Monday, 24 August 2009

The Gaming Baton

On a recent, lazy Saturday afternoon, I took the opportunity to watch my two eldest boys enjoying an extended maiming session on the Xbox game, Halo 3. The game was very interesting. I’m still ‘techno-shocked’ enough to stand there in open-mouthed amazement whenever I watch one of the current titles being played. The vast landscapes and almost limitless arrays of weapons seem like a world away from my own childhood gaming experiences.

Being exactly 40, I pretty much caught the first wave of computer games and avidly embraced their electronic distractions. Thankfully, I was just too late for Pong, but the perfect age for the ZX Spectrum, Atari 2600 and the design classic arcade games, ‘Galaxians’ and ‘Pacman’. Attempting to obliterate the high score on Galaxians in Timmy’s shop on Lloyd Street, Moss Side earned me my first detentions in school. If it was a toss up between being fifteen minutes late for assembly or putting those beautiful three initials up on the board, the choice was elementary.

From that moment on, I’ve lovingly played pretty much every console and format to date. During my time in the army, arguments about guard commitments or other duties were often decided over 18 holes at Atlanta or by attempting to place the best time against Ayrton Senna at Silverstone. When I bought the X-box, it wasn’t really for the boys. I was looking forward to pitting my wits against some of the console’s best games, but life kept getting in the way. My full time job, parenting responsibilities for four children, management of a kids football team and fledgling writing career all conspired to reduce the time I could allot to wrestle zombies or ski in Spitzbergen.

My eldest had been round to the house of a pal and had come back wide-eyed and jabbering about Halo 3 and the breadth of it’s gameplay. Coming from a kid that had recently spent most of his time on Lego Batman, it warranted further investigation. I bought a cheap copy from a local shop and placed it in my boy’s grubby mitts. It seemed like it was in the machine before he’d actually opened the box. I left the two of them to it, but was interested to see what all the fuss was about.

Though the game itself was clearly fascinating, it was much more interesting to watch the two boys playing it. They morphed into individuals entirely at home with the machinations of intergalactic politics and they had no problem with manipulating complex weapon systems, taking time to compare their effectiveness in the despatch of alien organisms.

For the first time in my life, I felt out of my gaming depth. My input was entirely redundant. When I could see trouble brewing, I made the occasional suggestion. I was almost exclusively ignored, but every now and again I was treated to an exasperated, “I know, Dad!” the phrase I used to use when my dad was telling me how far he had to walk to the shops in rural Ireland in the 1940s.

With a game like Halo 3, the staples of old fashioned gameplaying are scarily absent. You can just wander about if you feel like it. You’re not on the clock or being chased by an end of level boss who can only be defeated by the insertion of tomorrow’s dinner money, as well as todays.

I then committed the sacrilegious act of asking for a go, the modern day equivalent of the popular 80’s refrain, ‘Give us your last man, mate’ After much wailing and gnashing of teeth, I was given the handset only to be quickly overcame by a being, brutish in name as well as nature, who promptly battered and killed me. I sheepishly handed it back, feeling like a Penny Farthing rider at a velodrome.

A generational baton has been passed. I can still dip into the classics and have a go on the newer games when no-one’s looking, but my days of weekend long sessions to master a backswing or tight bend are long gone. That’s fine and it did make me chuckle to watch my two lads using terminology about plasma weapons and magnetic fields with such ease. It seemed like they would have had no problem blagging their way into a job at a British Space Academy, if such a thing existed.

The increase in the complexity of games has seen the gradual erasing of the line between reality and make-believe. I have no doubt that there are thirty-eight stone people who haven’t seen the light of day for a year or two, with fingers like a Woodbine smoker, from the constant ingestion of Wotsits, who firmly believe that playing golf is, ‘A piece of piss.’ How hard can it be, for they have mastered most of Britain’s championship courses in a couple of months. In fact, they’ve achieved more than an actual golfer, because they did it in semi-darkness, whilst drinking from a three-litre bottle of Irn Bru.

Pubs up and down the land are filled with military experts, who’ve gained all their qualifications and credentials from marathon sessions on the Call of Duty series. It is no stretch to imagine an actual soldier returning from Afghanistan only to be abused in his local, by a gargantuan, pisstank warrior for using incorrect nomenclature when referring to equipment or operations.

“So it what was it like in the ‘stan, mate?”

“I’d rather not talk about it if that’s alright?”

“I bet you used loads of Claymores, eh?”

“I’m in the Royal Engineers, we were trying to build a school”

“That’s not proper soldiering!”

“Oh, sorry. Are you in the infantry?”

“Well, no. I drive for Eddie Stobart, but I’ve played Medal Of Honor Airborne, so I know all about, it.”

“Isn’t Medal of Honor Airborne set in the Second World War though?”

“Yeah, but don’t tell me that you can’t employ tactics used successfully in built up Dutch towns equally successfully in a post-apocalyptic Helmand province. I should know, pal, I’ve got a HGV licence.”

Maybe my boys will never have to do an actual job, but can simply treat themselves to online occupations where there are simply no limits. Like George Formby, they too can win an FA Cup Final, become a boxing champion and ride the winning bike in the TT Races. Unlike George, they won’t even need to master a musical instrument or sing mildly suggestive lyrics to help ease their path to success.


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