I am a child of the video game era.
Like most white, middle-class kids of my era, we owned an Atari 2600 (the real thing, not the cheesy Sears version.) And while we enjoyed the hell out of the system, we also knew…it sucked.
Plate 1: This was once considered cool!
Like I said, we lived in the golden age of video games, and arcade games–with their superior graphics and gameplay–were all around us. Things weren’t helped by how poorly most arcade games were ported over to the 2600–the infamous Pac-Man port
is widely credited as causing the North American video game market crash of 1983.
Plate 2: You’ve heard the legends, but I actually played it–and it was really that horrible.
I didn’t care that much for video games.
You probably think that it was because I was some high-falutin’ intellectual, with my nose in a book all the time and too much of a nerd to be any good at sports. But that wasn’t the reason…well, it wasn’t the only reason.
The reason was that I generally stank at them. I have a rather low eye-hand coordination, so most of that generation of video games were full of FAIL for me–I didn’t have the reflexes to be any good at them, or rather, I just got too frustrated to actually learn how to play through my difficulties.
So I watched a lot of other people play video games–hell, I just hung out for weeks while a buddy of mine played Ultima IV, which is about as interesting as watching people play D&D…in a language you don’t speak.
Once I got to college and had a computer of my very own, however, I got interested in games again. There were actual genres that didn’t require me to have the fast-twitch reflexes of a chihuahua who’d drunk too much coffee, and I played those–SimCity, Civilization (I racked up insane hours conquering various planets), baseball games where you only had to “manage,” and even less-athletic, more strategic games like Sid Meier’s Pirates.
So when I was finally out of college, and got a “real” computer (well, a Packard-Bell–26% new parts!), I made sure to pick up a few games to go with it. One was Doom, which I had played in multi-player mode and enjoyed. (I didn’t get too far in that one: have I mentioned my reflexes?) The other was Wing Commander IV. And that one hooked me.
I’d heard about the Wing Commander series for years, but never owned a machine powerful enough to run them–the closest I’d come was playing on a friend’s Nintendo once. But the third and fourth versions of the game were really different–they used movies to forward a plot line between missions, and you could actually make choices in how to respond during some of the movie sequences. It was like a Choose-Your-Own-Adventure Book! (Yes, I am a child of the ’80s.)
It certainly didn’t hurt that Mark Effin’ Hamill played your character.
Plate 3: Hey, isn’t that the guy from Star Wars?
While I understand while this kind of video game (usually called Full-Motion Video or FMV) didn’t catch on (costs were high, graphics got good enough to do all the stuff inside the game itself), it was extraordinarily compelling for the time–they really managed to come close to the state objective of making it an interactive movie. I ploughed through WCIV in about a month, and for my birthday my girlfriend gave me a boxed set with the first three games. Which I slogged through as well, even though the first two were more standard video games–no movies, but there was an overarching storyline for both. I started playing WCIII, the climax of the series…and stopped.
I was changing computers, I had a girlfriend, I was taking aikido–I had a bunch of reasons. So I never finished the third game, never got past the third mission. And I mostly stopped playing anything resembling shoot-em-ups; I had the occasional game of Civ going on, but for the most part I didn’t have any time to play videogames. I did reload Wing Commander I on my machine a few months after my wife and I separated, played it all the way through again, but didn’t bother to play the next game.
And then I transitioned.
Now, obviously, video games are a huge minefield of misogynistic crap. (Just check out the ongoing saga of Fat Princess over at Shakesville.) Most games are marketed for men, often in the crudest, most sexist way possible–and then you play the game, and it just gets worse when you see how women are depicted inside the games themselves. Plus so many video games are filled with non-stop, wall-to-wall violence, domination, and macho posturing.
So it makes sense for me to avoid video games, and for the most part I’ve had no interest–not even in my beloved Civ. Until recently.
Because on a whim I dug out my copy of Wing Commander III, and after wrestling with Windows for a few days, have been flying missions again. And loving it.
This is full of irony for me. First, aren’t I the person railing on about kyriarchy and how we need a culture freed from the evils of domination? Aren’t I generally opposed to violence of almost any kind? And don’t I love cats? Hell, don’t people call me Cat?
So why in the hell am I zipping around space blowing up evil space cats and following a plotline that ultimately ends with a shocking act of genocide?
Plate 4: I’m sure with a big enough lap to cuddle up in, he’d stop trying to DESTROY ALL HUMANS.
I have no idea. I’m sucked in, again, by the storyline, and the gameplay remains challenging but not impossible even for a slow-fingered person like myself. There are even female characters in the game, and they’re not decoration–two are highly competent fighter pilots, and one is the ship’s chief mechanic. (Of course, one set of choices leads you to have a relationship with one of them, which is a bit squicky, but on the other hand it is remarkable to have a video game that was a combat sim even mention the word love.)
I’ve noticed a few things different this time around. I’m not any better or worse a pilot than I used to be–I always played the game the way I thought my character really would fly, so I don’t try to run up my score if the mission can be finished otherwise. My adrenaline reactions are…different nowadays, though. After a long session at the game, I can get a bit twitchy, and somewhat spatially disoriented, like I keep expecting the constant motion the 3D sim provides. I don’t recall that stuff happening the first time around, and I wonder how much my current endocrinology has to do with that.
Of course, playing a video game–playing a violent, combat-oriented video game–brings up all sorts of gender crap for me. (But then, getting the paper in the morning has the potential to do that.) Mostly it’s societal stuff that I, of all people, should know better than to listen too–women aren’t violent, women don’t play video games, women should sit down and watch the damn Lifetime Movie Network and keep careful notes of the cleaning products they must buy next trip to the store. Like I said, mostly crap.
But on the other hand, I haven’t talked much about this with other women I know. Maybe because I fear that the women who know about my history will view this as one more way I’m not like them–and the women who don’t know about my history might get ideas.
Silly. But there you have it.
In any case, I’m close to the end, and I’ll drop The Big Bomb on Kilrah and win the game pretty soon now. Maybe with more qualms than the designers might have expected their players to have–they may be evil space kitties, but that doesn’t make me happy to blow up their home planet, for goodness sake. And then maybe I’ll head over to Women Gamers; I’ll be needing a new fix soon.