Games that ruined me as a human being.


Okay, so gaming doesn't make you a bad person, per se. But it can lead to a pretty antisocial lifestyle. 
 
I grew up an only child, so I was used to entertaining myself. I'm a lot more sociable now, but there are still times where I just want to hunker down for a weekend with my girlfriend and play video games. 
 
Either way, when I was growing up, I wanted to be involved in the games industry. Still kinda do, but that's another story for another time.  Looking back on it all, though, the two things I really loved as I grew up were books and video games. 
 
I did other stuff, hung out with friends - y'know, the whole normal growing up stuff. 
   
Either way, it was both a love of stories and narrative that had me follow a career in English, but as the years go by, I keep returning to video games as a singular mode of storytelling - capable of delivering some incredible memories that leave an incomparable emotional resonance that lingers for years.  These aren't things that happen to a character you identify with, these are things that happen - in part - to you.   
 
The games here aren't definitive exemplars of how it should be done, but the glimpses of brilliance I've experienced through them have set me off on this foolhardy path. Charging at windmills, trying to make a living in one industry where defining your marketable skills is almost impossible (English/Lit) and people are lined up 10 deep to break into to the other. (Video games)

List items

  • The early 1980s were an awfully claustrophobic time for PC gaming. I was just a wee lad and home computers were damn scarce. My mom managed to wrangle an 8088 through work. Looking back, it was pretty awful, but at the time, it was like we'd just stepped into the year 2010.

    They got around to giving me a quick primer on DOS and handed me Castle (along with a few other truly awful games).

    Castle Adventure was my first real taste of weird words and crazy fantasy settings. You're dumped in the main room with one objective: get out of the damn castle. Pick up some treasures if you see 'em.

    By the time I'd mapped out the whole castle, solved most of the puzzles and found most of the items, I was in kindergarten. I was the only kid in my town that could spell "scepter" , "crucifix", and "vampire".

    I've naturally played better games in my days. But there's something about the stark, ascii-based setting that's oddly comforting. It's probably why I sunk as many hours as I did into MUDs in high school, and why I still boot up Rogue and Nethack from time to time. Castle was my first taste, MY gateway drug into video games.

    When my buddies were playing Mario and stomping goombas, man, I was slipping on a necklace to protect myself from boobytraps.

  • I was going to leave this off this list, but I figure Sleuth deserved a shoutout. Just as Castle got me into spelling and reading, Sleuth got me into the gritty world of detetctive and noir stories. It was all very basic, but it still taught me how to spell "alibi" when I was seven.

    And, yeah, when Max Payne came along, I imagine Sleuth looked on proudly as I forced my way past the frustrating dream sequences, just so I could absorb more of the dark neo-noir storyline.

  • Never owned a console as a kid, really. My folks picked up a Genesis just as it was running out of steam. I still managed to score a few games and definitely had a blast with it, no question.

    And yeah, I owned Mortal Kombat games, too.

    Problem was, my buddies had all honed their skills while I was slaughtering Atreides in Dune II. There was no way I could catch up to them in terms of memorizing combos and special moves.

    Eternal Champions levelled the playing field. I was generally shit at fighting games, and my buddies weren't very familiar with it.

    Plus, the characters were just plain cool.

  • Wrangled hold of this from a friend of mine a year or so after it first came out.

    I sunk a stupid amount of hours into this game, and many other Westwood releases afterwards. Obviously they got better at it, and StarCraft might as well have out-RTS'd the masters, but those original few releases from Westwood consumed my young mind from the moment I laid eyes upon them.

    I loved the novels, and the movie(s) were okay, but this will remain the most perfect Dune experience, in my mind.

  • I've held Bethesda Softworks close to my heart for more than a decade. And this is where it started. Daggerfall was the first game to literally chew up entire weeks of my life, so that I barely remembered what I did. I existed more inside that world than I did outside of it.

    Sure, the game was buggy as hell. The random dungeon generator would sometimes generate nearly unplayable dungeons, and there were some serious gamestopping bugs.

    But the sheer mind-crushing depth of everything you could get up to... They still haven't rivalled it.

