What I think about when I talk about Videogames…

You’ll have noticed that I don’t actually play as many games as a gaming blogger probably should.

But that’s okay. Really. I’m not really here to play videogames, much as I’d like to, I’m here because…

Well, that’s a good question isn’t it?

What are  videogames then, and specifically what are they to me?

Videogames are escape, they’re a way to be somewhere, something, someone else for a while. That’s true of books, films and TV too, of course, but it’s also true of talking, thinking or writing about those things.

Videogames are reminders of simpler times, when actually all that I had to worry about was a particularly thorny room in Jet Set Willy – even if I didn’t fully realise that at the time. Discussing this stuff connects me back to my younger self, the portrait of the gamer as a young man.

Videogames are release. When life just gets too much, and all you want to do is punch something, hurt someone or just generally let go. Well, isn’t it better to let those feelings out on a digital fire-breathing imp than an actual living, breathing, human?

Videogames are fun. And there’s precious little of that in life sometimes. And thinking of fun things is almost as much fun as doing fun things.

Videogames are mental exercise, they’re certainly less soporific than binge-watching Buffy. I’m a programmer by trade, and the skills I learnt in Pac Man, Tetris and Civilisation are with me every day, even when I’m solving much less interesting puzzles involving fiscal futures.

Videogames are friendships forged through a shared experience. Honestly, some of my best friends are those I’ve met through a mutual appreciation of Robotron, Manic Miner or Zelda – although, oddly perhaps, we rarely play games when we’re together. We’re too busy getting on with the general business of friendship.

And of course, there are the friends who are no longer with us. The ghosts in my replay data and friend lists. High scores that can never be improved on and idiot AI replications of dead friends endlessly interrupting live sessions, a combination of sweet memories and bitter sense of loss.

So, you see, videogames and the conversations, friendships, occasional rivalries and general shenanigans that surround them are a major, perhaps THE major, constancy in my life. They are me, and I them.

Videogames? Just for kids? Yeah, right.

So, What’re ya playin?

I started a new job a little while back. It’s always an odd time – you don’t really know the people you work with yet, who’s good for a beer on Friday, what to talk about at the tea point, how much do I have to pretend to know about football in order to fit in, but most of all, for us, when to introduce the little secret of the dirty videogame habit…

This time round, I’d laid the groundwork a bit – I’d mentioned the arcade collecting in interview, arranged a few slightly geeky figures on the desk, conspicuously played the Vita at lunchtime, so at the Christmas meal, when asked what I did with my spare time (what fucking spare time? I’ve got kids) I casually dropped in that I played videogames. Job’s a good’un, done, time to move on.

“Oh, what are you playing at the moment?”

Ohshitohshitohshit. A loaded question, and one I never seem to have a good answer to. Like being asked who your favourite band is, or which films you’ve liked recently.

See, I don’t play that many games. Not really. The aforementioned split between work, partner, kids, parents, chores and every other demand of the early 21st Century doesn’t really leave much room for gaming.

I think about games a lot, I read about them and I even write about them. But how much do I play them?

See, the likes of Witcher, Skyrim and Fallout are right out of the equation – 100 or more hours of my time to complete the main stories would probably take me right up to the door of retirement. Even your Destiny, Titanfall and Battlefront, with their demands to be online at a particular time are tricky, fine games that they all are – hey, how about starting that raid at 11pm guys? Guys? Come back? Where are you all going?

Hell, complicated life stuff means that half of my consoles aren’t even plugged in at the moment. The Wii U is sat in a desk without a monitor (god bless that off-TV play) which means that I can plough through Zelda (again?) or finally finish off Pikmin 3, but the glorious Splatoon is no good. The Xbox and Playstation take rotations under the telly, but time reigns supreme. So many of the games that are worth playing on those are just timesinks. I mostly download the PS+ and Gold freebies and play Peggle. Or, if walking even counts then Pokemon Go is probably my most played game.

Not very cool really.

In answer to the original question, I muttered something about Red Dead Redemption and the conversation moved on. My secret is out, and I’ve found a couple of like minded people in the office to waffle on about the Nintendo Switch to. That’ll do.

But, must make more time for gaming… Not just talking about, writing or reading about, but playing. Having recently invested in a pair of grips, the Vita is getting a lot more attention – there are a lot of gems on Sony’s little device, let down mostly by the frankly dreadful ergonomics of holding the damn thing.

And yes, maybe try and find 100 hours or so to catch up on Witcher 3… I’ll come back to you in 2034 with my findings…

Pre-order

I do it every time a new console gets announced. PS4, Xbox, New (new) Nintendo 3DS, whatever… Head straight to Amazon and slap the pre-order in, get in quick to ensure the allocation and then head off and forget about it. That way I get to stay in my nice warm house and don’t have to queue up in the cold…

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Because this doesn’t look like fun…

Half the time, of course, I end up cancelling before the launch – sensibility rears its ugly head, life gets in the way, the kids need new shoes, the car blows up, whatever. Something happens and that £300 that I had earmarked for the new shiny thing gets used somewhere else.

It doesn’t matter, I’m still in the game. Quite often these days, what with kids and cars and life and work and love, the anticipation phase is the only time I really get involved with a new console – for those few weeks, whether I eventually buy in or not, I’m in the same boat as everyone else. I can read the reviews, look at the preview videos, dream about the possibilities and no-one can take that away from me.

So, of course, this is a roundabout way of talking about the Nintendo Switch.

At the time of writing, the pre-order is still in, albeit having reduced down to a single game (no prizes for guessing which one). Yes, Splatoon 2 looks like a shoo-in later on this year, and yes I’ll probably stump up for Mario Kart (again) next month, but right now, 1-2 Switch just looks like the pack in game that never was and nothing else really grabs my attention. Maybe that will change.

But one thing strikes me about the Switch and it’s the reason why that pre-order is hanging in there, with one week to go…

VR.

The switch could be the Trojan Horse that finally makes VR mainstream.

It’s as simple as that in my mind, I really want a VR system that actually works, but existing systems are all tethered by wires, need ridiculously expensive hardware (even the PS4/VR solution would come in at close to a grand from a standing start) or just make too many compromises with controls.

A Google Cardboard style headmount for the Switch could be The One. The console itself is already wireless and standalone, the Joy Grips would be perfect for VR (motion controlled, haptic feedback, independent left and right, small enough to hold in a fist) and the only thing missing would be a positional sensor (like, for instance, the original Wii/Wii-U motion bar). Nintendo have form and they have 90% of the hardware solution in place…

So, yes, all conjecture at the moment, but in the mean time the base proposition of seamless movement from home to handheld is a good fit for my current gaming.

So my pre-order stays in.