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I Miss Watching Other People Play Games

Mind If I... Watch?

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I’ve realised I miss watching other people play games. That’s perhaps a strange thought, given the ubiquity of Twitching live-streams and long plays on YouTube – but that’s really not what I mean. I mean sitting in the same room and watching as someone I know plays the game. It’s just not something that happens to me any more.

One of my favourite things about my wife, Laura, is that she has no interest whatsoever in video games. She doesn’t hate them, she just doesn’t doesn’t care that they exist. She remembers playing Bomb Jack (despite being 1 when the game came out), and boasts that the only game she’s ever completed is the 20 minute-long Sissy’s Magical Ponycorn Adventure. This is brilliant. After very many years of house-sharing with other games journos, having a way to briefly step outside of the gaming world proves a pleasing alternative. For instance, Laura has yet to ask me my thoughts about the Fallout 4 menu screen, and is unlikely to ponder what Epic’s new game could be. And yet…

Growing up, my dad was a keen gamer, from the ZX81 onward. An enormous chunk of my childhood was spent sitting next to him at the kitchen breakfast bar, watching him play games on the Atari ST. I wrote in 2009 about watching him play Dungeon Master, but that was one of so many games during which he somehow put up with my presence. “Dad, why are you doing that?” “Dad, why didn’t you kill that guy?” “Dad, can I have a quick go, please, PLEASE?” When we got an extension on the house and dad got his own study, the invasion of his privacy only grew, and as I got older competition for screen time grew. But still, I fondly remember watching as he played Betrayal At Krondor (I could never get my head around the grid-combat, but loved solving the chest puzzles), UFO: Enemy Unknown, and a game I cannot ever imagine deliberately playing on my own, Civilisation. I enjoyed puttling the ships around, discovering new coasts, but the moment a graph appeared I was done. To watch though, it was oddly compelling.

A hundred and fifty years ago, when I illegally lived with the esteemed Jon Hicks in a rather shoddy flat at the top of Bath (whenever the letting agents came around I had to hide in town, because I rather obviously wasn’t called “Chrissy”), I picked up the habit again. Our living room looked like an elephant had been shopping at Curries, with two or three televisions at any time hooked up to a myriad of consoles new and old.

Here, at the end of a long day writing about games I’ve played, it was a real pleasure to lie down on the couch and watch Jonty play games I wasn’t writing about. I most especially remember Burnout 3: Takedown. To this day I’ve never played a minute of that brilliant-looking game, but I’ve watched it for hours and hours. My role was to cheer loudly as the ludicrous crashes raked enormous scores, without ever having to lift a finger. Drink was spilt, pizza was wiped on furniture.

Then later when I was in a house with Craig Pearson and Graham Smith of this parish, well, if we weren’t gathering to watch House or America’s Next Top Model, someone was likely peeking at a game someone else was playing. Most commonly I’d watch Craig playing TF2 (and far more commonly hear him ferociously slam his mouse on the desk and scream in his Scottish screamy brogue through the wall and know he was playing TF2).

And I miss it! I miss the lazy entertainment of blobbing on the sofa and seeing a game get played for me. And YouTube just doesn’t count, not least because were I in the same room as most of those people I’d have garrotted myself with a controller cable. It needs to be someone known for it to work, someone to whom I can chat as it’s happening, even if (especially if) it’s just to mock them for screwing up. Not co-op, no no, just the completely passive experience of watching a chum play a game. With my son only 1, I’ve still got a bit of a wait before he’s any use. And, well, it seems a bit weird/creepy to suggest I pop round someone’s house to watch them… So yup, I miss that.

(Top image stolen from Operation Burnout.)

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Who am I?

John Walker

Prisoner

One of the original co-founders of Rock, Paper, Shotgun, I tried to leave, but they won't let me. If anyone reads this, please send help.

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