Friday, 7 June 2013

A Gaming Passion

Man I miss doing public events. TAM London remains one two of the best things I ever organised, and although I've done many events since then, they've mostly been private affairs. In other words, nothing I can tweet and blog about, nothing I can generate BUZZ around.

Buzz has to be a reflection of personal passion. Nothing is worse than a cynical attempt at "hey this is kool, look!!!" from someone with no genuine interest in the subject matter or the intended audience. I don't work on public events if they're not something I'm passionate about, because I'm not about to be phony. I hate phony. I love the word phony, but that's just a Catcher in the Rye fan thing.

So, in the spirit of passion and non-phonyness, I'd like to talk about games.

You might already know that I write a monthly column on gaming culture and media myths in Custom PC magazine (I've started reposting some articles from the archives on this very blog), and you almost certainly know I spend a lot of my free time horizontal, Maltesers to hand, playing games of all descriptions. What you probably don't know, though, is that the company I run with my partner DC Turner (you know, the Storm guy), makes games as well as animations. I don't talk about that side of business on Twitter much because most of our game dev work is for other studios, but we currently have two of our own games in development so give it a month or two, I'll be chewing your eyes off with buzz and passion about them.

Where does it come from, the passion? In my Gaming Myths and Monsters talk I reframe the oft-stated gendered opinion "you don't look like a gamer!" as "you don't look like you enjoy fun!". Once you understand it in those terms you realise how ridiculous gamer stereotypes are, and that's before we get to the actual data.

The truth is, I've played videogames since as far back as I can remember, which is roughly 1980 (the first game I remember playing was Little Brickout, Apple's version of Breakout). I owe my entire game passion to my parents, who were if not pioneers of home computing, then at least early settlers. My dad, a former RAF engineer, helped to bring Apple computers to Britain, travelling to Cupertino and coming back with some amazing stuff like this Apple pendant
Photo courtesy of my sister Rachael
alongside demo machines that lived in our Birmingham council house and could be used for Applesoft BASIC and games. The family threw itself into both with delight.

In the mid 1980s my dad went to work for British startup competitor, Apricot. I remember almost nothing about that period other than him bringing home an Apricot Portable and it blowing everyone's minds. It had a wireless keyboard. In 1984. I'm typing this on my iPad using a wireless keyboard. Apart from bluetooth rather than infrared, it's the same damn idea. Everything in its own time, I guess.

Then he worked for Tandy, the British retail arm of electronics giant Radio Shack. Up until then you could only really buy computers mail order, from catalogues, so it was pretty exciting to be able to visit an actual shop and rifle through game cassettes. I remember my dad bringing home several Tandy promotional torches and lots and lots of batteries. Tandy loved batteries. He also brought home computers, mostly to fix (he was the local store's engineer) but also a Tandy Colour that mysteriously stayed in our house even though we were poor as heck and not remotely able to afford one. Let's assume some favours were swapped somewhere. Most games were Dragon 32 ports, like Cuthbert Goes Walkabout and Keys of the Wizard.

My dad must also at some point have worked for Acorn, cause we definitely had a BBC Micro for a while, and various other machines (and probably some he built from random bits). All I learned was that Computers Are Awesome, and avoided any of the nonsensical brand loyalty that hampers other people's psyche and pockets.

And then...the big one. The gaming machine that would turn me from casual gamer to hardcore gamer. The Amstrad 464 (we also had a CPC 6128 on loan but history doesn't care about that). My dad was working for Amstrad in the late 80s and while other kids were recovering from the Great Console Market Crash, I was busy enjoying Harrier Attack (no, not that one), Bridge It, and of course Dizzy.

Shortly after his death in 1988, my dad's Amstrad machines had to go back to his employer, and I was gameless. Until a year or so later when my mom bought me a 464plus on credit, which in hindsight was a major financial sacrifice. But, I appreciated it. Still do, mom! *wave*

The 464plus had a 'groundbreaking' cartridge system and came bundled with a cart containing BASIC (yay!) and a racing game called Burning Rubber in which nothing whatsoever happened. I played it for hours at a time, somehow. I don't think any other cartridge games emerged, but fortunately it also had a tape deck so I could continue my enduring love affair with Dizzy.

Aww, an analogue game.
No early consoles for young King (my cousin Marcelle had those so I didn't go entirely inexperienced), PCs all the way until the Amiga CD32. Now of course I have all the consoles, a gaming rig, three Monopoly sets and some Star Trek playing cards, but there's one thing that I had that console kids didn't. I've mentioned it several times. I had BASIC. Some of my fondest memories are of sitting with my parents while we took it in turns to read code from the back of books or magazines, and type. Then the inevitable Syntax Errors and the manual hunt for the errant semi-colon. Understanding games from the inside out.

So that's the history of the passion. What has that to do with events? This:

Admit it, that's a nice logo.
I'm very excited to be involved with etooLondon, a grassroots alternative to gaming behemoth E3. I'm volunteering my time and mad skillz to what I think is a great event, and I was hoping if you have even a little bit of passion for games, you might donate some time too. We're looking for video submissions to play on the livestream or put on our YouTube channel, from gamers and developers alike, talking about your favourite games(s) or what you're excited about this year or your gaming rig or...well, anything you like that's gamesy, really. Ideally we need them by Sunday night so get the phone out, camera on, and tell me your own gaming passion. I'll be making one, I'll append it to this post when it's done. See you online!