A Life In PC Gaming: My Shame

Republished from Rock, Paper Shotgun

I've been playing games on computers for the vast bulk of my life. From BBC Micro to Spectrum to 486 to assorted Athlons to the quad-cored radiator I used today, I've rarely been far from a keyboard. I have seen much, I have played much, I have learned much. But learning so often comes from failure. There have been many, many failures: these are but a few.

  • I spent what was then my life savings on a Voodoo 2 card – my first ever 3D card – specifically to play Half-Life. Excitedly fitting the card and installing the game, I was depressed by how poorly it performed, how the game would only run in software mode, and how any sequences that involved swimming were impossible because the entire screen turned flat, soup-thick grey. I should have bought an ATI Rage, I thought. I didn't play many games for a while, because they either didn't run or looked hideous. PC gaming wasn't me for me, I decided – too expensive, too inconsistent, too mysterious. It was a full year before, when opening up my PC to fit a new hard drive, I realised the Voodoo was only resting lightly on the edge of its slot. A little gentle finger pressure later, a whole new world awaited.
A Life In PC Gaming: My Shame
  • Having breezed my way through Quake 1 on easy with only a few hundred deaths, I confidently accepted the challenge of an older acquintance to hook our PCs together with a serial cable and engage in dramatic deathmatch. I'd absolutely murder him, I was sure of it – and I told him so. I think I even bet him a Mars Bar or something. Of course, he knew what strafing was. I didn't. And I was playing on cursor keys with left and right set to slowly turn rather than sidestep. And I wasn't using a mouse. I believe, to this day, that this was the formative moment that made me primarily a singleplayer gamer, often nervous to the point of terror about stepping onto a server in case that dread childhood humiliation is repeated.
  • A little later, after my Voodoo 2-inspired sabbatical, the release of Aliens vs Predator led to my deciding to build a new PC from scratch. I'd never done this before, but I had upgraded pretty much every common component at some point or another. What could go wrong? Blazing, humiliating rows with the impatient manager of a PC hardware shop in Swansea coloured a full month of my student life, with him stubbornly refusing to refund what I'd paid for a motherboard that clearly did not work. I can't remember how we worked out that I'd bolted the board directly onto the PC case – no static-blocking separators or washers or the like, just screwed straight onto the bare metal. The first time I turned the new build on, the motherboard and everything attached to it was instantly fried. So I never did get my refund from that angry Welshman. But I did send the motherboard back to its manufacturer, plead ignorance and somehow wangle a replacement.
  • I was convinced Thief was a jolly cartoon PlayStation platformer until around 2001. I have no idea what I was actually thinking of.
A Life In PC Gaming: My Shame
  • The first time I played it, I couldn't complete Doom II without cheating. From the second level onward.
  • I managed to hack some ancient, incredibly basic but undeniably entertaining DOS game about trying to catch fish that fell from the sky with a basket so that the introductory screen declared I had written it. This copy of the game somehow made it all the way over school, most every pupil with access to the computer room spending their lunchtimes playing it. Normally something of an invisible man to my peers, for a short time I was approached with something like reverence. "Did you really make that fish game?" I'd smile smugly and say something like "oh, y'know, piece of piss." My invisible status returned all too swiftly when another pupil wandered in one day with an elderly boxed retail copy of the Spectrum version of the game in question, whose manual declared a rather different author.
  • As a young boy impatiently wanting to access to my family's PC so I could play more X-COM, I would occasionally sneak out to the garage and flip the electricity breaker switch to interrupt my mother's word processing (she was studying for an Open University history course) in the hope she'd give up. "Another power cut?" I'd wonder innocently as she fumed. "This probably wouldn't happen so much if we didn't live in the middle of nowhere."
A Life In PC Gaming: My Shame

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  • In my initial forays into World of Warcraft – on its original beta – I had no idea whatsoever of MMO lingo. Playing primarly solo as a Night Elf priest, I fought what I believed to be a titanic battle against a pack of gnolls (about three), somehow surviving by a whisker. Another player had wandered up to watch me and my eventual victory, and as I self-adoringly wrote in a magazine preview of my experiences a little later, he uttered "way to go" in awe at my actions. Because I was amazing – he knew it, I knew it and the reading public of PC Format magazine should know it. Of course, what he'd actually said was ‘WTG' as he'd spotted how cackhandedly I was fighting and thought I needed a hand, but I didn't know the abbreviation for Want To Group? back then. Thank the lord not too many people were still reading PC magazines by that point.
  • I critically mis-described the Witcher 1 combat controls in a magazine review, which was then used as incontrovertible evidence by a small but very loud and utterly fearsome contingent of outraged Witcher fans as to why my 68% score for the game was because I was an idiot, rather than because I didn't like it that much. I will, I suspect, never escape that shadow. (It was a lousy review in many other ways, in fairness – I'd been given way too short a deadline for a massive game, and did a horrid rush job. Lesson learned: I always take/ask for more time if I need it now, or pass the game onto someone else if I can't/aren't allowed to give it the hours required.) I still shudder.
  • I've said this before I know, but I was humiliated in front of my entire history class for drawing dozens crude Dune 2 Ornithopters on my exercise book when the teacher noted my lack of attention and asked me who Churchill was.
  • Believing it to be my likely big break, I sent a reader review of Deus Ex into PC Zone. It was 90% ranting some crazy grievance about ladders I can't even fully recall now, and said nothing of the game's achievements. Suffice to say they didn't publish it, but I live in fear it still exists in someone's inbox and could be unearthed.
  • I bought the PC version of Street Fighter II.

This is my shame. What is yours?
Alec Meer is a writer for Rock Paper Shotgun, one of the world's best sites for PC gaming news. He enjoys robots, ladies and vegetables. Follow him on Twitter.

Republished with permission.