In the few short months of Bitmob’s existence, its ever-expanding community has provoked and stimulated the minds of members and staff alike. It seems as though we all have equally inspiring tales to tell. We hail from different parts of the globe. We harbor very different political and religious convictions. We ultimately lead very different lives from one another.
And yet, what brings us together is our unending love for videogames, the culture which surrounds them and the lively discussions which sustain them. If anything, Bitmob is a community of gamers.
Unfortunately for us, videogaming is a commercial industry largely celebrated by single-minded, consumer drones. A 20-second visit to your local message board quickly demonstrates the psychotic character of video gamers in general. Rarely does a videogame site accommodate focus in any sense, instead, espousing a conversational free-for-all.
However, there is still hope!
Bitmob represents a soothing respite from the cacophony of the NeoGAF, Gamespot and Gamefaqs boards. For a few minutes each day, I’m given the opportunity to sit down and read cleverly constructed articles on my favourite games and franchises – a rarity these days.
I’m thrilled to know that Bitmob has been expanding at a phenomenal speed. But with a larger community, the danger looms that the website may collapse into the same cerebral dissonance which plagues the internet’s message boards and IRC channels.
The Plan: Insert 3 Coins aims to provide the opinions of three community members each week. The subjects of discussion will range from the “the value of HUD interfaces” to “cinematics as antiquated story-tellers”. We won’t talk about specific games or franchises. Instead, we’ll try and introduce ideas which force the reader to think back and re-assess their own experiences as a gamer.
This week’s subject: Turning points in life. What game or moment radically changed your perspective on videogames, their capacities and limitations?
Let’s see where this takes us.
I won’t call it my single transformative gaming moment, since I have a piss-poor memory, but I keep circling back to one particular event: watching the BioShock demo for the first time.
At the time, I worked in the compliance department at LucasArts, making sure that Thrillville: Off the Rails didn’t crash when you ejected the disc or inserted a memory card. The minute the demo hit Xbox Live, however, all of us compliance guys dropped our controllers and gathered in a room with a mammoth television and a 360. We dimmed the lights, cranked up the sound system, and pressed start.
I’d seen BioShock videos online by then, but they didn’t hold a candle to the experience of watching it played in a darkened room with a bunch of other gamers. We all knew we were watching something special, and maintained a reverent silence throughout the entirety of the 10-minute demo.
And then we couldn’t shut up. We recounted how the music and the radio narration synced perfectly during the bathysphere ride to bring you fully into the world of Rapture right from the opening moments. We marveled at the brilliant Art Deco architecture. We admitted that the first encounter with a Splicer scared the crap out of us.
We said all of these things even though we were all just there, watching the same thing, because this was the sort of gaming experience we had been promised with “next gen.” To see it realized for the first time…well, that was worth recounting, again and again and again.
Sure, by that time Gears of War had melted our minds with stunning visuals, and Dead Rising had thrown enough zombies onscreen to populate a midsized city. But before BioShock no game had melded setting, atmosphere, and story to create such a thoroughly captivating experience. And no game has since.
By all accounts, it’s a videogame. But in my mind World of Warcraft was so much more.
Upon the game’s initial launch, early adapters had very different reasons for subscribing. Some were long-time fans of the Warcraft mythos and lore. Others respected Blizzard’s work ethic and expected a quality product. And still, some wanted to simply try it out.
My reasons were slightly more complicated. At the time, I was used to playing single-player games. The few times I decided to play games online, I was put off by the ecclectic manner of play. While clans offered an alternative, games like Counter-Strike and Enemy Territory were often dominated by impersonal, anonymous encounters. There was no room for socializing and rarely were meaningful friendships formed. People came online, shot up the place and left.
I didn’t quite understand the extent of my desire – but it was clear to me that I wanted to be a part of something. The uncoordinated skirmishes of Day of Defeat were fun in small doses, but over exposure left me thirsty for stability and meaning.
I bought World of Warcraft a week after the European launch in early February, 2005. In a matter of days, the game began to consume all of my free time. I would queue up a 3-hour long Dream Theater playlist, turn the volume up and quest with the acquaintances I made in-game. I certainly was having fun, but the 5-man dungeons seemed to only be a cut above the hostage-rescue games I was used to in CS 1.5. I was certain that World of Warcraft had more to offer – and it did.
As I neared the level cap, I was approached by an officer of a guild by the name of . After some casual conversation, he offered me an invitation which I immedeately accepted. My screen was quickly flooded by welcomes and congradulations. I was accepted as a member of the guild immedeately. I was home.
But this tale isn’t about the social cohesion of World of Warcraft guilds. This tale concerns the inevitable bond which is forged by the pressure and chaos of battle. This tale recounts the utter sense of self-completion illicited by taking part in a 40-man raid.
It was 8pm on a warm, summer evening. It was a Friday. The guild rallied at the entrance to the imposing Blackrock Mountain. I had never been apart of such an event. I stood next to 39 men, women and children with the same goal in mind. While our reasons for raiding were different (reputation grinding, quest completion or gear acquisition), we were united in our goal: the death of Nefarian, the dungeon’s final boss.
Some of you will understand what I’m talking about, and some may not. But I hope the sense of co-operation and excitement is self-evident. As we carried on through the challenging and innovative boss encounters, we made our sense of trust clear. As a restoration druid, I did my best to keep those in my group alive and buffed. Despite the demoralizing effects of a complete wipe, the raid group pushed on, determined to claim the first BWL-clear on our server.
By 3 a.m., it had dawned on me.
I was experiencing something special – something which is absolutely unique to a videogame. World of Warcraft altered my fundamental opinion of the entertainment medium. The social complexity and strategic attachment was beyond anything I had anticipated.
Needless to say, the continued wipes and the fast-approaching dawn combined to convince us to give up. But while I did not have in my possession the severed head of Nefarian, I left Blackwing Lair with an even more precious reward. I left the raid with the thorough knowledge that my experience with videogames would never be the same.
I was 15 years old, and my world was turned on its head. I have Nefarian and his Blackwing dragon brood to thank for that.
The one moment that changed video games for me was the first half an hour playing Pilotwings 64. Up to that time, I had experienced videogames much as anyone else would have. I had an NES and a Genesis, and played the usual fare: licensed product, Sonic games, etc.
When the Nintendo 64 was the new hot shit, I decided to get one. Or have my parents get one for me for Christmas. It remains to this day the closest I’ve ever gotten to a launch day on anything, a mere 3 months after release.
However, I was so taken by the Wal-Mart Demo I had tried, I ended up renting it…oh some 7-8 times before I actually got it. Super Mario 64 was great, but I was truly taken by Pilotwings 64. The first half an hour of playing was a watershed moment, where multiple realizations on the potential of video games smacked my 15 year old self upside the noggin.
First, with 3D games, I could do anything. The freedom provided in the variety of flying machines astounded me. Sure I had played some flight sims, but by virtue of their controls, I couldn’t do anything. With this I could. I often didn’t bother with the challenge, and instead used the time limit to explore. The level of detail (my muddy these days) was amazing. True care was taken with the game, and that was when I first saw the artist’s thumbprint.
Second, I realized that games did not need violence as the key method of interaction. Sure there were missiles, but mostly it was maneuvering, taking photographs, and hitting targets. My friend said: “Was this game made for Mormons?” Maybe, but it was also made for me. It was designed with an eye to pacifism, gender equality, and respect, philosophies that I am still exploring today.
In that first half an hour I realized what video games had become, what they could be, and how they can leave me irreversible changed with a new appreciation for adventure, exploration, and optimism, aspects of myself that have gone further than the boundaries of a television screen.