Obsessed By Games

The memories are hazy. I know that I would lie on the floor of my bedroom, which I shared with my older brother. I remember the notebook was red. I think I was Glasgow Rangers.

What I mainly remember is the game itself. I had written down a league table, created a fixture list, and I would roll a die a couple of times to determine the score of football matches. Then, for the one team I had deemed mine, I would write an imagined match report in the notebook – assigning goals to favourite players, describing wondrous crosses and terrible fouls – and then update the league table accordingly. I was playing a rudimentary pen-and-paper Championship Manager – or, maybe depending on my age, pen-and-paper Sensible Soccer. I remember it was an act of obsession.

We always had computers in my house when I was growing up, but we tended to only have one at a time. Or perhaps I simply lost interest in the old Amstrad in the cupboard as soon as we got an Amiga. In any case, this meant there were long stretches when I couldn’t play on them because someone else in the family was using it. Without TV or phones or anything else to turn to, I continued to play the football games I obsessed over in my imagination. I filled whole notebooks with terrible match commentary.

When I think back on it now, I wonder how much real football I’d actually seen or heard. We didn’t have Sky Sports, I didn’t listen to the radio, my memories of terrestrial football coverage is mainly of slow ticking text and dull voices on Final Score. I remember friends doing impressions of Chick Young, whose distinctive voice made him a heavily parodied football pundit, but I didn’t know who he was. I’m fairly certain that the commentary I wrote in the notebooks would have been inspired by that which I’d seen or heard in football games of the time.

I don’t remember precisely what age I was when I was doing this. I remember that I would cheat. There were few if any rules to the game: just random dice rolls to determine the scores for every team in the league, adjusted up and down at a whim to what seemed reasonable. But as I’ve written before about Football Manager, what seemed reasonable was whatever told the story I wanted to tell rather than any arbitrary idea of fairness. The story I wanted to tell was of me winning, again and again.

I remember that this notebook-bound football management was just an extension of a series of related activities which weren’t strictly inspired by games. I remember drawing cities on paper, erasing parts of them and re-drawing the buildings half-destroyed as if by bombs, then erasing and rebuilding them new again. I remember inventing my own Star Trek series’ in notebooks, with new ship designs and crew biographies (but no stories, only worldbuilding).

I remember that the notebook game was just one of many game-inspired football activities. For example, my friends and I would call out football commentary about ourselves as we passed the ball around down the park, but we’d include the names of fictional Championship Manager regens among the Roberto Baggios and Romarios of our early-’90s kick-arounds.

I remember that I had a lot of obsessions like this, growing up. I think they were a good thing: in each instance, they steered me towards creative pursuits, ways of entertaining myself when I was alone, and of spending time with people when I wasn’t. Hooray for being obsessed by videogames.

This article was originally written in October for the RPS Supporter Program.

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16 Comments

  1. Premium User Badge

    corinoco says:

    Smasha “Smasher” Gibbons & Alexis Blomberry were the aliases my brother and I used in the games we made up. Smasha & Alexis were multitalented heroes, and between them they: won the Ashes numerous times, defeated the Viet Cong, defeated the entire Warsaw Pact in an epic tank and helicopter battle across 1970s Germany, bombed the Ruhr dams, saved London during the blitz, explored the galaxy of Elite C64, raided many dungeons and introduced the world of Greyhawk to the might of the sub machine gun. While most of these adventures started out from either a C64 or board game, they ended up with our own pnp customised rules. I recall these rules were heavily weighted in our favour, but hey, it was OUR fun!

  2. DarkMalice says:

    I used to make boardgames of many of the mega drive games I had. My most cherised was an adaption of Zombies At My Neighbours, featuring hundreds of paper tokens representing everything from potion power-ups to gill-men and giant babies. I am sorely tempted to attempt a new version of Kid Chameleon or Bonanzo Bros these days…

    • Lord Byte says:

      Hahaha! Me too! But that was mostly due to me not having a computer or console and my parents not wanting me to have one (because it would make me addicted and violent… Hah! How… right they were ;) )
      It started out as drawing entire side-scrollers and letting my friends play them, making my own boardgame versions by sticking drawings to gaming pieces, to me drawing and cutting elaborate sprites that could slide through the levels and all :P Sometimes with alternate sprites.
      Reading an article on RPGs made me create my own RPG, complete with a D20 :P (I basically let them roll 4d6 and substracted 4, giving them a range of 0-20 . At that age (12) I didn’t understand bell-curves.)

  3. leeder krenon says:

    I played seasons and seasons of dice football, division 1 and division 2 so there was some promotion and relegation. Never did match reports though, disappointed in my lack of imagination there :( A six was a nil obvs. Oh those 5-5 draws.

  4. Premium User Badge

    john_silence says:

    I was an utter nerd as a child, complete with glasses, clothes picked by my mom, arms like matches and legs so frail I walked funny. Quite badly coordinated and very clumsy with that. Always at the bottom of my class in sports. Literally assigned to the C team when I briefly joined a football club. Proud owner of a white belt in judo.

    So of course I invented Megaball, a sport at the crossroads of American football, Speedball, regular football and Blood Bowl, operated with a pencil that I’d flick across a notebook page in a weird kind of simultaneous turn-based play. Entire fantasy futuristic leagues filled notebook after notebook.

    In the end I tried inventing my own wargame but that got way too technical; really I was in it for the lore anyway. For me too games are a lifelong obsession that has everything to do with escapism, even when the trappings of fantasy and imagination seem absent.

    In a turn of events that is really not that surprising if you take into account the accumulated frustrations of my early years, I am in the process of switching lanes from writing for a “living” towards full-time sports practice and coaching. But oftentimes all I want to do is dive into a video game, or one of the pen & paper collections I buy from Bundle of Holding, and forget I live in a country whose next president will probably get elected on the strength of a program predicated, among other horrors, on the proposition of cutting out social welfare to anyone but the deadly ill.

  5. Lowenstaat says:

    Making up my own Star Trek episodes was a favorite play activity when I was a child, too. RPS are excelling at delivering gaming reflection pieces like this article.

  6. Wings says:

    I wrote up army comps in classic Warhammer Fantasy for my undead army (before vamp count split). Then I’d pen paper and dice to simulate battles. I did this over and over to fight my friend with wood elves. I never did simulate a comp that could cross our nearly terrain obstacle-less (couldn’t afford) battle field without all my skellingtons being shot to oblivion by super strong ranged units.

    ((Sorta, I did mow lawns and scrounge monies for a zombie dragon who I modded a vamp count onto and an undead catapult to try to get something across the feild. He’d gotten a huge dwarf army for his birthday, with two cannons. I fared poorly with what I’d brought)).

  7. kentonio says:

    Oh my god, I also did this!!! I haven’t thought about this for about 30 years, thanks for the crazy flashback Graham!

  8. Gothnak says:

    I wrote my own Football management game on my BBC B in around 1982. I was 9 years old and it only had 2 teams. You picked who you wanted on your team, and all the other players went on the other side, and all the players were my friends from school. It then did some pretty basic maths and gave you the scores at the end. I also did an F1 prediction program in about 1984, but no matter how many times i ran it, Martin Brundle never won a GP.

  9. Dirk says:

    The thought of having to share an Amiga with someone else. *shudders*

  10. cvaldivia93 says:

    The following question comes from a dude who has lived in the US his whole life (thus far – hoping to live in the UK someday soon), so it is entirely a n00b question.

    Years ago, my wife and I discovered the joy of The Good Life. In one of the episodes, the husband of the Felicity Kendal character was playing some dice like game that was supposed to be a way of playing cricket. Does anybody have experience doing this? I’d love to learn more about this, given that I have become somewhat of a cricket fan, and figure such a game would give me a chance to learn more and “play” at home. And hopefully give me more exposure in figuring out what the box scores in the paper are actually saying!

    • datom says:

      Cricket Dice, or Owzthat (link to en.m.wikipedia.org) is what you are looking for.

      Best way to learn more is Test Match Special on either digital radio (BBC Radio 5 Sports Extra) or BBC World Service (can be found on LW radio). Critical fourth day of India vs England, play starts about 4.45AM GMT I reckon. Cricket on the radio is like baseball on the radio, somehow more than the sum of its parts. Listen along and heck, one of the benefits of lasting five days is that’ll you pick up a lot over the course of a test!

    • Shiloh says:

      Me and my mate used to play pencil cricket during double physics at school, using a couple of additional rules we’d come up with – as a consequence, I never learnt much about coulombs but my England team of Boycott, Brearley and Botham beat his fiery Windies greats over the course of 4 weeks of lessons in an absolutely epic (and properly scored) 5 day Test match.

  11. Premium User Badge

    Ben King says:

    My sister and I once made up an elaborate board game that I recall playing out as a sort of cross between “Candyland” and an episode of Star Trek: TNG. Roll a D6 to advance randomly accumulating loot or points until encountering a “danger zone” of sorts past a black hole where a whole string of penalties could knock you out of the game entirely. We never actually played through it although I suspect completing the course would be nearly impossible… Now I just write out random D&D wilderness encounters for fun.

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