Sunday, 4 January 2015

Geek Hour | Dancing with Gorbachov: In pursuit of graphics

Homer: 'How can you love a box or a toy or graphics? You're a grown man.'
- The Simpsons, 4F11: Homer's Phobia

When I went back home for Christmas, I had a chance encounter with my old Nintendo N64. It reminded me of the hours spent playing computer games as a kid, why I did it then, and why I do far less of it now.

Okay. I lied. It wasn't so much of a chance encounter, rather I searched the draws, wardrobes, and boxes until I found the thing. I also did the same for the Nintendo Gamecube, so my sister and I could keep up the Christmas ritual of a tense shouting session playing Mario Kart: Double Dash.

Damn those blue shells. Damn them all to hell.

Hey, this blog is entitled 'Geek Hour', you really can't complain if you're still reading.

The reason I really don't play computer games now is one of time and (strangely) a lack of patience.

Being self-employed, my time really is my money and some small voice always reminds me that spending the former on computer games won't result in the latter (he says, writing a blog on the very same subject).

I don't have the patience either. Honestly, I can't spend longer than ten or twenty minutes on any game before I get bored. My flatmate has a brand new PS4. When he went out, I picked up the controller, turned it on, watched the intro, and turned it off.

Maybe the internet has damaged my attention span to the point where thirty seconds spent watching a loading screen is still too long.

Or, perhaps, it's not a lack of patience at all. Perhaps, instead, computer games don't offer what they previously did.

When I was a child, I lived in a village. It was a fairly dull village (as all villages are for a kid) and computer games were one of the only escapes from reality available, especially when the damp dreary weather prevented us from playing in drainage ditches.

Now, I live in London. I'm an adult. There's plenty to do and, if there's not, I can always go to the pub.

There's also the issue of graphics.

Computer games are fast becoming photo realistic. Literally, moving images, where rain bounces off road surfaces, grass is blown by the breeze, and blood spurts from an enemies torso, coating the wall in a different pattern every time.

It's boring. It really is.

I remember those first computer games. Far from realistic. Never realistic. Not even an attempt. Sonic is an electric blue hedgehog in red trainers. Mario is a short Italian plumber who collects mushrooms and fights toadstools. What were they smoking?!

But, with every new console and every passing year, graphics crept ever closer to something that could be called 'realism'.

And we were spellbound. Revelling in the technological advances of the growing bits and appreciating the subtle differences between one game and the one that preceded it.

Roaring with Ryu and dancing with Gorbachov. Feeling the rush of the wind as we plunged towards the Arkhangelsk Chemical Weapons Facility. Wincing as King broke another arm, shedding tears as troops drowned storming the beach at Omaha.

I did warn you this was geek hour.

But now the realism is there each and every time. It's a given. Nothing to get excited about. The only thing left to do is add a faster car, a bigger gun, sign-up the image rights of another Premier League player, or see how many sequels you can squeeze out of a title until people get bored.

If I bought computer games now, they just wouldn't have the same appeal - the race to see the graphics that the first cut-scene had to offer.

I played Monument Valley on the iPad recently - a series of ludicrously addictive puzzles. As I downloaded the app and clicked play, my first thought was, 'wow, look at the graphics!'.

Fortunately for me, that was a thought no-one else on the Northern Line heard.

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