I have a long, personal history with video games. Because of my age, I was fortunate to be present at the birth of the video game and have continued to play for almost my entire life. My first video game experience was with the Sear’s original version of Pong, which my parents considered to be an adult game, but one that they allowed my siblings and I were allowed to dabble in from time to time. Pong is considered the first home console video game to achieve popularity, and despite its simplicity, I find myself still wishing that I owned one today.
When I was ten years old, I moved onto simple text games on Peter Archambault’s Texas Instruments TI-99. These were turn-based games in which you attempted to manage the resources of a kingdom or risk peasant revolt. At the time, I thought that this was the greatest invention ever.
I now believe that indoor plumbing is the greatest invention ever, but that’s a topic for another day.
In 1983, my parents purchased an Atari 5200, and my mother and I quickly became masters of Pac Man (we named a dog after this game), Pole Position, Dig Dug and Defender, amongst many other titles. Some of the best times that I ever spent with my mother took place in front of that video game console.
When I moved out of my parent’s house in 1989 and into a townhouse with friends after high school, Nintendo had taken over the video game market. RBI Baseball was our favorite, though we played dozens of others. My buddy still owns a Nintendo game console and about five copies of RBI Baseball, which we still play just for old time’s sake.
Upon moving to Connecticut four years later, I purchased my first computer and became heavily involved in PC gaming, starting with Warcraft II. Madden’s NFL games soon followed, along with a host of other first-person shooter (Doom and Unreal Tournament) and strategy (Age of Empires) games. It was a time of networking computers with friends and spending weekends in front of the screen.
Though I loved these games for many reasons, none brought me more pleasure than a game called Diablo, which was played online in a multiplayer universe, similar to games like EverQuest and World of Warcraft.
After mastering the game, I grew bored and was on the verge of quitting when I discovered a group of people playing the game in a whole new way. Rather than fighting against monsters in order to accumulate treasure and weapons, this group of players had banded together in an effort to destroy other players in the game.
Diablo, like most multiplayer games (EverQuest and World of Warcraft included), was designed in such a way that players could not kill other players in order to steal their gold or magical items. If a player successfully killed another player, the dead player would simply reappear in town with all of his or her gear intact.
Like the death had never happened.
However, if a monster killed a player, all of that player’s items would drop to the ground for anyone to retrieve.
The goal of our death squad was to trap other players so that they could not escape, while the monsters did our dirty work. We would set traps, turn our victims to stone, and otherwise detain these poor souls while the monsters killed them for us. We would then move in and collect their gold and weapons, leaving them with nothing. Hours upon hours of gaming effort were lost to our renegade band of player killers.
I can’t express the joy in executing one of these attacks against a nearly indestructible player who had spent months building up his character’s strength and abilities and collecting gold.
In response to our attacks, a guild was formed to battle against us. For months, our death squads fought the “Allied Guild” as we sought out new victims, and in the process sometimes becoming victims ourselves. This went on and on, back and forth, for months.
It was fantastic. Utter joy.
Wired magazine published an interesting story on griefers, who essentially do the same type of thing that I did in my Diablo days. A griefer is a slang term used to describe a player in a multiplayer video game who plays the game simply to cause grief to other players through harassment. In addition to fantasy gaming, griefers have moved onto online environments like Second Life, where they wreak havoc in a virtual world that attempts to simulate real life.
For example, when Second Life real estate magnate Anshe Chung announced she had accumulated more than $1 million in virtual assets and had gotten her avatar's picture on the cover of Business Week, her subsequent CNET interview in Second Life was interrupted by a procession of floating penises that danced out of thin air and across the stage.
It’s not the same as taking away months of work from an online player, but it’s funny as hell, don’t you think?
And I found it remarkably gratifying to learn that more than a decade ago, I was on the cutting edge of video game play.
I was a griefer.
Though my video game playing today is limited to online poker and the occasional Guy Weekend, where my friends and I will play the Wii for a few hours or network some PC’s for some old fashioned gaming, I still feel the urge to jump into these online environments from time to time in order to behave in a way that I cannot in the real world.
I was recently asked about my opinion of video games as a book signing. Knowing that I am a teacher, this individual wondered how I felt about gaming in today’s world.
I know it’s a simple answer, but I essentially counseled moderation.
I once visited a student’s home and physically removed the power cords from the three gaming systems in his bedroom and did not return those cords until the end of the year, because I thought that the boy played too many games and it was impacting his learning.
But I also had a boy who could barely read yet played three hours of hockey every day without exception. In that case, I would’ve rather had the kid playing an hour of video games and reading for two hours in lieu of his three hours of hockey.
As is usually the case, too much of anything is a problem.
But I wouldn’t change a thing about my gaming life. I had a great run and am happy to have lived through the days of the video arcade, when true gamers could gather crowds around their machine and play for hours. It was a great time to be young, and I’m sorry that my children will never experience anything quite like it.