My first experience of computing was, I suspect, similar to many others in an earnest peer group:
10 type ‘Sarah is Ace’20 goto 10run
It is 1980. I’d tried all the girly stuff (ballet, horses, Jackie) and none of it suited my needs. My father worked for a large US company with a UK presence and about two weeks after they were released, a ZX-80 arrived in the front room of our modest bungalow, and I was hooked.
My brother and I have already worn out and got bored quickly of several generic Pong-style games, whilst the eponymous Atari 2600 is so last week. 'Missile Command' and 'Pitfall!' still stand out, even now, but pale beside the British-built unit. The Sinclair was special: tiny for something that would prove to be such a life changer. I think my husband eventually sold that original machine on Ebay for about the same amount of money my dad first paid for it.
The value of nostalgia undoubtedly varies with time.
My parents first met at a coastal resort, and as a family we'd go back there for their notion of enjoyment to eat burgers and play slots, except ‘Space Invaders’ became far more interesting as distraction. I however was rubbish, and instead carved a niche for myself with 'Galaxians' In the summer of my fifteenth year, the die was cast. I had become a gamer.
My love of greasy chips vanished, and motherboards lost their interest: the building and programming of computers was for boys. I was here to play and win, badgering my family for a BBC micro and, quite amazingly, snagging one. ‘Elite’ was played for *hours* and I never got better: in the end came the indignity of getting younger brother to dock ships for me. When that game was relaunched in 2014 I helped crowdfund the endeavour in exchange for an NPC to be named in my honour.
It took me thirty years to learn to play, but I got there in the end.
My mum started her own business soon after the Apple IIe was released: suddenly being computer literate meant that gaming stopped and learning to use computers as business tools began. My first experience with a PC was using the fledgling version of That Bill Gates Program, editing artwork a pixel at a time. The software that cut vinyl which my mum sold to anyone who’d stick it on their car/van/lorry shipped with a program called Corel 1.0.
Then stuff really started to get interesting.
Build a Rocket, Boys
At University I met a hockey player who wrote Acorn Atom programmes as one of his many and various talents. Three years on we'd bought a house, yet were far more enamoured with a new Commodore Amiga plus sufficient games to ensure the first half of my 20's were spent often with very little to no sleep at all. I lived quite the maverick lifestyle back then. Kids today really don't know how easy gaming is. The highlights remain bright, even decades later:
- Beating up Screamers to make Slices in ‘Dungeon Master’ for the elusive level up
- Godzilla destroying eight hours of Simulated City, or aliens, and sometimes both
- Selling my soul to Sid Meier each time a new release hit the shops (this still happens)
- Throwing axes at Nordic maiden’s pigtails to release her from bondage in ‘Heimdall’
- ‘We’re running out of elements!’ and any other sample I can recall from ‘Mega-lo-Mania’
- The sheer joy of a WW1 Flight Sim, crackly B&W footage at the start and everything flying biplanes should be in ‘Knights of the Sky’
- ‘I am rubber, you are glue’, Crazy Crypts, wandering around Monkey Island time and again and knowing SCUMM would change the gaming world forever...
…and too many memories of late nights, tired eyes and cries of horror at Guru Meditation errors.
Oh, and I never really got the point of Llamas.Asleep at the Back
This year, husband and I celebrated 30 years as a couple. We didn’t just buy our first PC to get onto the Internet, via a nice bloke running his ISP startup out of a cinema basement in Southend. It was purchased to play Lucasarts’ ‘Indiana Jones and the Fate of Atlantis’ which was fortuitously on special offer with a i386 machine as bonus, and thus began a whole new love affair.
We had our inaugural LAN party the same year I used Usenet to arrange our first trip to the USA. Then, it was 'Rise of the Triad' (or 'Dawn of the Tinpots' as it was known) which would be played across four PC's. When we moved to our current home, the choice to play as husband and wife was a title that will be familiar to a few of you: ‘Diablo’ was beaten soon after launch, prompting me to buy ‘Diablo II’ on the day of release.
Both of these were welcome distractions whilst heavily pregnant. My 16 year old son and 11 year old daughter do not know a world without gaming in it, or a console of some variety to use as distraction. We have become the quintessential gaming family.
One Day Like This
I've suffered from depression since my early 20's. Gaming was a place to escape the issues I'd face, and when my daughter was born in 2005, I was diagnosed with Post Natal Depression. As part of my rehabilitation, some online friends suggested 'World of Warcraft' and I never looked back. I've been blogging about the game for eight years, and finally realised that even though I might have been a gamer since the 1970's, what matters more is to write.
Gaming, however, gave me a space to cope with mental illness, to help find confidence to start a writing career in my mid 40's, and escape the oppressive gravity of those who still tell me that none of this is a suitable job for a woman. They're wrong, and I'm now past the point of listening to those who tell me I'm too old, or too female to make it work. This is what I am, insanely proud of what has been achieved to get this far.
Gamers are some of the most decent, thoughtful and caring individuals I have ever met. Gaming is full of possibilities for the future. Just bear in mind when you stereotype the genre in the future, some of us really are old enough to be YOUR MOM and might still hand you your arse on the way out.
I know why I play, I've been here for decades. What about you?