I’m not a gamer. I never have been. The last gaming system that I owned (and still do, oddly enough) was the Super Nintendo. I spent a whole summer mowing lawns and saving the money to buy the Super Scope Six because Mom promised me that if I saved up the money for the scope and the games that came with it, then she would buy me the SNES. Naturally, this was long before the internet and if you wanted to have people actually play a game with you, then all of you had to be in the same room at the same time. I spent entirely too many hours blissfully using a white plastic bazooka to shoot little blue moles on “Mole Patrol” and there was another game in that Super Scope Six pack of games that involved shooting colored squares that I really liked, too.
My original Nintendo is still perfectly intact. One of the paddles doesn’t work quite as well as it used to, because a couple of my younger relatives accidentally spilled an entire can of Coca-Cola on it, so the left side of it is a little bit stiff and sticky, even more than fifteen years later. It does still work, though. I always preferred the puzzle-type games, like Tetris and Dr. Mario. I never did beat Super Mario Brothers and it never really did bother me all that much.
My favorite Nintendo game was Bubble Bobble. If you don’t remember that one or never knew it existed, the basic premise was that you had a little dinosaur character, one was named Bub and the other was named Bob, and you could blow bubbles that would encase the bad guys. Once the bad guys were trapped, you made your dinosaurs jump on the bubbles to pop them and kill the bad guys. Then little food items would appear on the screen and your dinosaurs had to run around gathering them up like crazy to score points. It was a simple premise and a game that was ridiculously fun to play. Of course, it had the classic pixellated 8 bit graphics that meant you had to play the game a while before you really learned to recognize what each thing on the screen really was.
A few years ago, I did buy one of those joystick things that has games preloaded on it that you can just plug into the TV. I got one that has Pac-Man, Centipede, Road Rally, Galaxian, and Dig Dug in it. I probably shouldn’t say this, but I remember the days when you had to have an enormous machine to house only one of those games and it cost a quarter to play. Most of the time, if you wanted to play one of those games, it meant you were going to have to go to the closest arcade or fast food joint that had one available. Now, the little machine fits in the palm of my hand and the only money I really have to shell out is the batteries to keep the thing going. Yes, I really do enjoy playing a game of “Centipede” when I’ve had a bad day to just blow off a little steam. There’s something immensely satisfying about shooting arthropods and taking out those stupid mushrooms that are always in exactly the wrong place at exactly the wrong time. Of course, when the falling spiders or the wriggling scorpions take you out, it kind of defeats the purpose of the game. I miss the old, classic roller ball controller that the arcade version had, but I’ve adjusted quite well to using the joystick in the meantime.
The last actual video game that I purchased was Rayman Raving Rabbids, which I bought for my computer. A friend of mine had it for his XBox and it was the first game that I had played in a long time (though there have been many attempts to get me to play on just about every system that has been released at some point) that I really enjoyed. Playing the game is an awful lot like getting to be Bugs Bunny in the Duck Amuck Looney Tunes short, except you get to torment the ugliest little psychotic bunnies to ever be animated into existence in the most delightful ways. There are rounds in which you are supposed to hit the bunnies with shovels, rounds in which you are supposed to drown them with carrot juice, and rounds in which you catapult them into the desert. It’s a game that makes me laugh like the best comedy shows I have ever seen. Of course, I got the game for my computer. Unfortunately, there’s an issue with one of the drivers in the PC version that means that after a while, the game no longer functions, and, since I had the PC version, Ubisoft dismissed the issue and refused to help me get the game working again. So, even though “Raving Rabbids” was the first game that I ever enjoyed enough to actually conquer (which I did in about fifteen days), I don’t play it anymore because I can’t and I refuse to purchase another version of the game because I know that it will just do the exact same thing again and I will not waste money on a game that isn’t going to work properly or consistently on the system I want to use to play it.
Still, obviously, I am not a serious gamer. I dabble with them occasionally for fun, and I have friends that are serious, hardcore gamers, which is one of the reasons why I find the comedy troupe Reckless Tortuga’s Online Gamer series so funny. I know people who are just like that. I hang out with them regularly. They are my friends and I love them dearly, but they are often completely different people when they’ve got a controller in their hands and a gallon of Mountain Dew in them.
