Two weeks ago I began listing some of the games that I remember dominating my life. They’re not necessarily the best games ever, nor my favourites. Being addicted to them hasn’t always been due to actually enjoying playing them.
Take Snake on pretty much any Nokia mobile from the late 90s to the early 00s, for example. I didn’t enjoy playing this game. It made me angry. You just moved an ever growing line across a small screen using only the number buttons of your phone. There was no point to the game, no goal. Your snake just got bigger and bigger as you went round the screen eating the food while taking care not to either hit the walls or your own tail. The sound effects were gratingly bleepy. Half the time, when you crashed your snake into the side, it felt like Mr Nokia himself had faked your death out of sheer spite, so sure were you that you actually pressed the right button. However, what Snake had (in much the same way that something like Trials Evolution has) is easily comparable scores. Not content with beating my own record, I was obsessed with beating friends’ records too. This even led to me stealing their phones and surreptitiously breaking all their records (with my initials, naturally) and returning their phones without them realising what dastardly deed had befell them. Some of them I don’t think ever noticed. Because they’re not overly competitive twats who take the minutiae of life far too seriously? Possibly. But I prefer to think it’s because they were too ashamed of being not quite as good at making a snake eat food than I was.
With the series having long gone awry, it’s easy to forget just how innovative Ubisoft’s original game was. Aside from some lighting effects that were truly mind-boggling for the era, the game’s A.I. allowed you to play with something akin to authentic stealth. I found myself truly thinking ahead, planning routes through various situations. It was incredibly satisfying plotting my way through what at first seemed an impossible amount of enemies. I find that I lack the patience nowadays for games that involve this level of planning. This may be caused by age, having less time to play games, or by the fact that my mate proved you can also bodge your way through the vast majority of the game with all guns blazing, not giving a second thought for who spots you.
Super Mario Kart
To clarify, I am talking about the original 1992 SNES version here. The tracks were simpler, there were fewer of them, and as such it was easier to ‘master’. My particular favourite was always Ghost Valley. It was short, easy to memorise, and I was bloody good at it (by which I mean I could beat my otherwise freakishly good little brother). If I lost at this track, control pads were likely to go flying. When I say I was good, have a look at this clip. Then imagine someone substantially slower, as it turns out I wasn’t actually that good at all.
Championship Manager 01/02
Really though, this piece has all been leading to this point. This is every aficionado’s favourite in Sports Interactive’s celebrated franchise, finding the perfect balance between nerdily comprehensive stats and accessibility. If you’ve never played a sports management game, it’s unlikely that reading a description is going to entice you. You pick a side, buy and sell players, train them, and then watch the games. There are no graphics to speak of at any point. Even the matches consist of flashing text telling you roughly what was going on. After a while, the stock phrases became so familiar that even when playing the games on ‘Fast’ setting, which caused the text to flash at ludicrously illegible speed, I could still make out what was going on. This game consumed me like no other. I would come home from work, switch the PC straight on, and in the blink of an eye an entire evening had gone without me eating, drinking, or having any interaction with any other people. Sports Interactive knew that they had spawned a monster, and so when you went to save a game before exiting, depending on how many hours you had put in you would be reminded not to ‘forget to feed the cat’. This may have been tongue-in-cheek, but frankly at my most addicted it would have been sound advice had I had a cat. In fact, maybe I did have a cat. Oh well. At one point this game had consumed me to the point that I used to sit on the toilet conducting imaginary press conferences. There wasn’t even a press conference element to the game. I was 23. Single at the time, too, which at the time I was confused by but which now seems fairly obvious.
Despite all of the above, despite games bringing out all the worst sides of me – competitiveness, sneakiness, nerdiness and drug dealeriness – I still do not believe that videogames have had a negative impact on my life, no matter what certain ‘experts’ have to say. I have managed to hold down jobs, friendships and relationships, without losing my sanity to imaginary worlds which I was unable to differentiate from my own. That said, Trials Evolution came out last week, so there’s still time..