Saturday, January 7, 2023

PCs and Me

 

                Like many people around my age, I was fascinated by the world of computers. The 70’s were over, and the tech revolution had begun. Computers were everywhere, on film, on TV, on display in store windows. Gone were the days of computers only being used in big business, or in dingey basements by hermit hobbyists. This was the future. The first time I remember getting to use a computer was possibly 1988 when they were introduced in our schools as learning tools. This is also how I was partly introduced to computer gaming using educational computer games in the classroom. This was my starter kit, my entry into the world of PC games. I’m sure the same can be said for many fans of PC gaming.

                In 1991, my dad’s job gave him a computer so he could do work from home. The computer in question was a beast of a machine, a brand-new IBM PS/1. When dad wasn’t using it mom took it over to play Solitaire and other card games. I didn’t use the thing much, as I only had access to the built-in tools or the few programs we had on floppy disk at the time. I wasn’t aware that video games existed outside of what was on my Nintendo Entertainment System or my Sega Genesis. I literally thought the only games for computers were the educational ones from school. Boy was I wrong.

                When I entered junior high in 1992, I took a test for and was placed in an honors program at my school. Part of their curriculum was a computer class. We were going to learn to program DOS. Our teacher was an old dinosaur of a PC nerd. Through the two years we took his class we learned from him that Bill Gates is evil, Windows was going to signal the end of the world, and user-friendly UI meant we were all getting dumber by the minute. Years later I ran a search for this man and found out he was once a prominent member of a hacking group in the 1970’s. If I had known all this back then I would have asked him so many questions.

                This teacher had so many things he hated about the world of computers. None bigger, though, than computer games. He threatened to write us up if he heard us talking about computer games in his class. This was maddening to me, since most of what I talked about at the time was pro wrestling and console video games. From the chatter in class, I knew PC games existed, I just didn’t know much else about them. Did they sell them in the store? There was mail order shareware? Well, how did that work?

                Little did we know that there was another computer teacher at our school. The regular school program had an introduction to computers class that taught you the very, very basics. It was taught by Mr. Carter, a young African American man. Around this time our school wanted to branch out and help keep kids off the streets, so they began after school clubs. I joined the chess club because I was already a sharp chess player. I learned that Mr. Carter had started The Computer Club. Oh, I had to join this too. I split my week between both clubs, but I enjoyed going to Mr. Carter’s club more.

                It was called The Computer Club, but it should have been called The PC Gaming Club. All we did was talk about and play computer games. He had all the best games, too. Doom, Wolfenstein, Civilization, Battle Chess, Prince of Persia, Sim City, Monkey Island… I had an absolute blast. After that, I was hooked. Where I usually saved up my allowance money to get a Sega Genesis game, that was replaced by saving up to get a PC game from Circuit City (where service is state of the art), or Comp USA. I owned Alone in the Dark, The 7th Guest, Eye of the Beholder (which sparked my love of RPGs), X-Wing, and a few others. This was quite the period for me. I rarely ever touch my Sega Genesis anymore. It was sitting on a shelf gathering dust.

                Mr. Carter eventually moved on to return to school to get his masters, thus, The Computer Club came to an end. But what didn’t end was my love for PC games. It got so bad that my dad eventually just gave me the computer and bought one on his own, since I was hogging ours all the time. Well, that’s what I thought. He told me years later he just wanted a Macintosh computer so he could tool around with it. By then his job had abandoned the idea of working from home. Things got so bad for me that I wasn’t hanging out with my friends anymore, and I wasn’t “socializing,” as my mom called it. That was her code word for talking to girls.

                I usually don’t tell this story because it doesn’t paint me in the best light. My mom was so concerned about me socializing that she set up a date for me for the fall dance in 7th grade. Her name was Amy, and she was the daughter of one of her co-workers. This girl was very pretty, and in hindsight, I should have been more receptive to her. My mom made a deal with me. If I took Amy to the dance, she would buy me this new game that I was wanting, System Shock. Well, of course I jumped at this deal. Where mom messed up is that she bought me the game before the dance, not after.

