Tuesday, September 29, 2015

COLUMN: Video Games

I received an interesting e-mail this week.

"You mention video games quite a bit in your column," it read. "As a fellow aging gamer, I'd be interested to know what your all-time favorite video games are."

Okay, so maybe it wasn't THAT interesting an e-mail. But it DID get me thinking all week about video games of yore.

I don't really consider myself to be a "gamer," though. I suppose I've played my fair share of video games. I spent my adolescence in the throes of geek culture, and that never really went away. I'm 44 years old and have no shame in admitting that I own an X-Box, a Playstation, and a Wii. I don't care if I'm over the hill, video games are fun.

But the ugly truth is that I generally stink at playing them. I don't think I can call myself a "gamer" unless I've got decent skills, and I've never been that good. Video games require dexterity, patience, perseverance, and reflexes -- all things I lack. When I pick up a game, I'll play it until the first time I get stuck, at which point I either (a) find a walk-through and cheat my way through, or (b) give up and move on. I like gaming, but I'm no gamer.

One thing I like MORE than gaming, though, is coming up with Top 10 lists. So gamer or no, challenge accepted, random e-mailer. For what it's worth, here are my 10 favorite video games of all time:

10. YO NOID (Super NES) - This game isn't great. In fact, it kinda sucks. It's a poorly designed Mario knock-off starring Domino's Pizza's short-lived advertising mascot, The Noid. Basically you run around and hit people with a yo-yo for no discernable reason whatsoever. But in the lean college years, it was the only game I owned ($5 used, as I recall.) My friends and I would routinely stay up half the night playing it, and this horrible game is full of some of my favorite memories. Noid forever!

9. ECCO THE DOLPHIN (Sega CD) - "The marks on your head are like stars in the sky, Ecco." It's like a new age meditation session that you can play with a joystick. Ecco's complex puzzles and laid-back vibe made for the rare game that actually relieved stress, not added to it. The day that the Rock Island Taco Bell opened, my friend Ken and I bought 30 Taco Supremes and played this game from dusk til dawn. It may have been the nerdiest night of my life.

8. CALL OF DUTY 2 (X-Box) - Here's what happens when I play a multi-player shooter: I log in, and 18 seconds later I'm shot in the head by a 12-year-old. I respawn somewhere else on the map, and 18 seconds later I'm shot in the head by another 12-year-old. It's not exactly great fun. But once upon a time, when multi-player games were simple and new, it was endless fun. I still play with some of those guys I met 15 years ago on the maps of CoD2. I call them my friends, but I don't even know their real names.

7. SID MEIER'S CIVILIZATION V (PC) - Nothing makes a bad work day disappear faster than coming home and conquering the world. Some strategy games are too complicated for an amateur gamer like me. Others are too arcade and silly. Civilization is the perfect middle ground. There's something strangely satisfying about dropping a nuclear bomb on your enemies. Never vote me into office, people.

6. EAMON (Apple II) - EAMON was text adventure gaming at its most basic ("Go north," "eat food," "attack monster," etc.) But it was also open source public domain software, and built to allow any users to make their own adventures. For me and my friends in middle school, it didn't take long until we were trading scandalous PG-13 adventures ("You are in a room. You see Jill Viane, the hottest girl in school. Command?" "KISS JILL VIANE" "You are kissing Jill Viane hard. It is super hot. Ooh baby.") And I wonder why I'm single.

5. SIM TOWER (PC) - I'm not one for Sim games, but this little offshoot where you have to build and manage a giant skyscraper has an otherworldly power on me. I swear to you, I bought this game, came home at noon, played for what I thought was an hour, turned around, and it was DARK outside. It was the first of MANY days lost to this addictively impossible beast.

4. FINAL FANTASY VII (X-Box) - Lots of video games are fun, but few are compelling. You're a good guy, there's the bad guy, yada yada. But FF7 was like playing an epic novel come to life. You laughed, you fell in love with the characters, and I'll admit it, I even shed a tear (as did most of my fellow nerds. Aeris fans stand up.) The only reason I had the fortitude to beat this game was the aching desire to find out how it ended.

3. TRACK AND FIELD (Stand-Up) - Like many kids, Aladdin's Castle was my second home, but I was so bad at arcade games that I had more fun watching others play. But when the Olympics sim Track & Field arrived, I discovered that I was shockingly good at it. Suddenly people were watching ME play, and I'll never forget it. Rumor has it that the soon-to-open Analog Arcade Bar in downtown Davenport has scored a vintage T&F machine. If that's the case, I'll be the nerd lining the top with quarters. Reservations for one.

2. ULTIMA IV (Apple II) - For my money, there's never been a more epic fantasy RPG ever, and that's pretty impressive considering it came out on floppy disks in 1985. Somewhere on my list of proudest life accomplishments, beating this game will seriously be in my Top 10. How much of an Ultima IV nerd was I? I mapped the entire gameplay world by hand on graph paper and still have it.

1. ROCK BAND 3 (X-Box) - I'm an amateur video game nerd, but I'm a PROFESSIONAL music nerd. The first time I saw one of those dumb plastic guitars, I shook my head in disgust. Two years later, I was nationally ranked and winning tournaments. The fad may be over in the real world, but in MY basement, it's still game on. In two weeks, Rock Band 4 will be released unto the world. If you need me, I'll be plugged in.  

No comments: