my year in games

A long time ago I used to consider myself a gamer. I started learning to program simply because it was the best way to build the games I wanted. I devoted a lot of time to the process of play. I played in leagues on Counter Strike and Team Fortress 2. I have over a thousand logged hours on steam, and that’s underestimating, I used to play offline a lot.

There’s this odd period of my life where I only played video games. It sits somewhere in being 23 - and is likely the reason that 24 is basically nothing. All I did was pay TF2, and Left 4 Dead. It was how I could afford to go to Everest.

However, I stagnated as a person. Defining myself not by how I create, but how I can manipulate existing things. Once my programming skills were good enough to let me do anything I wanted, I stopped playing games entirely.

Last year I started watching people play games. I was introduced to programming at a 3 day summer camp, it was notable, I still keep the certificate they gave me. “Most independent programmer.” Still impressed on how well they pegged me. I had never been in a room of computers with so many other people interested in playing games. All the kids played Recoil, I remember because I built a fan-page for it as a part of the course. The lecturers? they played Starcraft.

I experimented with Starcraft 2 last year. I realised it was one of the few things in life that stressed me out. I’m just not that interested in playing. I am interested in watching though. I have a working knowledge of the meta-game. I have favourite players. I’ve met one. I attended one of the most renowned games in Starcraft 2 history. It’s fun to watch, the game is hard, and it’s one on one. I will happily use a game of Starcraft as a cool down for 15-20 minutes.

This year I went back to games. However, I didn’t go back alone. This article on medium about being the driver of a game really sums up how I played games this year. Let’s look at what we played, in order.

Mario World 3D, Mario Kart Wii U, Gone Home, AntiChamber, The Wolf Among Us, Portal, Portal 2, Broken Age, Braid, A Game of Thrones and The Novelist

I didn’t always play with the same person, but most of the time it was in bed with my girlfriend. We would play 1-2 hours, then call it a night. She hated Gone Home. Found AntiChamber fascinating and too complex.

I think The Wolf Among Us was received the highest praise from her. We played it slowly, doing episodes as they came out over the year. I took the twitchy decisions, we took the ones that we had time to talk about.

Portal 1 & 2 was a better introduction to dealing with abstract 3d spaces, I left the puzzles to her, only giving cryptic clues every so often. Given it’s narrative appeal, this went down well.

She bored of Braid. And I hadn’t memorised the puzzles, we stopped by world 3. This was a shame, and some day we will come back. Braid to me was the first time a game really touched me and made me reflect on my past behaviour in a new light. I don’t think she’ll have the same experience, but maybe it might be something.

Broken Age was great. It was just a lovely world to explore, and things to tinker with. We would talk about it during the day, then do a bit more in the evenings. A Game of Thrones is the same. We talked about doing AGOT as a roleplaying exercise. Not choosing the choices we would make ( like we do in the others ) but the choices we think fit what we want the character to do.

This leads really well to the final game we’ve played this year. The Novelist. I had brought up the idea of this game before, but the concept of the game hits very close to home.

The Novelist asks one central question: can you achieve your dreams without pushing away the people you love?

As someone whose work/life/open-source balance is already off-skew. There are many nights when I’ve sat up in bed programming in the dark after Danger has gone to sleep.

Playing the game is a reflection on our relationship. We played it, discussed it, and I think came out of it a little bit different. The decisions we had to make in-game reflect a lot of choices and trade-offs we have made, and will make in the future. It was like running life in fast forward, getting some rough ideas of future decisions, then coming straight back into real life. I have a lot of respect for my girlfriend. Playing The Novelist with her increased that.

I think this is how I prefer to play games.