Monday, June 6, 2011

The Genesis: My Life in Games

E3 officially began today, and even if I weren't gearing up for an internship at Kotaku, and even if I weren't working for 3DSBuzz, and even if I weren't dating a ginormous gamer... I would be tuned in all week long.
This is the second time I'm following E3 with any kind of regularity (live broadcast from the G4 network makes that kind of thing really easy...) and every time I am immersed in video games or nerdyness like this, I start thinking about my own history as a nerd and what makes this nerd culture that has become oh-so-very-hip so important to my personal history.
I have to make a confession.  I am terrible at video games.  I haven't read many comic books.  I didn't own a gameboy until I was in about 7th grade. I know most of what I know about superheroes from movies that came out in the past ten years.
By all non-nerd definitions of what it means to BE a nerd, I am a poser.
But by the definitions of the people I know and love and who (at the very least pretend to) know and love me too, that couldn't be further from the truth.
The nerd world is the only one where I fit in, it's the only place I've had to TRY to get better at things, and to learn, and the only place I've ever been challenged.
I am, honestly (I promise you this has absolutely nothing to do with humility) trash at every video game I have ever played, unless i devote countless hours to it.  It took me two years to beat Kingdom Hearts, and that was after I gave up and used the guidebook. So good for me--I know how to read.
But that doesn't mean I'm not going to keep trying. Regardless of what I might say mid-game, I will not stop playing lego games until I complete them.  I will not put down Super Mario Galaxy (I know, I know. 2007. Get off my case...) until I can 100% that bastard.  I WILL. keep rocking out. in rock band.
Now this is me on a good day.  Catch me on a bad one, and you'll probably have to pry the xbox controller out my hands before it goes flying. And there are certain games I simply won't play anymore, like Left For Dead, and any game that has Halo in the title.
Part of the problem is (and don't a single one of you take this the wrong way) the people I play with.  That is to say that there is a HUGE learning gap (part of it, I will admit, is due to practice, but another part I'm still convinced is the fact that I'm just inept) between myself and my lovely game partners.  This means co-op has literally never been co-op for me.  Unless I'm playing with my Mom, every other person I have picked up a controller against or with has been running ahead while I'm almost literally trying to catch my breath to keep pace.  It's one of the reasons I love farmville, and sims, and the Movies.  I can deal with those games, because they require nothing more (except maybe Movies, which requires some knowledge of the movie industry and a little bit of history...) than time and a touch of OCD.
I like RPG games, too, because it doesn't matter how long it takes me to beat Oogie-Boogie... I'm not holding anyone back. And maybe I just hit on why I've always loved Dead Rising, but hated Left For Dead.  It's not the first person shooting that bugs me... it's the other people playing.
This all makes me sound incredibly anti-social and that's not at all what I mean, because I love playing video games with other people.  I just always feel a twinge of suckiness re: how atrociously bad I am at every game I've ever picked up.
So what keeps me coming back? Is it a sick over-developed sense of masochism? Is it some kind of feeling of pandering to all those other folks who are that much better than me?
I think that it's the challenge.  Like I said, the nerdy world is where I've always been challenged, and felt the need to push myself further.  That extends from the video game and comic book world out to the nerdy literary world from whence my BA originated.  I love to read, I love to write (one would hope) and I love to learn.  Where is a better place to learn that somewhere where your skill sets and knowledge base are so low?
I love Chaucer because he's hard to learn and so much fun to unlock.  I love science fiction because the rules get reset every time you start exploring a new world. I love video games, because they're not. easy.
When I was a kid a few things happened that changed the way I learned and thought about the world around me.
1. I found out I was smart. Really smart.  Couldn't see my score card from the standardized tests I had to take in school, because then I would go bragging about the score to my "friends."
Of course, what I didn't know (and I wish someone had told me) is that standardized tests don't count for shit, and that unlike some other things, if you don't use it, you lose it. Or at least it doesn't develop.
2. I found out other people knew I was smart.  Specifically people who graded my homework.  And those people always wanted me to prove how smart I was, when really all I wanted to do was create plays for my American Girl dolls on this awesome computer game I had that would take forever to explain.
3. I found out If I put off my homework long enough, I could stay home from school for a day.  I could complete that homework in one day, and trick my teachers into thinking I had worked hard on something that mostly I just let my Mom do for me.
4. I gave up.  Based on my discoveries (coupled with hormones taking over my brain and middle school encroaching on my horizon) I decided that it wasn't worth it to be smart any more.  I was going to stop trying, and trick my teachers again- but this time into thinking that I had somehow gotten dumber.  Rushing on those standardized tests was a great start.  But I did it too well, and was given a note by my teacher, instructed to hand it right to my mom without reading it.  Right.  I suffered a "surprising change in attitude and aptitude" and the teacher wanted to speak with my Mom after school the next day.

And so began my long and arduous journey from the bottom back up to the top.  My Mom tried scolding me, but trying to scold a kid whose problem is lack of motivation can NOT be easy.  Go ahead.  Punish me.  Turn off the television. Oh no.  I guess I'll just read.
And try yelling at me for reading, when what you're trying to get me to do is... read. Yeah. Catch 22.
I may not have been getting into trouble, but I definitely wasn't doing what I was supposed to.
So there I was, eleven years old and trying not to try.
But Middle School was so cool! We were learning about mummies and volcanoes and reading about dragons. I couldn't help doing my homework.  But it's okay. that only took three years, a giant technology exit project, and a handheld Yahtzee game to wear off.

And that's when I started playing video games again.
It all seems pretty simple, but I promise you it's not.

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