it from, but it arrived unboxed and loose in a jiffy bag. Also in the jiffy bag were a series of floppy discs with ‘Monkey Island 1’ hand-scrawled onto them, and photocopies of its anti-piracy code wheel that I had to cut out and assemble myself.
- The tiny, horrible white speakers bought to accompany said Soundblaster containing no magnetic shielding, and thus playing Monkey Island 1 (and 2) with a rainbow effect on each side of the screen. It was worth it just to hear that music.
- Deep into my brief Dragonlance obsession, having a friend around to visit but then making him just sit there and watch me play through some side-scrolling and extremely unfair side-scrolling Dragonlance game. It was dreadful to play, and must have been exponentially more dreadful to watch. Today was the first time since then that I’ve revisited that game. Look what I subjected that poor bastard to – no wonder we haven’t spoken since school.
- The last mission in my first playthrough of the original X-COM. Until that point I’d done an awful lot of save-scumming, restarting whole missions in order to resurrect one soldier, but up there on Cydonia, the stakes seemed so different. I knew this was a one way trip. I knew there was no point in preserving anyone. My team were slowly whittled down to two, and when eventually they stood there and took it in turns to awkwardly shook chunks off that giant eyeball, it felt like profound victory.
SET BLASTER=A220 I5 D1 T2
- Drilling holes in the corner of floppy disks to double their storage.
- Floppy disks no longer working because plastic dust from my slapdash drilling was all over the magnetic inner.
- Star Wars Rebel Assault being a near-mythical entity – none of us had CD-ROM drives, none of us could believe that full motion video and 3D graphics were possible, all we could do was look at pictures in magazines and lust and dream. This was surely and would always be the zenith of computer games: to own and play this thing was sheer fantasy, and when one day we did, life would be complete. None of us believed the middling to negative reviews, because just look at it. To this day I have never played Rebel Assault (or it sequel), and I tell you this: I will go to my grave without that changing, because some fantasies should be left unspoiled, no matter how foolish they may be.
- Lurid, hyper-real box art (more seen in magazines than on actual boxes, as I had very few of them) that I started at and scrutinised endlessly, puzzled by how little they resembled the games they advertised and striving to reconcile the differences. There must be a reason – it can’t be a mistake that his gun looks different or her hair is a different colour. There must be. Games and their boxes back then were an ultimate authority to me- the idea that they might in some way deceive me was inconceivable.
- Nothing working. Nothing ever bloody working properly. Learning how to use a PC, how to solve problems, how to extricate the whole system from the disasters I’d imposed on it. Learning if not patience then at least an iron determination to never, ever be defeated by a PC or by PC games, to keep on trying to get everything to work no matter the cost to my time or sanity. Whatever else has been lost – innocence, naivety, wonder, experimentation – that determination stays with me to this day.