I played my first computer game when I was around five years old.
It was one of those puzzle games that ran off MS DOS.
Grandpa often played the game on the IBM desktop in the study room. He usually did so when Grandma was busy preparing dinner. I suppose that was the only time he had a reprieve from her constant nagging. But as precious as those quiet moments were, he never once refused to let me take over. He’d place me in his lap and teach me the ways of beating the computer.
I have been a gamer ever since.
When I entered primary school a couple of years later, my parents bought an 8-bit Nintendo Entertainment System to keep my younger brother and I entertained. The console came with a game cartridge containing 40 games. It was awesome.
Battle City, Bomber Man, Ice Climber, Kung Fu and Tag Team Match MUSCLE were among our favourites. We would spend most of the day playing different games during the school holidays, to the point when everything because a little blurry.
After all, that was the only time we were allowed to play the NES.
Mummy later bought us this game called Cobra Triangle where you control a speed boat that could fire big grey pellets. It was a very challenging game and we really enjoyed taking turns to play it. We never got to complete it, though. It just stopped working. I remember how we would say a little prayer before puffing into the bottom of the cartridge. Nothing worked.
The next console we got was a SEGA 16-bit. It was a long-term loan from our uncle. My brother and I always played Bare Knuckle (Japanese version of Streets of Rage) together. Though we were a little older then, and the sibling rivalry had gotten stronger, those two-dimensional streets where pixelated gangsters roamed was the place where we could put our differences aside and work toward a common goal.
“Hey, you’re running out of life. Eat that chicken! I’ll eat the apple instead,” I would tell my brother.
“There are too many bad people! Should I use the special power?” he would ask.
We must have completed the game more than a dozen times. But each play-through felt like a new adventure.
Our gaming exploits were not limited to the SEGA. There was a PC game called Uncharted Waters which we were crazy about. I once accidentally saved over my brother’s game in which he had amassed a fleet of ships armed to the teeth with the best cannons.
Nearly on the verge of tears, he yelled at me and stormed out of the room. He did not talk to me for two days.
When I entered secondary school in 1994, the Playstation became one of our main sources of entertainment. Every one in school loved playing King of Fighters. Mortal Kombat was fun, too. I especially enjoyed Ace Combat.
When my close friends went on a trip to New Zealand during the school holidays, I spent most of my time at the home of another friend playing Resident Evil. We would take turns controlling the character and reading the game guide he purchased. We laughed and screamed and cheered. Fuck, that game was scary. Especially when the lights are switched off.
We became pretty good friends.
Back then, Winning Eleven was a far better game than FIFA, even though the names of the players were in Japanese, which we did not understand. Every Saturday, a whole bunch of friends would come to my place to play virtual and real football. Those were great times.
I hardly played console games during my polytechnic and national service days. During this period, I mostly played PC titles like Warcraft, Starcraft, Command and Conquer, Counterstrike and Battlefield with my pals at LAN centers.
As an officer in the army, I was given charge of the e-learning lab in camp. It was probably one of the most embarrassing postings to be given. After all, most people wanted to be able to train or command a platoon of men. But here I was, assisting a captain with his training duties and making sure the computer lab ran smoothly.
It was a great job to have, by the way. The corporals under me knew their stuff so I never had to check on them. The only time I was required to step in was when I caught wind of an imminent inspection.
“Guys, the captain will be coming to check on us this week. Make sure you aren’t playing Winning Eleven or Command and Conquer in the server room. And stash those controllers,” I would tell them.
“Yes Sir! By the way, we just installed Tiberian Sun. You wanna have a go at it later tonight?”
“Fuck yeah. Count me in.”
Many of those who had to stay in camp during the week days tried to get chummy with me in order to get access to the computer lab. I was a friendly dude. I allowed everyone to play whatever they wanted after office hours. Sergeants, lieutenants and captains from other wings all came to join the party.
To me, gaming during these times was all about bonding.
A 13-year love affair
My first year in university marked the start of a love affair with World of Warcraft (WoW). It was probably not the best time to start playing such an addictive game – I spent more time playing the game than studying, and as a result nearly failed one module. While I didn’t make many friends in Sydney where I studied, I made a number through the game.
I was a Tauren Warrior. I thought it was silly to pick a cow but that was the biggest character available. Everything else just seemed scrawny and squishy. I chose to be a warrior because I like charging into a crowd of enemies and smashing their faces in.
The first guild I joined was Absolute Dragons, which was started by a group of Asian American dragon-boaters based in San Francisco. I thought it was pretty cool to have an Asian woman as the guild leader. She played a shaman and seemed really authoritative over Ventrilo. Her sister seemed like a much nicer person. Maybe it was because she was a priest.
There was also a female huntress in the guild that I thought was gorgeous in real life. But every time I tried to chat her up in the game she would just feign death.
What I loved about vanilla WoW was the 40-man raids. That was seriously intense. The learning curve was pretty steep and almost everyone needed to bring their A-game if the raid group was to kill the boss. I remember trawling through the Auction House in search of fire resist gear. Because we need a minimum amount to qualify for the Molten Core raid.