    Yeah, they've gotten better at it. And Oblivion, were it not for some seriously weird control choices, would've probably toppled this.

    I'll never forget waking up in the middle of the night with a vampire in my room, with no explicable reason than I seem to have cleared out a cave of the bastards a day or two beforehand. Then a week later I WAS a vampire.

    Up until that point, it was mostly shooters. Games with this kind of ambition just weren't around back then, and this was just a taste of what I'd always wanted from gaming.

  • When I was in grade 12, my computer shit the bed. Died, went kaput.

    I'd realized I wasn't going into computer programming by that point, so I wouldn't be able to justify sinking my savings into a new desktop quite yet, with University coming up fast.

    Went outside, started hanging out with friends. Met a girl, started dating her, and, alas, abandoned most of my gaming habits.

    We broke up around 2004, and the summer afterwards, I picked this up from EBgames. This was my re-introduction to gaming. My reminder of why I bother to upgrade my computer. Why games have the ability to suck me in for months at a time.

    The storyline in this game just goes fucking berserk, the conversations are nuts, and, really, playing through as a Malkavian is so, so worth the stupid amount of hours I sunk into this game.

  • There was a time as a kid that I wanted nothing more than to work at Bullfrog. It was what I wanted to DO when I grew up.

    I hauled ass through the original Syndicate, and even slogged through American Revolt's stupendously unfair campaign. I lost at least a solid month of my life, and can still recall the flamethrower mission on the east coast of Canada.

    The world was gritty and dark, and I was about 5 years away from finding and reading Neuromancer, or watching Blade Runner.

    When Syndicate Wars came out, though. All bets were off. I was beyond hooked. I'd close my eyes and see the flash of a nuclear grenade, the static roar of a bank imploding on itself, the odd crunch sound that indicated I'd just picked up a suitcase. The weirdo anime trailers playing on the video screens. So much about the game is just buried in my psyche I'm afraid I'll just start having flashbacks one day.

    I even fiddled around with the dos prompt mission selection and played through the abandoned Unguided missions, too.

    i hear whispers there'll be a sequel some day. Man. Don't know how I feel about that.

  • See above for my adulation of Bullfrog.

    The first game was my first contact, but as with Syndicate and Syndicate Wars... The second game just had so much more polish. And a sandbox mode.

    Being able to possess creatures and personally engage in the fight was amazing, and the dark gallows humour of your advisor... So much to love here.

  • Same comments here. The first System Shock was fucking mind-blowing. The sheer depth and variety of weapons, the crazy audiologs, the blood messages on the walls. The puzzles. It all fit so seamlessly. Mind you, I'd read Neuromancer by thiis point, and yeah, it was all coming together so well.

    I was actually on vacation with my folks when SS2 came out. I made them drop everything the day it was released and we hauled ass all over this unfamiliar city to find a copy of this game.

    I'd never been happier to get home from vacation.

    Admittedly, the difficulty curve was nasty as fuck. Especially because I pumped most of my points into hacking so that I could unlock all the games on my GamePIG and play that rogue-ish game while crouched in a science supply closet, listening as the hybrids stormed back and forth outside, muttering to themselves.

    The ending was goddamn haunting, and I'm still waiting for this game to get a sequel that'll do it justice (yeah, Bioshock was great, but I'd like to see more SHODAN)

    I can barely articulate the terror those exploding helper bots engendered in me. One time, I had a sliver of health, no hypos, a broken pistol and only anti-personnel ammo for my shotgun. I'm cornered on the second level of a nearly pitch-black warehouse, and somewhere out there is one of those bots, chattering merrily to itself.

    Still get shivers thinking about that. It's moments like that where it's no longer a game. It's approaching art.

  • This little-known French game really took me over.

    My buddy also picked up a copy of his own. It was probably my first contact with a game that would have a different progression of events for two different players. Not sure if certain plot points were just randomized or if it was more procedurally handled (probably the former) - but I remember fighting Zed being one of the toughest and craziest battles, while my buddy just found him dead in a gutter somewhere.

    The steampunk-based aesthetic was probably a few years outside of being cool, but I really, really got into this game and still wish I could find a way to make it work on my machine, just to play through again, see if things might play out differently for me.