Computer games were important to me long before I found the web. I used to stay up late playing games alone, I used to play them with friends, I used to listen to music and play games, I learned about technology and literature and history a little through games.
My earliest gaming experiences were on an Apple II+ - I loved Taipan and Oddessy. At Donnan's house, I used to play Wizardry. It was enormously primitive, in terms of the graphics and sound. No more than beep beep, a few line drawn hallways and some 4 or 8 color excitement in monsters or treasure. But within those walls was my chance to make a story.
Sir-Tech's Wizardry '81
Some of my computer game playing was rooted in pen and paper role playing games - I played Car Wars before I played Autoduel, and with Donnan, it wasn't much of a leap to go from Dungeons & Dragons to Ultima.
Then my brother Colin got a PC XT, and I played games on that constantly; mostly the old Sierra Games and Origin titles. It wasn't until I had my own computer, and I got a job at Software Etc that I really began gaming in earnest.
The price of the average computer game has remained at about $35-50 for the last ten years, making it expensive for anyone to do a broad survey of the literature of computer games. You can pirate games, but that is actually pretty hard work to keep up with all the releases with a cheap modem/computer. I found a software lending library when I worked at a computer software store - Software Etc. from 1989 to 1991 allowed me to borrow games. They had a liberal employee loan program, and I took home nearly every game for the IBM PC that came out between 1986 and 1991.
Interplay's Neuromancer '88
Playing games was fun. My peers in 8th grade typing class were pretty impressed by Leisure Suit Larry at least. My friends and I would spend entire weekends in one dungeon in Bard's Tale; mostly at Andrew Mayer's house, on his AT&T computer with a green and black monitor.
Leisure Suit Larry
Eventually my Mom got me my own computer and I played games on it constantly. It was a IBM PS/2 Model 30 - with a 20 megabyte harddrive and 256 colour MCGA graphics. I really loved the BattleTech games and Circuit's Edge from Infocom (when they went graphical) and seemingly every simulator from Microprose - especially Sea Rogue, Covert Action, Sword of the Samurai, Darklands and Civilization. Accolade's Third Courier was in a similar vein, but it was too hard. I would have played a lot of MechWarrior, but I had an MCGA graphics card and I couldn't play EGA games until I got a 386.
Infocom's Battletech '88
My Dad died when I was young, but we read books like Treasure Island and the Hardy Boys together. These games, the Microprose games listed above in particular, they seem very much to me like the modern electronic incarnations of those young male fantasies my father offered me in books - inside the life of a pirate, a samurai, a soldier, a secret agent.
Activision's MechWarrior '89
I took a bit of a computer game haitus when I took up a Macintosh - though I played a lot of Warlords, Escape Velocity and Marathon to be sure.
Westwood's Dune II '92
After my Mac was stolen at gunpoint, I returned to the PC platform and did a literature survey, old titles like Dune II which I'd never played before, as well as old favourites like "Mean Ugly Dirty Sport" (I knew it as "M.U.D.S.") - a 1989 PC game by a german company Rainbow Arts: build a team of aliens to play rugby. So funky and fun and weird! And since it takes some work to get it functioning in modern Microsoft Windows, it feels like I'm unearthing some rare media artifact whenever I boot it up and become enthralled again by the squealing alien rugby players.
I play games for fun, and to write articles about them. Now that gaming is so popular, there are many questions in the media about violence in video games. I considered Grand Theft Auto and Carmageddon 2 and had a fair amount of fun doin' it.
Carmageddon 2 '99
Computer games are coming to resemble the popular cinema. Westwood's BladeRunner uses real actors digitized to tell stories and provide expansive cut-scene movies between scenes of gameplaying. Still, is it any more engaging? I put a lot more hours into Circuit's Edge - it made me want to be a game designer. Maybe it was a function of youth!
Still there's something charming about games made by smaller staffs - Roller Coaster Tycoon is a great example of that. The idea is clearly close to the designer's heart and since he was one of three people to put the game together, there's perhaps less love lost.
I'm intrigued by simulators - be it city simulators, hospital simulators, transportation network simulators - there such a dense array of games that offer you company experiences managing real world entities. It seems like a great way to learn (Roman city life, for example, in Caesar III) and a fascinating vision of the world to come. Imagine if all those simulators were interlinked, that people would be at their terminals running their cities adjacent to each other which people simulating businesses occupied them, or ran the subway system for the mayor. Balancing an army of recreational control freaks -
Caesar III '99
Role playing-type games can suck up a lot of time - they often entail literally dozens or even over a hundred hours to solve. I didn't get that far through Rage of Mages, though I did appreciate the costumes. Might & Magic VI I spent more time on but it ended up being much of the same activity - point and slash monsters and loot. You start wondering, what am I learning here?
In 1999 I thought electronic gaming needed some better writing and analysis and so I should at least study it and maybe offer some more nuanced analysis, citing culture external to games in my writing, and the game history I knew. I quickly discovered there was much about the medium and the industry that I didn't know, fortunately I found a way to go to graduate school in gaming; working at a web site covering every type of game ever made. From 1999 to 2001 I worked as PlayStation Editor, Features Editor and Director of Innovation at Gamers.com. From there I ended up attending E3, Game Developers Conference, Classic Gaming Expo, and academic conferences on gaming at MIT and USC. And "unplugged" gaming conventions like DragonCon, GenCon and Origins.
The company ran out of money sending miscreants with cameras around the country to report on gaming culture on a free-for-all web site. But during that time I met some fantastic folks and was able to join a conversation about games and game culture.
Between 2001-2003, I traveled to Japan, researching mobile gaming and video gaming culture there. In 2002 I helped start Game Girl Advance with Jane. And in 2004, I enrolled in a fully-accredited graduate school in video game design, USC Interactive.