Everybody makes mistakes. We’re human, it’s OK to admit our flaws and imperfections. Most of them, hopefully, are momentary lapses of judgement: small errors easily rectifiable without too much blood loss. Then there are the times you do something so moronic it makes you question your beliefs about how intelligent, sane, and sexy you really are. Well, y’all are entitled to my sanity, my intelligence, and my sexiness, so tonight I’m baring it all, baby! And let me tell you, this thong won’t hold a lot of bills, so if you want to tip me, best get right up front before the show starts. Here are my personal five dumbest, most embarassing decisions ever made when it came to gaming, and in advance I’d just like to say: screw you for judging me.
5) My Dumbest Yard Sale Gaming Selection
Let’s set the clock back to summer vacation in the mid-80s, when I wanted an Atari 2600. I found one at a garage sale, priced ten bucks. The seller also had a box full of games to go with it he had priced at $1 each. Ten dollars was my entire budget for yard sales that week, but since an Atari isn’t much fun without a game to play on it, I convinced mom to loan me a buck so I could get a cart. These were boxed with instructions, and all of them were in really nice shape. So which game did I pick to spend that borrowed dollar on? Was it Choplifter? River Raid? Pitfall? Maybe Space Invaders or Star Wars: The Empire Strikes Back? Man, there was also Atlantis, Frogger, Asteroids, and (naturally) Combat. Yeah, I can remember all of the titles this dude had in a yard sale three decades ago, but ask me what I had for lunch last Thursday…
Despite all those options, one game called to me above all others, with its shiny silver box and promise of hours of child-friendly fun. Those of you who can already see where this is going have my permission to start laughing now. The rest of you may begin in three…two…one…:
Yeah, the very first dollar I ever spent to buy a video game of my very own was traded for none other than E.T.: The Extra-Terrestrial. Only the fact I didn’t buy this thing for full price from K-Mart keeps it all the way down here at number five, but I guarantee you if I saved up enough allowance money to drop $30 on this thing as a kid, we wouldn’t be having this talk right now. I’d have been so completely disabused of my desire for digital technology, I wouldn’t even wear a watch. The first legitimate face-palm of my relationship with video games and I was all of 8 years old.
4) My Dumbest Video Game Pre-Order
I don’t pre-order games any longer except to screw with the inventories of the local GameStop. When Deadly Premonition: The Director’s Cut was announced for the PS3, it was such a niche title I wasn’t sure of its availability, so I slapped $5 down and saved the date. Little did I realize when GameStop gets a pre-order for a game, their corporate office assumes there will be others interested in buying it who haven’t pre-ordered and act accordingly. My pre-order for Deadly Premonition was apparently the only one in the entire city, but because I wanted to make sure my nearest store got a copy of it, GameStop corporate sent extra copies to every store in the area on the off-chance I had a clone with equally awful taste. This was explained to me by the manager, who glared daggers, held up two other copies of the game and declared, “You! You did this to me!” when I announced what I was there to pick up. Long story short, if you want to screw with GameStop, pre-order games which no one in his or her right mind would want. While an amusing anecdote, Deadly Premonition is not the subject of this entry (I got far more than $40 worth of fun out of it). No, my dumbest pre-order mistake involves a guy who thinks the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco and Firearms is a convenience store:
Yup. I pre-ordered Duke Nukem Forever–and when I say ‘pre-ordered’, I don’t mean when Gearbox announced they’d acquired it from 3D Realms in 2010. Nooooooo. When I say ‘pre-ordered’, I mean it in the most pretentious-hipster way imaginable. I pre-ordered Duke Nukem Forever before I had the PlayStation 3 to play it on. I pre-ordered Duke Nukem Forever before I bought my PlayStation 2. I pre-ordered Duke Nukem Forever at an Electronics Boutique (which has not existed in the local mall since Attack of the Clones was in theaters) all the way back in nineteen-goddamn-ninety-seven, and somewhere in my treasure trove of junk I refuse to throw away, I still have the receipt. Not because I’m some kind of hoarder (regardless of what my wife claims–love you, honey!), but because back then you had to show it to claim your game. I carried it around in my wallet until ‘The Matrix’ came out on DVD before I got the sinking feeling something was wrong at 3D Realms.
Fourteen long-ass years and half a dozen magazine covers later, I bought Duke Nukem Forever because by then that pre-order and I qualified for common-law marriage, and by the powers vested in me, one or the other of us was going to get boned so hard. So very, very hard. While it didn’t blow my socks off, it was still Duke Nukem, he was just as immature as any 90’s action hero satire could be, and I regret nothing. Except maybe not transferring my pre-order to something else before Electronics Boutique folded. Hope you knob knockers enjoyed my five bucks, cuz that’s one Abe Lincoln my teenage self will never see again.
3) My Dumbest Gaming Obsession
I’ve been obsessed with a lot of things related to gaming. I’m sure there are any number of groups out there which would score me high enough on an addiction chart to warrant legal intervention, but I like to think I know my limits. I might concentrate all my free time on one game to the exclusion of others periodically, but it’s a rare beast indeed that makes me not only want to play it when I am home, but also keeps me thinking about it for the hours when I am not playing it and chides me with ‘one more hour’ until I see the sun peeking through the windows and realize that ‘one more hour’ has turned into nine and everyone I come into contact with at work is going to have ‘Godzilla versus Japan’ levels of a shitty day.
At this point a bunch of you are nodding your heads and saying, “We understand, brother. You’re among friends. We play World of Warcraft too.” Well, screw you–I don’t play World of Warcraft or any other MMO for that matter because I know what I’d be getting myself into. I’ve never played any massive multiplayer online game unless you count a stint of MUDding back in my college days. Ultima Online? Uh-uh. Star Wars Galaxies? Nope. The Matrix Online? Geezus, what did I ever do to you people?
