I only really have one story, I suspect that most of us do really. Everything that I have every done, every decision made, every friendship made (and lost) and everything that has lead me to where I am now can be seen as merely an echo of, or a reaction against, that story. It’s why Space Invaders is such an important game to me and, more than that, it’s why videogames have been my constant companions through the hard times and the good. This isn’t just Why I Love Space Invaders, this is Why I Love Videogames.
It starts, as the best stories do, far far away and a long time ago. My mother went off to Australia to seek her fortune (or just to escape her past, same difference) back in the mid-sixties where, over the course of three years or so, she met my father, had me, got married and then divorced. That’s not my story, I’m neither the first or last bastard child to be born into my family – indeed, we’ve made something of a habit of it, but it’s all the background you need to understand the next bit.
So, there was my mother, sitting in Melbourne with a toddler but otherwise alone, when she receives word that her father is ill. What’s a girl to do? This was before air travel was cheap and easy, and the only trips to the antipodes that were possible back then were, of necessity, one-way. She made the tough choice, sold up what little she owned, filled a single suitcase with clothes and other essentials and ran home with her tail between her legs. Her father recovered and subsequently lived a long and healthy life, but we were now stuck back in the UK with no roof over our heads, no job and not much choice other than to move back in with my maternal grandparents. I was just shy of three years old and this is where my story begins…
I was three years old, in Watford, with an Australian accent and not much else to my name. My grandparents or, more specifically, my Grandmother resented my presence in a home just recently vacated by all her children, I didn’t understand why everything was so cold, everyone talked funny and all my toys had mysteriously disappeared. It’s fair to say that I was somewhat confused by the situation – family myth tells several tales of me packing my cases and leaving to go ‘home’, although I don’t remember ever getting very far.
In the absence of any friends or siblings to play with, nor of very much in the way of adult supervision since my mum went out to work during the day, I learnt to read. Family myth again; My mum left for work one morning and when she came home I was reading. I doubt if it was that quick (I suspect that she just didn’t notice what I was up to) but certainly, by the age of four I was working my way through whatever books we had in the house. My mum joined the library when I started reading Arthur Hailey and started asking inappropriate questions.
Years passed. I grew taller but still shunned, or was shunned by, the neighbourhood kids. I was the boy with the funny accent who always had his nose in a book and they were the rough lot who played games I didn’t understand and shouted a lot. I retreated further and further into my own little private world – too scared of further abandonment and loss to talk to, let alone trust, anyone. I craved play, I wanted to play games, but with no-one to play with I was reduced to inventing games to play on my own – sad little solo versions of Monopoly, Chess and 101 variations of Patience.
And then, towards the tail-end of the decade, Space Invaders arrived with a thud right in the middle of my self-imposed solitude. Space Invaders was a promise to the lonely lost child that I was, that perhaps I still am, that I would never be completely alone again. That the act of playing, denied to me by my seclusion, was available again. Here was a way for me to play – without playmates – all I needed was 10p.