Tuesday, May 26, 2015

To game, or not to game, is this even a question?

When I was in my late teens and early twenties, I was an avid gamer. I think it probably had something to do with the fact that I didn’t grow up with any gaming consoles in the home, so every chance I got to play, I took it. My parents raised me to believe that gaming was a colossal waste of time, reserved for naughty boys who didn’t do their homework and who never amounted to much after they finished school.

(Granted, this was probably brought on by my brother, who used to hang out in a dingy back room at our local superette where the boys used to smoke, swear and jimmy Pac-Man with washers so that they could have free games.)

I still remember visiting my friend Katherine, whose dad had one of those PCs you booted up with floppy discs, and you could play games like Space Invaders and Hangman. Hardly riveting stuff. My other friend Chavane’s dad had a PC that had *gasp* a stiffy drive, and we used to play Buck Rogers and the Planet of Zoom. Or rather, I’d watch Chavane’s brothers play it. I was worse than useless and kept crashing into things.

Fast-forward to the mid-1990s, where I was introduced to Master of Magic, a turn-based fantasy RPG game. Now we were talking. Each time you started a new game, the software would randomly generate a new map. Things were different each time, and you could customise your wizards. I lost track of how much I played that game. Hours of my life I’ll never get back, but I don’t regret one minute. My boyfriend at the time complained that the only reason I wanted to spend time at his house was so that I could use his 586 to play “that fucking game”. I know that I could probably get a simulator and run Master of Magic on my Macbook now. So far, I’ve resisted the temptation, no matter how much my wicked friend Andrew says he can set it up. I have a life.

Or so I thought.

I also did a fair amount of RPGs and LARPs during my student and young adult years – mostly White Wolf’s Vampire: The Masquerade and Werewolf: The Apocalypse. I also freely admit that most of my novels I now write are based on my love of storytelling that was fostered during my student years. Except now I no longer have players to meticulously destroy my carefully constructed worlds. [Yes, Tim, Rob and Maarten, I’m looking at you.]

Once upon a time, I had to babysit my brother’s kids. I used to let them sit up watching movies while I played Age of Empires on my brother’s computer. Needless to say, the last time I let them watch Hellboy, and Mikayla got scared, my brother decided not to let us damage their impressionable young minds again. AoE was wicked, though, since I have a major soft spot for games that have that level of interaction with the environment.

Up until 2006 I still gamed regularly. By this stage, we’d progressed onto getting a Mac G5, ostensibly so the husband could occasionally work from home. I remember at that time thinking that R30k was a lot to drop on a home computer. [laughs weakly]

But I used this puppy for playing my favourite Blizzard games, namely StarCraft II and WarCraft III. This was round about the time that the internet was becoming way more accessible to normal people. And then, hello, World of WarCraft happened and I gave up gaming.


I wanted to write books. If you're idly curious, yes, you can go check out my Amazon author page. I've been a busy girl.

Also, the internet was bloody expensive back then. And slow.

So, I wrote books. I wrote quite a few, some of which I’m not going to actively encourage anyone to read because the headspace where I’m now is very different from where I was then. But, as they say, every author has a book they must get out of their system before they can move onto better things. In my case I wrote a whole slew of titles. Catharsis. I’m a better person for it. Promise.

I thought the gaming thing was over. I thought I’d gotten gaming out of my system. That it was a phase of my life that I’d put behind me.

[Go on. Laugh all you want.]

A few years ago the husband won a PS3 in a photography competition. I remember at the time thinking that money would have been nice. What on earth were we to do with a PS3? Neither of us was into gaming. We used the PS3 as a fancy DVD player and media centre, and streamed media off the computer onto the geriatric CRT telly we’d inherited from a friend’s brother because a piece of the screen had been chipped out (you really didn’t see it when you were gazing deep into Johnny Depp’s eyes) and the right-hand side of the screen tended to have this weird magenta effect.

I don’t quite remember which game it started with, but a friend lent the husband one of his. I think it was LA Noire. That was it for the husband. Tickets. I lost the him, and he started trawling Cash Crusaders every week to pick up new games.

I still wasn’t sold, BTW. I thought it awfully adorable that hubby was playing games. None of the available games attracted my attention. Assassin’s Creed didn’t blow my hair back. That is, until my friend Brian showed me Skyrim. By that stage, we’d purchased a friend’s old 40” flatscreen TV, and we’d invested in a decent surround sound system. Yes. Things were getting serious.

Serious enough for us to start pre-ordering games from BT Games at the local mall. Serious enough
that zOMG, open-world RPG! Sold! Something snapped into place for me. What I loved was that I could create a character, be a specific race (hello, erm, elves, khajiit) and just explore an entire world with all sorts of stuff happening. It took me two or three game sessions to co-ordinate moving and looking around. Let’s not talk about how often I walked into walls, okay?

But I really cut my teeth on Skyrim. The world was so big, I literally got lost in it. There was constantly something new to discover. And ugh. Spiders. Yuck.

From there, the rest has been history. I’ve come to realise that there’s a lot more to creating a world than the old games I was always told by supposedly older and wiser people were a total waste of time. Creating a beautiful, tangible world filled with lore and relatable characters is an art form, one that I, as a storyteller, can totally understand. In a way, it’s more special than the movies, because in a game, you are totally immersed and part of a world. You are able to effect change instead of passively sitting there and just absorbing what others do. Your decisions matter, and that’s more than can be said for real life.

Put a bunch of gamers in a room, and you’ll discover people who’re passionate who, despite coming from vastly different cultural backgrounds, have a common, shared culture through gaming, and a sense of camaraderie despite their age, religion or nationality. We gush about Cullen’s curly blond locks or bitch about whether we like Dorian’s moustache.

Recently when I was on a panel for the Franschhoek Literary Festival young readers programme, I dropped that I play games, and immediately the eyes lit up. They breathlessly wanted to know *which* games I liked. The age gap *POOF* vanished. We now had something in common. I’ve sat at dinner tables with bored teens, with whom I’ve casually struck up a conversation about games, and suddenly, instant friendships are formed.

I also now religiously trawl BioWare and CD Projekt Red’s sites to see whether they have job openings for writers…

My childhood dream of seeing one of my stories scripted for a film has been replaced by this insane dream to be part of the crew helping to create lore for a new game.

I don’t feel guilty about gaming anymore, because it’s something I give myself permission to do once I’ve finished my other work and studies. (Oddly, I rarely watch films or TV series anymore. I get frustrated when I can’t change a storyline.) People comment that I seem rested, and in buoyant spirits when I arrive at work on a Monday. As if I’ve just come back from a holiday. And, in a sense, I have. Whether I visit Thedas so I can go romance Dorian Pavus and close rifts, or hunt griffins as a Witcher, I’m relishing this opportunity to step outside of reality into a different world where I am a person with agency, where I can shoot fireballs out of my hands.

Screw the Maldives, let’s hunt dragons.


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