I can appreciate games in an aesthetic sense, certainly. A good chunk of the animation created for games is stunningly mind-blowing. Much of the effects animation is more life-like and more beautifully rendered than the CGI effects in many big-budget movies. I appreciate it when my friends show me the cooler parts of the animation, interesting bonus endings, and funny things players can do inside games, because, in all likelihood, I would never view them otherwise. When they do convince me to game with them, I am the red-shirt that they bring along on a mission in order to perfect their combat skills-by killing me off with whatever killer combo move they’ve figured out with a controller that has entirely too many buttons. I pretty much just end up mashing the buttons with my palms and hoping something happens or attempting to make my opponents motion-sick by making my character spin around as much as possible. Unfortunately, that strategy usually makes me motion-sick, too, so I try to use it only as a last resort.
So what do I do when I want a little video game fix? I play flash games on the internet, especially from sites where I don’t have to actually download anything in order to play. I have a Neopet for this exact reason. One of my favorite games on the site was Grundo Snow Throw in which you had a little green bug-like character and you threw snowballs at advancing yetis. The more yetis that you hit with snowballs, the more points you earned. The site is full of games with such simple premises and easy game play, which is really what I’m looking for when I want to play something. It’s not that I don’t want a challenge, it’s more about the fact that I’m not particularly searching for another hobby that’s going to eat my time. I have things to write, books to read, music to listen to, movies to watch, and all kinds of projects to make, which means that I have precious little time to devote to gaming of any kind. I actively seek the sites that are going to offer games like “Snow muncher” and “Sutek’s Tomb” that don’t take any time at all to learn how to play.
Just because the game is fairly simple to play in terms of game mechanics doesn’t mean that it’s not going to present a challenge. On the Orsinal website, the game “Winterbells” involves getting a bunny to jump up onto bells, the higher the bunny climbs into the air, the more points you get for each bell that it lands on. The game itself is lovely in both color palette and animation style. Once the bunny is in the air, you’re only using the arrow keys on your computer to move it. It’s not easy. The bells are not evenly spaced, nor are they at consistent heights.
Another game on the same site, called “Pocketful of Stars” involves only the mouse to play it, even though the instructions were very simple and clearly written, it still took me a while to figure out how to play. Again, it’s a very pretty little game and deceptively simple on paper. I’m still not quite sure that I actually have the hang of it, yet.
I’m also a big fan of free games. Again, when it comes to entertainment pursuits, the ones that I want to spend money on take far more priority than the ones that I don’t want to. Fortunately, free games of the kinds that I really like are pretty easy to find on the internet.
One game that I’m particularly surprised that I didn’t know about is Trogdor the Burninator. I am, it seems, the last person on the internet to actually know about this one. I realize that’s kind of sad, but I freely admit that I am a comic book geek, an animation geek, a book geek, and a movie geek (not necessarily in that order, honestly, as prominence switches from time to time). I’m not a gaming geek, despite some of my friends’ best efforts to convert me. I do join them once in a while, but they would like me to join them in a level of geekery that I already display in other venues.
Trogdor is, of course, on homestarrunner.com. It’s very much animated in a 8-bit style. For anyone who, like me, didn’t realize that this game existed and doesn’t have a clue what it’s like, it’s a very simple game. You control a very large dragon. The whole goal of the game is to squash peasants and burn down their huts while avoiding the knights that are trying to kill you. To play, you only have to use your arrow keys. Again, it’s a very simple premise with very simple controls. Since discovering “Trogdor” during NaNoWriMo (which was probably the absolute worst time in the world to find a new game that I like to play), I have found it to be another one of those games that works quite well for stress-relief. When I’m angry and just want to mash something, all I have to do is play a couple of rounds of “Trogdor” and I can find myself able to go on and do something else, like write or read or finish whatever project I’m making.
Like so many other aspects of Geek culture, it’s up to the individual to choose what kind of gamer they want to be. I’m not even sure that I could be considered a casual gamer, because I think that implies far more regular gaming sessions that I have ever participated in. Maybe, I could be considered a convenience gamer. I play when it suits me and I prefer very specific types of games to get my fix. When I’ve played a round or two, I’m usually pretty well satisfied to go do something else. That doesn’t make me a bad gamer. It also doesn’t make me a bad geek. I have to show some moderation somewhere and, it seems, gaming is the geekly aspect where that happens for me.