                What followed was me treating Amy like garbage, purposely trying to ruin the date so she could release me from my bonds, and I could run home to play the game. This girl didn’t give up on me for some reason. Once the dance settled in, I went off with my friends and she went off with hers. The one song we danced to was Erasure’s Always. It wasn’t too slow, but it had enough up-tempo that we could just casually groove to it. I don’t know when, but at some point during the night Amy ended up ditching me. Normally, I would be hurt by this. Instead, I was elated. I ran home, told my mom what evil Amy did, made some pizza bagel bites, fired up my computer, and played System Shock all night.

                From there things just got progressively worse for me. I delved deeper into PC gaming, spending most of my time in front of that computer screen. I eventually did get a girlfriend… somehow. While she wasn’t a PC nerd, she was a nerd in other ways. She was a learning nerd, huge bookworm, and an avid chess player. She was the top girl chess player in our school district. She whooped my butt every time out. The best thing about her, though, was that she had Internet access at her house.

                “You got any games?” I asked, as we sat in front of her family’s computer and logged on. She said no, but she knew of a site where we could probably find some. Thus began the era of me pirating games to floppies and rewriteable CDs. I was never proud of this moment, but as a broke high schooler, it was a necessity. It was how I was able to discover the not very well-known robot fighting game One Must Fall. The Internet is also how I was able to discover underground Hip Hop and independent wrestling, but that’s for another blog post.

                In 1996, I got a job at Burger King. My dad said he would get me a used Pentium PC if I put up half. I worked so hard to raise that money. I eventually got my 1996 Pentium PC. It was a sick beast. I used it to play Quake, Diablo, and Star Wars: Dark Forces. I was a huge Star Wars fan, and their PC games were very rare. I had Shadows of the Empire, and that game was great. Dark Forces wasn’t as good, but I was able to convince myself it was the greatest thing ever.

                During the summer of 1997 we got the Internet at home. The first thing I did was create a vanity website for myself. There I reviewed games, wrestling matches, and music. It was my little space on the Internet. It was also how I was able to justify spending absurd amounts of time playing video games on my computer. It was beyond extreme at that point. 1998 and 1999 went by and nothing had changed in my behavior. I was a video game addict… PC video game addict. It got so bad my girlfriend dumped me at the start of senior year.

                I had a job working as a bus boy at a fancy restaurant downtown. Lucky for me, the waitstaff shared their tips with me. I used these tips to feed my PC game addiction. I almost didn’t go to my high school graduation, as I was finishing up a Half-Life mod that had just dropped. My mom gave me the ultimatum of either go to graduation, or she was going to cut off my Internet. I walked the stage and attended a party with friends. The whole time I was having PC game withdrawals and was fiending like an addict. When my buddy finally took me home around 2am, I logged on and finished playing the mod. I was in a euphoric state… if I smoked cigarettes, I would have fired one up right then and there.

                One thing I do regret was missing out on the millennium NYE. Quake III had just come out and a new layer of my addiction was added, online gameplay. On December 31, 1999, I went to my job at the restaurant and worked my shift. While the restaurant wasn’t slow, it did die down quickly. Everyone wanted to get out on the town for NYE. Around 10:30pm we were completely dead. My manager let everyone go home. My co-workers wanted to go to a bar to ring in the new year. I was invited, but I declined as I claimed I had to get home and babysit my younger brother. I went and grabbed a pizza, some wings, and a six pack of soda from Dominos, went home, fired up the PC, and played Quake III while listening to Art Bell’s NYE show. That’s how I rang in the new millennium. The lights blinked at midnight, but that was it for good ol’ Y2K. It was a fun night, but still, I regret not ringing in 2000 properly. I regret missing out on a lot because of gaming at the time. I told myself that if it wasn’t PC gaming there would be another vice I would have used as a scapegoat for me not doing things. This is true, because after I shed my PC game addiction, wrestling took over my life completely.

