I am a sad, pathetic loser. I have few interpersonal skills. I spend all day indoors and I almost certainly smell bad. Not that it matters, because I never see anyone except my mother, who I live with.
All of these things are empirically true. Not because they’re true, but because of something I am.
I’m a gamer.
There’s a 60% chance that upon reading those words your eyes were sent a message from your brain saying “Look away now.” To people with no interest in video games – or their ancestor, computer games, because I’m too fucking old for all this – the topic holds as much interest as the fluctuating gas output of the Siberian plains or the interminable question of grammar schools. Gaming is for children, and we all have more important things to be getting on with.
No matter that one single game sold more in 2014 than the entire music industry. No matter that games were the fourth biggest entertainment industry in 2015 behind gambling, reading and TV. No matter that three years ago the number of gamers worldwide was estimated at 1.2 billion, or that 42% of Americans play for at least three hours a week.
It’s a wonder there are enough pants to go around given how many people are sitting in dark rooms wearing nothing else all day, foaming with rage as a similarly stunted spotty fuck in an equivalent hovel across the globe snipes them repeatedly across a cartoon map, and calls them a noob.
There are few people in my ever-contracting social circle who play games, fewer still who admit to it, and an enormous majority who consider me an ill-developed man baby wailing for the return of his much-missed youth. I play games most days, sometimes for hours on end. I read news about games much, much more than news about football, which baffles and horrifies people who think I’m like them. Few topics of conversation hold more simple, honest enjoyment than gaming, and when I talk to another gamer my brain lights up like an office secretary thinking about this year’s Secret Santa.
But people like me, of my generation, have to live in the shadows because, really, it’s not all right. Society hasn’t yet accepted that games aren’t the direct cause of all societal ills. It’s a measure of 21st century Britain that I can get smashed and lie laughing on the floor of a Northern line train on a Tuesday night, and it’s considered more socially acceptable than admitting I prefer Zarya to Zenyatta. Look it up, I’m not fucking Wikipedia.
Perhaps what we need is a standard-bearer, someone respected across different forms of media who can force the art and power of gaming into the mainstream. Someone, for example, like Dara O’Briain.
One of the country’s most respected comedians, somehow both funny and not an arsehole, O’Briain outed himself as a serious gamer in a stand-up set a few years ago. It’s only natural then that he’d be chosen as the face of what, done right, could be the spiritual successor to the legendary Gamesmaster of many moons ago, a new games-based TV show called Go 8 Bit.
Now, I’m not naive enough to think they could simply make a show where people, by which I mean ‘celebrities’, play games against each other while we watch in the hope that would in itself be entertainment enough. I understand there’ll have to be some chat, some opportunities for said celebrities to sell themselves to a new audience. I get it: culture and capitalism have intertwined in such a way that there can be ad breaks sponsored by the Nissan Qashqai 1.6-litre diesel within a drama about war in the Middle East, and nobody bats an eyelid.
But nothing prepared me for Go 8 Bit.
The set looks like Super Mario’s eaten a rainbow and shot his muck all over it. There’s an air of manic desperation about the show’s resident ‘expert’, who’s clearly lining herself up as the next Susie Dent. The first episode’s guests were rent-a-comic Susan Calman and the only non-comedian alive known to play games, wonderfully out-of-place ex-goalkeeper David James. How we laughed when, during a particularly harrowing section involving ‘gags’ and ‘japes’, and no gaming of any kind, Susan and David stood back to back. He’s so much taller! She’ll never win! No-one’s brain is filling with domestic abuse allusions!
Susan and David’s two teammates I couldn’t pick out of a line-up, which in a world of justice would be their next appointment. Before each of the five actual games are played, some spectacular wanker has decided they will rotate the stage 90 degrees, to Donkey Kong disco music and an epileptic light show. While this is happening, everyone on stage will spend 10 seconds of their lives dancing and gurning and generally embarrassing the fuck out of everyone involved, including both viewers.
But perhaps the actual gaming sections will rescue this scuttled sloop. Perhaps they’ll showcase the latest releases and we’ll get to see Susan and David slamming plasma into one another in the Doom reboot, or tearing through chicanes in F1 2016.
First up: Tetris. If I’d had a brick I’d have been able to complete a fucking line myself.
O’Briain looks apologetic throughout. A perfectly good idea has been Daved on his watch because yes, you guessed it, this atrocity could only have been commissioned by the comedy graveyard that is Dave. The only channel of the many asked that thought bringing back Red Dwarf was a good idea. The place where Lee Mack goes to die. Who are you, Dave? I would have you killed.
Compare the setup of Go 8 Bit with the various tournaments servicing the professional games industry, all of which are broadcast online to thousands of reverential games fans. For increasingly huge sums in prize money, games are played in pressure environments to fully invested supporters in the same way as any other sport. Games, players and fans are treated, and treat each other, with respect for the art and mastery of the game.
Yes, fine, it’s mainly fucking teenagers, I know that, I’m not dense. But does that mean I’m some kind of monstrous paedophile for watching it, at 39? What does that make you, staring open-mouthed at a collection of past-it nobodies waltzing around your Saturday night, or gawping uncomprehendingly at how a man in a turban can make an actual, real-life cake? A necrophile and a simpleton, that’s what.
I got my first computer at 6 years old, an Acorn Electron. I’d play Repton, Sphinx Adventure, Citadel, Arcadians, Stryker’s Run, Swag and Dunjunz. I’d greet every new Play It Again Sam compilation with the gleeful fervour of a child not yet required to wonder whether the image of a black, top-hatted player on the cover was racially questionable.
I also liked football. I didn’t give that up when I got older, so why would I stop gaming? On the Electron I’d play Soccer Boss for countless hours. And last night I played Football Manager, for three hours. There was no point to it, there’s no meaningful benefit to my life or anyone else’s, it’s not real. But I bet I won more Premier League titles than you did last night, even if I did lose the bloody cup final, to Derby no less.
Steam – and if you don’t know what that is, you are in the process of being left behind – tells you how many hours you’ve played in each game you’ve bought. And here’s the unvarnished truth of my top three. Football Manager 2016: 44 hours in the last two weeks, 834 hours on record. Civilization V: 8 hours in the last two weeks, 316 hours on record. Rocket League: 3.9 hours in the last two weeks, 234 hours on record. And Steam doesn’t even record the hours I’ve spent in Overwatch, global gaming’s current Big Deal.
One of the games I’d play on my Electron was Chuckie Egg. That was the second game they played on Go 8 Bit. At one stroke they tarnished a happy childhood memory and made a joke out of the great number of people who don’t appreciate the condescension of those of you too boring, too serious and too old at heart to acknowledge the majesty of gaming, and the inconceivable amount of time millions of us spend on it.
Go away 8 bit, we’ve moved on. We’re a proud army of electronic enthusiasts jamming as much fun as we can into the hours between the equal parts tedious and traumatic episodes that make up run-of-the-mill Western existence. Your diary includes residents meetings, school plays and dinner with Pete and Sally. Mine, alongside the gigs, football and inexplicable trips to Hammersmith, includes release dates for Battlefield 1, Pro Evo 2017 and Mafia 3.
And besides, if you could sit about in your pants all day and get away with it, you know you would.