“People Are Changing”

My gaming history is coloured by the arcade and this has extended to the home console arena. Without exception every console I’ve owned has been due to an attempt to re-capture the arcade magic and play the games housed in cabinets that I loved.

The first console I owned was an Atari 2600. I wanted to play Asteroids and Pac-Man and other games I enjoyed in the arcades, but as I got older I grew intolerant of less-than-arcade-perfect console ports, which kept me away from the 8-bit and 16-bit Japanese systems. At the time those machines were released the arcade scene was still active: if I needed a gaming fix I just went to the local arcade and got out of the house. Besides my mates had Genesis and SNES and TG-16 systems, so I never felt like I really needed one.

“Here’s an example”
Then I saw Tempest 2000 on the Atari Jaguar and something changed. I actually found myself wanting a games console. When Jeff Minter did Defender 2000 that ignited a thirst for the original that his less-than-perfect port included on the D2K cart simply could not satisfy. When I saw Williams Arcade Classics for the Playstation, the Jag went on Ebay and the Playstation became the centre of my gaming universe. I broadened my gaming tastes a bit, but mostly my Playstation was my virtual arcade. I got the console modded so I could import classic compilations from Japan not released in the States. I even built my own joystick with Defender-friendly button layout using wood, arcade parts and a cheap 3rd-party controller.

The subsequent generation failed to inspire me and I moved back to gaming on computers, using emulators to scratch the arcade itch. Then in October 2007 I happened to flip through a Woolworth’s catalog in Glasgow and saw Gottlieb Pinball Classics for the Wii. Was it possible someone had actually captured the one thing I never thought I’d see again: classic pinball? I went from seeing the current generation of consoles as yet another rehash of the previous 2 only with HD, to seeing the Wii as my very own virtual pinball arcade.

“Add another example”
And then something strange happened. I actually started looking at other titles on the system; more bizarrely I actually purchased games blindly for franchises I had never played on any other system (or if I had, I hadn’t enjoyed them) and in genres I traditionally disliked. Metroid Prime 3 and Super Mario Galaxy I purchased on release, Excite Truck and Zelda: Twilight Princess on recommendation (well, to be honest Zelda was to install the Homebrew Channel, but I still played it!). Most of these games I don’t own any more simply because I didn’t think they warranted repeat play, but I did enjoy them for what they were.

There was a time I never even would have read a review of those games, but somehow the Wii had caused me to be open to games I actively disliked in the past or avoided for the “sure thing” I knew I would enjoy. Either that or I’m older and maybe a little less judgemental (the old dog that can learn new tricks?). The biggest surprise, and the inspiration for this article, was when I got Fire Emblem: Radiant Dawn in the post.

I don’t know what made me decide to read up on this game, but I must have come across a thread in some forum where people were saying how good it was. I asked someone what a “tactical role-playing game” was and got a question in response: “Do you like micromangment?” The game looked a little like X-COM/UFO from the DOS days, so I thought it might be fun, but my last experience with a turn-based RPG was back in the Playstation days with Final Fantasy VII and I disliked it so much I only rented it for a single day and played it for 20min. I wanted to actually control the character real-time — what was the point of clicking buttons when I had no control?

When I booted Fire Emblem I think I was more excited to play this game than any game I have played previously — even more than seeing Defender emulated on the Playstation (well, maybe not that excited) — and it was strange. It was even stranger when I found myself utterly uninterested in playing Ookami: a more traditional 3rd-person action platformer. Somehow over the years turn-based combat has come to be exciting and interesting and 3rd-person action a bit of a chore. When did that happen?

“This whole world is changing”
I think it’s safe to say that other people are experiencing gaming for the first time on the Wii or maybe picking it up again after years without a console and the freshness of it will lead them in interesting directions as it has me. It makes the moaning on message boards from people who have played every console since the SNES all the more perplexing: maybe those folk are just in so deep they’ve become entrenched in their positions and lost the “thrill” of gaming. Perhaps a break would do them some good as it did me.

Ultimately gamers cannot be put into little boxes and categories like “casual” and “hardcore” mean nothing: it’s the experience itself that counts and that’s entirely subjective. It’s nice to see I can still get some thrill out of video games, just like in the arcades of old.

NB: Quotes from Herbie Hancock “People Are Changing” on the Sound System LP.