                Life went on after all this. In early January the restaurant I worked at went belly up, and I was out of a job. I started working two jobs, one part time at A&W Restaurant and a full-time gig at Whataburger. The A&W job was the most dangerous because it was in the mall, and I was a hop, skip and a jump away from EB Games. EB sold a lot of PC games, and I was in there hanging out on my time before and after work. It was after the summer that I was talked into enrolling in college. I took classes in computer science, urged on by the thought that I would be in the world of computers. Little did I know that Diablo II was just around the corner.

                Diablo II consumed my life, so much so that my grades began slipping and I spent more time playing that game than doing anything else. I even missed work a few times because I was too busy playing. I was put on academic probation and eventually dismissed from college. This was a huge wake up call for me. I didn’t know what to do, only that I was addicted to computer games. It was then that I decided to just quit cold turkey. I sold all my games to a buddy of mine. I kept my PC because it was my one way to get online and do stuff. Things started looking up for me, and by April of 2001 I had my first real job working on computer maintenance for the JC Penney logistics center.

                The years went by. Aside from playing friends’ console games, I was completely done with gaming. At one point I did have a roommate who was hooked on World of Warcraft. I saw similar behaviors in him that I saw in myself, including using the entire weekend to game. He would buy two loaves of bread and two Diet Coke two liters and locked himself in his room for the weekend. It was so strange. I rarely ever saw this dude.

                With things starting to look okay for me, I picked up a cheap copy of Star Wars: Knights of the old Republic. I played it for a while but didn’t lose my entire mind playing it. Moderation was key. Unlike before, I didn’t have withdrawals from not playing the game when I was away from my computer. This was a good start. I dug a little deeper and played some more games. No harm. Then I came to the realization that the graphics had gotten so good in PC games that I needed a souped-up rig for them to look halfway decent. I had the knowledge on how to build a PC, but pricing things in 2007 I noticed that it would take too much money and effort to build such a computer. I then opted for the less outrageous Xbox 360. I did my research and got the Elite model, which didn’t have the red ring issues that the other models were having. I played so much Halo 3 and so much Gears of War that I got good at them and started entering local tournaments. Then I noticed that there were so many other good games on Sony PlayStation that I had to run out and get one of those, also a Nintendo Wii.  

                Yes, friends, for the first time since 1993 I was a console gamer again. My reason for leaving this realm in the first place was because I noticed that PC games were always a notch above games on the Genesis or Super NES. That was no longer the case by 2007, as both console and PC were on equal footing. The only way they could stay on equal footing, however, was with multiple part upgrades to the PC every few years. So, for my games to look as good on PC as they do on Xbox, I’d have to shell out a couple thousand bucks every few years. Yeah, that was gonna be a no for me, dawg.

                From this point on I did games journalism as a career. It was 2011 and I had quit my job as a quality assurance supervisor at AT&T and returned to college full time, while writing and podcasting about video games. I turned a hobby into a career, and I think I did good at it. The only PC gaming I did was on a low end dinkey laptop I had purchased to write my term papers on. While I never quite became disillusioned with video games, the industry itself began to wane on me. I attended the conventions, the parties and made some good friends in the process. It was just time to move on from that whole world.

                Video games are a hobby, and they should be viewed as such. My problem came from video games turning into work. I miss those days of turning on my computer or console and just getting lost in the game. These days I stream on Twitch, using a good gaming computer a friend sold me for cheap. It was so cheap I couldn’t pass it up. I stream older games, mostly, choosing to focus on games I’d either played when I was younger, or games I wanted to play and missed out on during my PC gaming hiatus.

 

I would say that life in general was easier when I was younger and had only these games to play, but I feel I stepped away at a good time because I was being overwhelmed with keeping up with the latest games and ignoring the world around me. Also, I think this was happening during a strange transitional period in my life. I was getting older and personal issues going on affected my general outlook on the world. I drowned myself in these PC games because they seemed to be a way out. I’ve since learned to take things one day at a time to not get completely overwhelmed. Now, if you need me, I’ll be in my bedroom playing Diablo III.

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