I was unutterably crap at anything which fell under the heading of “games” when younger. Sincerely, irrevocably, crap. Didn’t matter if it was a board game, games in school Phys Ed., gin rummy with my father and brothers, or Hide-and-Bloody-Seek, I sucked. Big time.
It didn’t help matters that my incompetence was always made plain to me by those around me. Being beaten at badminton by your little brother (aged 6 at the time) leaves scars on the psyche of an oversensitive tweenie. As do the celebrations by classmates of your humiliating failure . Somewhere along the line, I became a really bad loser. And I pretty much vowed to stay the hell away from games as much as possible (with the exception of a game of Trivial Pursuit on holiday with my extended family 3 years ago, when I was again beaten by…my little brother. It was still painful as hell.)
Which is why I was initially reluctant to engage in the role-playing games beloved of my new circle of friends in Aberdeen, when I moved here in ’97. It took a little time to realise that, in games like Living Force, Cthulhu, Arcanis and Spycraft, it didn’t really matter that I had the hand-eye coordination of a mole with epilepsy. The other players, not all of whom were my friends at the time, were happy to help a “noob” come to terms with attributes, and rolling for initiative, and critical damage, and what my character might usefully do in any given situation.
And I was not bad at it; not least of all at the parts where you could “role play” the character out of a situation. Hey, being able to bullshit to people straight off the cuff is 50% of what I do daily as a teacher. So I would have fun with my characters who leaned more to the talky-talky, and less to the bashy-bashy.
Kev was my favourite: a Sullustan version of “Del Boy”, he was a conniving, self-interested con alien whose principal interest in any Living Force heroic quest was how it was going to benefit him…I miss Kev.
I always approached my gaming back then as an occasional pursuit; something to do when I didn’t have marking or teaching preparation requiring my more immediate attention. Thus, I was a different sort of gamer from my husband.
The DBH had been gaming since he was 9 or 10. From Atari he had moved to D & D, Doom, Warhammer, and then through a variety of games for the PS1, PS2, and XBox. When we moved into our first property, I became a WoW widow for about a year. I ended up inventing a term, “gamer time”, to explain the difference between what the DBH perceived had passed in time while he was playing, and what had actually passed.
Our new property helped end his isolation while playing, by dint of the fact that the computer was in our cold back bedroom. So, the XBox became the console of choice, just about the time that Lego brought out its Star Wars game. And I was back playing games.
Star Wars was brilliant for me. As a “button basher”, I didn’t need to work out difficult combos. I could just smash something up. I loved the Lego games for XBox, and their near cousin, “Castle Crashers.” Which my five year old daughter is also enjoying (yes, she is better at it than me.)
But that was it for me in terms of gaming. Until the unlikeliest gamer that I have yet met, a colleague in my English department, told me that she plays Skyrim to relax. (As well as gardening, and renovating her house, and playing with her cats.)
So, I thought that I would give it a go. Under the expert tutelage of the DBH.
I got a cheap second-hand copy, created my character (Gudrun, a grey-haired, scarred, statuesque Nord for those familiar with the character presets) and started the tricky learning journey involving making my left thumb do something, while my right thumb does something else.
It isn’t easy. Any more than trying (and failing) to learn to drive in my 30’s was “easy.” I want to apologise continually to the poor bastard NPC who is trying to lead me through the first stage. I get grumpy with my husband who is just trying patiently to help me master the most basic techniques. I am exhausted by the time I have completed one stage.
But I am sleeping better. And I have a proper insight into the emotional and psychological reactions that my pupils have to some writing or reading task that I consider to be straightforward.
So, say it once, say it loud: I’m a gamer, and I’m proud.