When you meet someone new, and you get together, you want to share a lot of your lives with each other. S and I both enjoy walking, we met at a Photography Society social, we both like reading (although we don’t entirely share the same tastes), we like cooking, we want to know more about wine than we do, we want to drink more wine than we do, et cetera, et cetera, and that all said we can quite happily while away plenty of time with each other.
We both also have some things which we do not have in common. I sing a lot, for example. S will happily come to the odd concert or service but I think it’s fair to him to say that it’s hardly his favourite thing to do, and I have to remember when we talk about music that we each mean totally different things by words like ‘sharp’ or ‘tone’. But he’s curious, and happy to discuss music, listen to me sing and he even tries to take me seriously when I tell him I think his voice is a lot better than he thinks it is.
S, meanwhile, likes playing computer games. I have never really played games. We had a Playstation when I was younger but I always spent less time on it than my sister did and I think it’s fair to say that it doesn’t come naturally to me. I think I’m worse at it than Dara O’ Briain (watch this video from about 5 minutes in, especially the bit about Metal Head or Gear Head or Metal Head Gear or whatever it’s called – a) it’ll have you in stitches and b) now you know how I game).
I try, I really do. S comes up with games that he thinks we can probably play together, and I can’t even get the hang of walking in a straight line. It’s a bit like the time he took me kayaking, except that I think it’s probably fair enough to find your first time in a kayak, being chased by swans, rather challenging…! Did I tell you about the swans?
The thing is, I know we can’t be the only couple with this problem. He talks about the games he plays, and watching him play them, I can understand why they interest him. It’s not about shooting lots of people – or aliens! – spilling lots of blood and carrying out the kind of violence that would in real life make most people baulk massively but, according to the Daily Mail, is pretty much the sole explanation for rape and violent crime today. It can be about a lot of things. Puzzle solving, clever sniping, getting together lots of different bits of information from a whole host of different characters and then completing helpful little challenges for each of them at the same time. Games seem, to me, like they can be really immersive, imaginative landscapes and I’ve seen some scenes in games get genuinely and believably emotional as you approach the climax and inevitably your right-hand man (or woman) dies, or you have to choose to save one group of people at the expense of another, or whatever it might be.
I’m not about to say they have a place at the Sundance Festival, deserve shortlisting on the Booker Prize list, or anything like that – I don’t know enough. There are some great indie games out there (more innovative but lower-budget games from independent bodies rather than the big games manufacturers), and some great blockbusters. Respected actors voice characters, orchestras I’ve heard of play the musical scores. Gaming is not necessarily what you thought it was, if, like me, you’re an outsider.
So it’s an interesting new avenue of entertainment. But the games that I find most interesting are not games I can play. I can’t move with any level of ease – I have to think really hard to remember to make sure my character is facing in the same direction that he or she is travelling in. I can never remember which buttons I need to use to get out items or weapons, to perform actions (such as opening boxes or doors) or to look at maps and other options. I press buttons frantically and end up doing things with dire consequences completely by accident.
In multiplayer games, to be honest I’m not always sure which of the people on the screen is ‘me’. A character will run in the direction I’m pressing, and then do something really clever and I think ‘ooh, how did I do that’, before realising that I’m actually the little character in the corner, desperately trying to run through a wall. So I don’t have the co-ordination to ever do the right thing, I struggle to remember which buttons do what, how to find menus for things my character ‘owns’, or things like ‘maps’ or other options, and I can’t really tell what’s going on on the screen all the time – which little flashing light or number tells me what, what’s going on in really confusing scenes with lots of characters and lots of things happening, and it all comes so naturally to S that he can’t always understand why I don’t already know what’s happened, whether or not I levelled up, or whether one of my guns is a sniper rifle or not.
So we stick to fairly simple games – we found a good fun racing game to play called Split/Second where by driving well and by ‘drifting’ you can earn the power to then alter the track, which either has terrible consequences for fellow drivers or opens up handy shortcuts you can take. We’ve been playing Lego Harry Potter, which I still find pretty confusing but I can at least keep up with what’s going on. We tried Borderlands 2 and I really enjoyed that but kept dying impossibly often. We tried Portal 2. That may have been the worst. I was never facing the right way, I could never jump onto moving platforms in time, I couldn’t always work out what I was seeing in order to work out what needed to happen…
So the games I can play – Lego Harry Potter and Split/Second – might be simple to play but they are also simplistic. Lego Harry Potter is in essence similar to the few games I played as a ten-year-old on that playstation. Split/Second is a racing game, and that’s all there is to it.
Sometimes we look for free puzzle games on the net – a good example being a genre called ‘room escape’ games, which are all about putting together clues, almost like one of those Usborne books, where you have to piece together lots of little visual clues around a room, pick up objects and work out where they go, and do things in the right order in order to work out how to make the door open so that you can escape the room.
But that doesn’t avoid the point that there aren’t many games out there that are enjoyable in terms of having a good plot or challenging your brain or being emotionally mature and realistic, while also catering for people like me who haven’t been playing games since they were seven, and don’t have the familiarity to know that ‘A’ (or whatever) is almost always ‘jump’.
I’m interested in games, I really am. I’d just really like to see some games that are simple to play but also interesting. I want to maybe have one weapon, and the option to jump, and for that to be it, and then the game itself to be engaging in and of itself so that I want to get better at the co-ordination and become good at moving around. I suppose I do want Portal, really, I just want it to be… easier.
There must be plenty of us – and let’s be honest, we’re probably mainly girls – who haven’t done the gaming thing before, but our boyfriends do, and we can see why it’s interesting. We’re a market of people as yet to be got – people who want serious games for people who don’t know how to game and who didn’t have the apprenticeship of having a Sega or an N64 or all the consoles that came afterwards, and are suddenly faced with these huge-scope, complicated, beautiful, intriguing PC games which are essentially made for people who are already experts in the field.
It’s as if S suddenly really wanted to become a classical singer, except that if he did, there’s plenty of easy music he could sing that’s out there, that would sound nice, that wouldn’t be nursery rhymes, and that would teach him how to be a better singer. At the moment I’m effectively being asked to choose between singing Three Blind Mice or the entirety of Tosca, with apparently very little to choose in between. So who’s making those games, and where can I find them?