A history of my PC gaming addiction.
Here I am sitting on my couch, writing a paper on my TV. Word documents are not typically written on TV's; typically TV shows are consumed in this environment. Alright, there is nothing special about my television; it's just a cheap one I bought online (but it's half HD!) to save my roommates (err, me) some money. I don't particularly like watching television; I made do without one for some time, but part of the informal agreement with my roommates was that we pitch in to have a TV. Given this situation, I needed to come up with something to use the new television for - certainly not for watching cable, too many commercials and too few choices there. So, I built a computer for the purpose of connecting to the TV. Mind you, this is no ordinary computer; this is a solid gaming rig made of extra parts from my basement [crossfire 6850's, intel 520 SSD, intel i3-2125, Nzxt Vulcan chassis - altogether an odd assortment of spare parts, but a solid performer in games]. Oh, and it can play Microsoft Word and render Facebook all at maximum graphics, as it is right now.
Note the lack of anything console related in this description of my living room. My understanding from talking to most other humans is that this is an unusual setup. I'm alright with that though; Crysis [a graphically intensive first-person shooter] at all ultra graphics settings on a decent sized TV is something to behold. I'm a PC gamer. (And, I mostly fit the PC gamer stereotype. While I respect consoles and people who play them, it isn't an ecosystem that I could see myself getting into.) I study Computer Science at university, I build and sell computers for some money on the side, and I play PC games in my spare time. That's where I am at now, and that makes for a big part of who I am, but how did I get here?
Jump back to the mid 1990's. I am going to suggest it was my dad's resposibility for staying up well past my bedtime when I was a little kid playing Descent 2 on our old Pentium 133 machine. This game had just the type of mild violence - space ship flying - robot killing - asteroid mine exploring action game that could captivate a player all night.
Skip ahead 6 years or so and my family still has no cable, no N64, but a brand new PC, this time packing a Pentium 4 and an Nvidia GeForce 4 (wow!). For a still younger me, there was little more exciting than the possibility of getting to play the newest version of Microsoft Flight Simulator, or better yet, this brand new game called Battlefield 1942. I found the various flight simulators to be incredibly immersive in the same way that a kid is absolutely immersed when playing in a sand box or building with Legos. Then, Battlefield introduced me to the fast paced first-person shooter genre, now a staple of PC gaming.
For a number of reasons, mainly the prohibitive cost of big name games and computer hardware [for a teenager], I stayed away from these sorts of games for several years and got heavily involved in text based MMO's. Starting with Cyber Nations, an online nation simulator, managing and ruling my fictional nation became a daily activity. The simple action of "ruling" a nation however was not nearly as interesting as the politics that arose between (and within) the various alliances in the game. Becoming an active member of the NADC alliance and getting involved with the community were what I enjoyed the most about that game. In these sorts of very simple virtual worlds, it is not the game element that is captivating as much as the interactions between the people you meet. When my nation was all but destroyed in what I what I still consider an unjust war, it felt like a significant emotional loss, despite my friends reminding me it was only pixels on a screen. I went on to become deeply involved with the similar games, Lunar Wars and Galava with the Browncoats faction - a very close group of people fighting for freedom within fictional online universes. It is the work that one puts into those pixels on the screen and the relationships formed with real people in the process that made these types of games so meaningful to me.
After a while, I got past my MMO phase, and didn't play many games at all for a year or so. I think I even got good grades in school - certainly an interesting correlation there, but I think I will need to play some more games in order to test for causation.
Enter Minecraft. I had heard people talk about that game for a while, but I hadn't the slightest idea what it was or why the graphics were so anachronistic. On essentially a whim, I went to minecraft.net, bought the game (only $15 at the time! (for those following minecraft development, that would be about mid Alpha (for normal people, that would be about August 2010))). To say the least, I was immediately captivated. Finding myself in the midst of an unfamiliar world with absolutely no objective or instructions, the possibilities seemed endless. That was only the beginning of my adventures though (and end of my good grades in school); the real excitement started when I joined up with two of my friends on a multiplayer server they hosted. That you could build giant castles and be blown to smithereens by creepers [enemy in the game] with your friends thrilled me. If only the real world could be made of blocks that you could build with, I thought. Creating my own virtual world with my real world friends created an interesting bridge between reality and fiction. Eventually, I got further involved in the Minecraft multiplayer world and started my own server. I'll be writing another post on my experiences from that, but suffice it to say administrating my own public game server was one of the most educational, enjoyable, and stressful experiences I have had. It is one thing to build your own virtual world, but it is quite another to facilitate a fictional universe for other people. Like my previous phases, I eventually got out of multiplayer Minecraft, mainly due to technical issues with my home networking and ISP.
My personal computer through all of this was a Core 2 Duo iMac that was starting to feel older than the 16 pixel textures in Minecraft. It was time for an upgrade in a big way. I built my own gaming rig that I still use regularly gaming and distributed computing applications [currently an i7-990X with Crossfire 6950's]. This opened up multiple doors or multiple cans of worms for me depending on your perspective. I'm not sure if the desire to play the most graphics intensive games (example Crysis) motivated the necessity of such a computer, or if having such a computer compelled me to play nothing but the most intensive games. Either way, for the last year or so, I have invested large sums of both time and money into the latest PC games. Although I don't claim to be particularly good at it, my current favorite is Battlefield 3 Armored Kill - it is reminiscent of the original Battlefield 1942, while introducing creative new forms of gameplay and breathtaking visuals, and maintaining the adrenaline rush the genre is known for.
This brings me back to the computer powering my living room's entertainment. The common theme through all my teenage and young adult years has been the PC, either as a game system or as portal with which I can enter another universe. At least for right now, if I have to have a TV, it better play Crysis.