I really enjoyed the teamwork and the boss fights. The one thing I hated was how those Pauldrons of Might never dropped for me. I had saved all those damn DKP points just to buy it, but when it did finally drop, I wasn’t in the raid.
“Wait for five sunders. Don’t pull aggro if you’re not the tank,” the guild leader would always call out before the boss fight. Back during those times, the tank determined the pace. These days, the new kids in WoWjust pull everything and expect the tank to deal with the mess. Self-entitled brats. Fuckin’ millennials.
When damage output was found to be lacking, the raid leader would call out: “More dots, more dots.” I loved that phrase. It made me imagine bosses to be covered in polka dots. It made me chuckle.
It has been 13 years since WoW was released. I’m still a subscriber. I don’t have any friends I play with anymore, but I still enjoy the game. It’s no longer about getting into raids to get the best gear or making new friends. These days, it’s all about discovering the storyline and just decompressing.
Before I got married and was living with my parents, my mother would often come into the room when I was raiding and exclaim: “Aren’t you a little too old to be playing computer games?”
“Would you rather I be out drinking and smoking and doing drugs?”
Yup, always worked.
A few months ago, a Taiwanese friend who was at my apartment saw WoW running on the laptop and said: “Playing games at this age? You’re really quite a zhai nan (宅男) aren’t you?”
I think that terms refers to being a geek. Well, I’m not a geek.
You know, gamers are really misunderstood people. Those who don’t game on a regular basis think that we are:
(a) socially awkward
(e) all of the above
And that’s really the furthest thing from the truth. I might be a little bit of an (a) at times but I generally love having a few pints while meeting new people.
I’m certainly not (b), while (c) and (d) can be pretty subjective term.
Am I immature? Well, how do you even define maturity? The size of my epeen? The wrinkles on my face? The fact that I play games? It doesn’t even make sense.
One can never be too old to be a gamer. Many people seem to think gaming is something only kids do. They believe that being a certain age means having to do certain things that fulfills the criteria of being that old.
Oh, you’re 28, it’s time to be a husband.
Oh, you’re 30, it’s time to be a father.
Oh, you’re 33, you should be focusing on your career and making lots of money.
Oh, you’re 50, time to think life after retirement.
No. We don’t have to follow these goddamned pre-determined routes in life in order to be happy. If you like gaming, you like gaming.
Gaming is a religion. RNGesus is our God. You don’t need to be a certain age to accept a religion.
My wife doesn’t find joy in playing games. That’s cool. Her psycho-motor skills suck anyway. The only game she was decent in was Candy Crush. When she tried to play WoW all she ever did was spend my gold on new clothes.
She told me that reading is a much more enjoyable hobby. She’s really good a reading. She can blitz through a 500-pager in one day. Me? Sony would’ve released the Playstation 10 by the time I’m done with a book this long.
Reading doesn’t appeal to me that much because I find it hard to get immersed. I always feel like a spectator.
Some people get satisfaction from completing a book. I get satisfaction from that glorious ache in my hands after an intense boss fight.
The beauty of gaming
I also love gaming because I love a good story. I mean, I’m a writer. Or an aspiring one, anyway. Gaming allows me to experience a story differently.
It allows me to be in the story. Sometimes, I am the story.
As such, I can still vividly recall all the scenes that took place in the games I have played.
I remember shaking my head in disbelief at how beautiful the ending to The Last of US was.
I remember sobbing when Mordin Solus sacrificed himself in Mass Effect 3.
I remember gasping in horror when Sephiroth impaled Aerith in Final Fantasy 7.
I remember feeling a mixture of sadness and awe when Thrall killed Garrosh in Warlords of Draenor.
I remember getting a hard-on when Morrigan bedded my Warden in Dragon Age.
More importantly, games have showed me what good storytelling should be – emotional, honest.
A reflection of life
When I was feeling depressed in the months followings my big move to Shanghai, Hearthstone taught me some important lessons about the RNG-ness of life. Like how sometimes you’re just dealt an atrocious starting hand and there’s little you can do about it.
Really? Drawing three 6-mana cards when I only have three 6-mana cards in the deck? Seriously, RNGesus. What the fucking fuck?
On other occasions, the cards you start with allow you to win within four moves, because everything just connects, and because the opponent just so happened to have a really crappy draw.
I once lost 12 ranked games in a row. Nothing I did went right. I could knock someone down to 5 HP only to lose in the next three moves. Shit happens. And that’s the world for you. Everything is uncertain. If RNGesus decides to fuck you up with a bad draw, you just learn to deal with it. When you lose, all you can do is pick yourself up and just go at it again.
What we can do, though, is set ourselves up for success; maximise our chances of not fucking up. Build a deck is suited to your ambition, your play style. Determine if this play style is suitable for the context you are in. Anticipate what the opponent might play. Have a contingency plan.
When you’re done building your strategy to life, experiment with it. Win a couple. Lose a couple. Go back to the drawing board. Revise the deck. Improve on it. Go out there again and play.
No, this isn’t what gaming or a fantasy card game is about.
This is what life is about.
My name is Alywin. I turn 35 in October. I am a gamer. And I’m damn proud to be one.
So, why do you game?