John Walker's Electronic House

Gaming Made Us

by on Jul.10, 2009, under The Rest

Hello my blog, remember me? No, me neither.

I’ve just completed four weeks working in the offices of PC Gamer, which followed a week off, which followed a week and a half out of the country visiting Valve and E3. I’ve been quite busy. Apart from the week off. During which I worried about not being busy.

Ending four weeks in the office – twice as long as I’ve worked in any office for ten years – I know how Terry Waite must have felt.

Except of course unlike Terry Waite, I have They’re Back due at the beginning of next week, and a big feature for the following Monday. It’s a bit like if Terry Waite were released, and then told he had to spend six hours a day chained to the radiator in his own house for a couple more weeks.

I think the point I’m trying to make is that I have it a lot worse than Terry Waite.

This week has also featured an awesome time on Rock, Paper, Shotgun. Even though I’ve felt a bit detached from the site for a short while, with all those weeks outside of our secret chatroom, this week we pulled together what I think might be our most awesome feature so far. Rather splendidly it came out of an idea mentioned last Thursday, and happened by Monday. Alec suggested we each write about the games that defined us as gamers. (I rather love that this notion possibly doesn’t make half a second of sense to anyone who isn’t a gamer – the thought that one’s personality could be affected, even changed, by playing games is probably horrifying to those who love to tell you that they never touch the things. (Then switch on EastEnders and slowly die.)) So we did.

The result has been pretty special. You can find them all here.

It makes me look at Rock, Paper, Shotgun with a lot of pride. Obviously other gaming sites have written about games that were special to their writers in their pasts, but I’ve a strong feeling they’ll have written about the games. We wrote about ourselves. And not because we’re all giant egotists. We are, or we wouldn’t be games journalists who believe our opinion and rating of a game is deserving of authority and respect from other people. But not because of that.

Games criticism/writing tends to be pulled between two extremes of so-called objectivity and subjectivity, with people arguing themselves into knots over which is best. Ignoring all that nonsense, and sharing who we are, and how gaming is part of why we are who we are, has created four articles I’m really proud of.

It was splendid to sink back into my brain and recall times when a moment, a place and a game all joined together to create a significant memory. Recalling times sat next to my dad as he played through games, and feeling blessed by the warm, safe happiness of those early evenings, has been a huge pleasure. I distinctly remember how those times would begin. Dad would be playing something, I’d want to watch, and I’d squeak, “Can I sit and watch you for a bit?” And dad would sigh gently, his respite from a long day at work broken, and say yes. I’d climb up on one of the tall, tall kitchen chairs at the breakfast bar, and then drive him to distraction asking what he was doing, why he was doing it, who that guy was, why he’d dropped that item, why did that spell not work, how come you just died, why are you staring at me like that? At my most pestering I’d ask him if I could have a go, and he’d relent and let me sit at the controls for a bit, flailing in the complexity of the role-playing game he’d invested so much time in, and hopefully recently saved. I distinctly remember sharing games of UFO and Civilisation, where he’d let me do the interesting bits like have battles, then take over once it got to the boring rubbish like buying bullets or negotiating land treaties. My interests in strategy gaming have not changed since I was ten.

(The comments on the articles have also been really fantastic. Occasionally, reading through comments threads can be a demoralising experience, as angry people shout insults at each other, or rude people write pointlessly unpleasant things. RPS has one of the best comment communities of any site I’ve known, but wander into the wrong subject area for a post and it can sometimes get grim. These have been almost entirely free of that. (Although I’ve removed at least one that began, “Meh…” Who in their right mind writes “Meh…” after reading someone’s shared personal experiences? I’d love to visit their house, and just as they’ve finished telling me how sad they are about the terrible situation with their friend’s marriage or whatever, I reply, “Meh.”)

So yes, go read. The feature, rather splendidly, is getting bigger all the time. Today we added a collection of similar anecdotes from other games journalists and games developers, and next week we’ve even more from industry types. It’s all rather great, really.

(And time on Gamer was superb. And I’m sorry to Terry Waite, who I’m certain reads this blog.)

5 Comments for this entry

  • Atlantic

    It might just be the music I’m listening to right now (Sigur Rós), but these articles were some of the loveliest pieces of writing I have seen on the internet in a long time. They were heart warming.

    Have a good one,

  • Al

    Ah, you just brought to mind the memories of my entire family sitting around my dad as he blasted through Wolfenstein 3D. Looking back, I can only imagine how awful it must have been for my dad, having me, my brother and my mam all shouting at him to shoot the nasty blue SS guy, but trying to be as good as him at the game was the start of my 16 year love affair with PC shooters.

    And yes, it was an amazing series of articles – the exact reason RPS is my favourite gaming website ever.

  • Diogo Ribeiro

    As I’ve said before on RPS, this is probably one of my favorite series of articles you guys have written. It really drives the point home – games discussion does not have to be insular and games don’t have to be (and often can’t be) measured in the usual suspects (graphics + sound + replayalastabilitities). They are experiences which reach out to us and those around us.

    I’ve been meaning to do something similar but when I saw Jim’s article I knew how this would got me thinking and how I wanted to evaluate my past as a gamer, and what gaming experiences shaped me, as well. I’ve started a series of blog posts of my own, and the first game that came to mind was Treasure Island Dizzy, a seemingly innocuous puzzle platformer. It was not the best ZX Spectrum game and certainly fails to compare to other games considered classics – Dungeon Keeper, Syndicate, TLJ – but as I mentioned in my post, it did for me and my family what the Wii has been doing for this generation of gamers – it brought people into the fold. In my case, TID turned my parents into hardcore gamers who would thoroughly investigate and experiment with the game. If I am deserving of the title “gamer”, they were certainly my first ever influence in that matter. It is unfortunate that they eventually gave up on gaming but I’ll always be indebted to them.

    Now I’m sitting here getting emotional and thinking about long Sunday afternoons where me and my parents took turns controlling that damn egg around the island. We were a family before but the game really helped us bond together in a way he haven’t been able since. :'( Oh Tardis, where art thou.

    Best regards,


  • John Walker

    Thanks for sharing this stuff, people. It’s fantastic. It makes me wish stupid Daily Mail idiot people were reading, and maybe feeling challenged by it.

    And thank you for the kind comments.

  • Phill Cameron

    For some reason, I’ve been thinking about this whole concept myself for the past few weeks, probably driven forward from the glacier speed at which I’m moving towards journalism. So to get to read about all these people I seriously respect, and how they had similar experiences, but, of course, completely unique at the same time, is really rather lovely.

    I think it would also be pretty interesting to look at it the other way around, and perhaps looking at a few games that became something else because of the context within which you played them. Sudden happy event making you love certain game, etc. I suppose you could see the ‘Break Up Game’ article from RPS’ salad days as that sort of thing, though.

    Anyway, thanks for the articles,