I game to escape from the real world, and for someone like me, joining up with a bunch of people I don’t know to play an online game is like crashing a wedding–the potential for fun is overshadowed by feelings of being awkward-as-hell, and I’m too introverted to enjoy the experience. So what on earth managed to capture my full and complete attention back in 2000 if it wasn’t Everquest?
Here’s a hint: it beat out Myst for the title of “Best-Selling Video Game of All Time.”
The Sims. The freakin’ Sims. A game where you skip housework so you can waste time telling little digital people do their dishes. A game where you call in sick to your real job where you earn real money with which to buy real stuff for your real house so your virtual people get to their virtual jobs and earn fake money with which to buy fake goodies for their fake homes. A game where you can digitally re-create all of your friends and have them drop by your SimHouse so that SimYou can have conversations with them in a gibberish, made-up language because by this point all of your real friends have stopped calling. I was a grown-ass man hooked on a slightly-blockier, computerized version of the world of fashion dolls. To this day I have no excuse, and throw myself upon the mercy of the court where I promise never again to get addicted to something so pointless.
BRB, got a friend messaging me about joining him in some game where you craft things in a mine…? Sounds weird enough to be entertaining for an hour or so. Gotta see what that’s all about.
2) My Dumbest Video Game Trade
I don’t make a habit of trading or selling my games unless I am 100% positive I’m never going to play them again, and even then I tend to err on the side of caution. After all you never know when that friend who thinks Friday the 13th on the NES sucks will come over and need to be re-educated. Even so there are times when I look at games in my collection and think, “Yeah, I could part with that in exchange for something I might enjoy more.” FarCry 2? You needed to go to a better home, it just wasn’t working out. Bioshock? Sorry, it’s not you, it’s me. Ogre Battle: The March of the Black Queen for the Super Nintendo, complete in box, sold to a friend for $20 back in high school? Ha! What a tool! I mean, that’s like thirty bucks adjusted for inflation! How much do you think some asshole would pay today for a complete, boxed copy of–
Hey, Tom! Buddy! Listen, if you’re still out there, there’s this old SNES game I sold you back in the day. I feel really shitty about how badly I gouged you for such a worthless piece of crap. If you’ve still got it, I’ve got your $20 plus an extra ten to make up for being a dick. I really, really want to make this right and I don’t think I’ll be able to sleep soundly until I do. Hit me up on Facebook, man.
I’m begging you…
1) My Dumbest Video Game Moment
Those previous four entries are truly world-class levels of dumb-assery brough forth for your entertainment, but there’s only one mistake I’ve made in regards to gaming that could inspire Sinead O’Connor to write a song about it. Nothing, absolutely nothing, compares to the colossal fuck-up I made shortly after I began writing about them on the internet circa 2010.
For a period of about two years, I let video games stop being fun. Allow me to explain.
If you’ve ever had to read a book for school, you know the agony of being forced to read something instead of discover it on your own. When you’re reading for an assignment, even if it’s a book you like in a genre you adore, the fun factor takes a huge hit because ultimately reading for somebody else is nothing like reading for yourself.
When you’re reading for someone else, it’s almost impossible to get swept up in the story, dazzled by the characters, blown away by the action. There’s always a voice in the back of your head reminding you to stay on target, even when the active parts of your imagination yell at you to loosen up. The target in this case isn’t a two-meter-wide small thermal exhaust port right below the main port, but rather all sorts of crap you never notice when you’re coasting through the book for enjoyment. Reading for a class, you’re constantly on the lookout for metaphor, symbolism, and all that other junk that’s useful to know if you ever want to write a masterpiece of literature yourself but utterly worthless for enjoying a goddamn book.
Writing regularly about video games can turn into this without warning, and if it does you’ll be hard-pressed to play anything in a non-critical fashion. I’m convinced this is why many aspiring game journalists burn out shortly after diving head-first into such a spectacular job involving their favorite hobby. Hobbies are great for spending your free time, but anything you start spending your non-free time on can no longer be considered a hobby. That’s a job. And with very, very few exceptions, nobody goes into work to have fun.
I let that happen to me. After writing about games using a critical mindset for so long, I found it hard to divorce my voice from that inner critic’s. I didn’t want to pick up the controller and just goof around, because that was wasting time–time I could be using to play a game I could write about. Games I routinely played because they were fun, because I enjoyed them, because they were just plain awesome and I couldn’t imagine myself ever selling them…they became a lodestone, an anchor, an obstacle on my path to writing about other games. And I’m sorry, but if you ever reach the point where playing Super Metroid or River City Ransom isn’t fun, congratulations: you’ve unlocked Nightmare mode in the game of life. Years upon years of playing Doom has helped me understand two things: I’m not cut out for Nightmare mode, and there are no Let’s Plays for ‘life’ on YouTube to help me win.
Games are supposed to be fun. Some games are more fun than others, and when games are not fun it means somebody screwed up somewhere. But the point of playing, and enjoying, games is that when a game is not fun, you should always be able to point to the developer, the publisher, online griefers, or some other entity for the reason. If playing a game is not fun and the only person you have to blame for that is yourself, it’s time to take a step back and re-evaluate why you’ve become that gamer.
Fortunately for me (and unfortunately for many of the rest of you), I realized how badly I’d messed things up and decided unless I could make writing about games fun again, I was never going to enjoy playing them. So I switched. I stopped taking them to seriously. I stopped taking my writing so seriously. I let myself enjoy the process of both again. Like a cross-breeze directed through a room which has been closed off to the rest of the world for two years, that was a breath of fresh air you can’t even imagine. Letting games stop being fun is, hands down, the absolute dumbest mistake I’ve ever made as a gamer, and if you’ve got a better one, I’d love to hear it.