Ah, isn’t it tradition to look back on the last 12 months that always seemed to have flown by in these last couple of weeks of the year? It always feels so nostalgic, while in the beginning of the year, it doesn’t feel like nostalgia in the making simply by waking up in the early morning in the dark, when it is snowing, knowing there is not a free holiday up for at least two and a half months. But that same snow in the early morning in these days only makes you wish for a white Christmas, and everyone tries to drive carefully and we all still like it. The first day of work in the new year is filled with angry people cursing at the snow and the tail lights in front of them.
But lets not dwell on the future, as also I like to sometimes daydream away, when it is snowing outside in the dark. But let me drag you with me a little bit further back than the last three weeks. Not with a ‘best ever…’ or ‘The Top 10 things of…’ . Nope, just a look back, and let’s drag you back into the ’80s. Because right now there is a lot of discussion going on about violence and the connection with computer games, malware, attacks, mobile devices. To be honest, it sounds so hip… but really, it is just gotten so much better these days… but mobile devices, oh, they were around…
I can vividly remember the Wang and the IBM computers that got into our house in the late ’70s but mostly the early ’80s. My father had to test them out for his work at a major financial corporation and because of that, I was introduced to these machines early on. And what was so magical about them; they had games. True, you had to use a lot of imagination at that time to really make anything of these games like Zork, Castle, and I remember even playing Buck Rogers on one of the mobile IBM computers that we got at home. Mobile was indeed a big word at the time, since it did not mention it was lightweight; it was just able to move without having to hire Two Guys and a Truck. It was this beautiful 45lbs beauty of a full computer. Yes, you had to use your imagination to play games on it. Because not only was the screen crappy, even if the game had graphics, the fact that you were sitting behind this cinderblock that produced the noise of a wind-turbine while starting up a particle emitter, it just required you to forget about everything.
I did not care. I loved the sound of it. This magical box that could make stuff out of nothing. You type it in, and it will do it. Well, except for cleaning my room of course. But I loved those kind of computers back then. The big ones, with the giant keyboards that made that wonderful sound when you hit the keys; ‘Ka-zwoing!’ The feeling of those keys ‘hitting’, oh it worked. Picture that with Twitter or WhatsApp these days. A subway full of typing kids with those noises, hitting 100+ chars a minute.
I liked the games mostly. Not even the stories or the games themselves. But just able to use it. We had an old Atari game computer too – I even liked the E.T. game much that was considered the worse game in gaming history – but I liked anything with E.T. on it at the time. My copy never ended up on the land-fill in New Mexico, or Arizona, or wherever it was (Yes, I am too lazy to look it up at this moment). But back then, you had these floppy’s full, of 20 games fitting on 360kb disks. Of course, the quality of them showed that. Although you cannot ignore the power that Qbert had, or exploring Castle which let you wander around with ASCII characters. Woohooo! Go, Clubs! Kill the Hearts! Yes, that was violence in those times. I ‘offed’ my share of Spades in my time.
The fun part was that most of these games were simple. But they worked. And actually, that landscape was not so different from the app landscape that we had today. A lot of small casual games. Most of them crappy, but some hidden gems between them. Piracy was huge at that time. Relatively much bigger than it ever was. Especially growing up in Europe, there was no game market for computers. Everything came copied on floppy discs that you got from a friend. You did not walk into a store to buy them. And most of the games, though, the small casual ones, were often written even as a spare time project from someone up in their attics or basements. But they kept me busy.
The violence in games was there too, but like I mentioned in the reference to the ASCII game Castle, it was nothing to even worry about. To be honest, I still don’t worry about it, and it is not even about the recent publication of the studio proving no relation between violence in games to violence in real life. Even though this is a huge jump in the timeline, I killed myself bunches of Nazi’s in Wolfenstein 3D. But before that, which was the foundation that spring the First Person Shooter, violence in games was really more funny than anything you would even dare to call ‘realistic’. Oh, I remember the ruckus when Street Fighter 2 allowed you to rip the spine out of your opponents body, the head still attached. The horror! It was on the news, in the newspapers… the violence was so incredible and the kids were playing that. They might try it even in real life! Ehm. Yes. Sure. Just like with the massive mayhem about a ‘sex scene’ in Mass Effect, which showed much less of anything than an edited version of the Cosmopolitan – the media went wild. Argh! Kids amy seem two people show affection for each other! Of course, nobody who reported this on air ever played it, and probably thought the footage of the game was edited for prime-time on-air time, but no… that actually is the actual scene from Mass Effect. A lot to do about nothing. Just like Street Fighter 2. Not only was it pixelated, it was funny. There was no realism into it, and there was no kid around that would mix it up. But of course, that was also my biased vision; although I never liked playing the game.
Just like Carmageddon. Now, here was a game that could influence your driving style, because you could drive over people. Nice. Blood on your windshield, Nice. But it was not that weird that this all got such a bad wrap. There were not a lot of computers in the homes back then, and usually parents had no clue what their kids were doing on the computer. Oh, nothing even about the digital pornography, that had to be drawn onto the screen. No digitized photos at that time. Take a jump back to the original Leisure Sweet Larry game, or even Sierra’s try into the adult gaming world with Soft Porn. It was funny, even when I played it as a kid. There was no harm in it, and even compared to the edited edition of the Cosmopolitan… the latter one is a gazillion times more erotic. Not only that, for a lot of young adults at the time it was the only teaching they got about contracting STD’s or and how to prevent it – oh – and never to marry in a Quicky-Wed in Las Vegas.
I was mostly into the adventure games, but also the occasional RPG’s. Especially the Gold Boxes from SSI. So weird, how action games like Carmageddon or Street Fighter got such a bas wrap, while the RPG’s got you killing a lot more with so many different types of weapons, and nobody cared. Most likely this was because many of the parents at that time were known with RPG’s because of their huge popularity in the ’70s as the table-top paper game. Just like this generation’s parents will know the difference between violence in a game as part of the game (keep in mind, Pac-Man killed the ghosts, devoured them) and excessive violence just for the sake of it. Actually, most publishing houses now control that a lot better. I think with all the distribution channels in place, these days the quality of games is monitored much better than it was back in the day.
But even in the RPG’s the violence was hardly anything to worry about at the time. In adventure games it was almost non-existing at all. Although you might have to type your way out of a fight:
“The Ogre on the bridge eyes you angrily.”
“The Ogre growls in rage and runs towards you.”
“You have to fight it first.”
“The Ogre beats you up.”
“That does not compute.”
“The Ogre beats you up.”
>Bash Orgre with shield of awesome awesomeness.
“Your shield cannot do that.”
“The Ogre Beats you up.”
>KSFHADflS MF SHLH LJK HDLH LWJ EHLKWJE RHLKJWE RHWKJE HLKJ E!
“That does not compute.”
“You have died. Do you want to play again?”
Yes, now, that was realistic violence in the day. No wonder I was not prepared for bullying fights in my youth. I did not have a keyboard around to write my way out of it.
But to be honest, even checking it now. The games do look better, but actually, there is not a lot changed. You still have your casual games, the RPG’s and action games. Also filled with violence. Some realistic, some not. It just is as much as a part of (some) games as violence is in movies. I don’t worry too much about it, because most people see the difference anyway, and they can easily and peaceful sit at the diner table with Christmas after just playing a round of Call of Duty, socially passing along the gravy.
And wasn’t it Lord British who said about the box art of Ultima 8:Pagan : “Nothing spells Christmas as giving this box with a pentagram on the cover imbued in flames.”