Thursday, August 14, 2014

Computer Games And Me

     I'm not a gamer, which may explain how I have gone so long barely noticing GenCon -- including, as it turns out, a more-than-full schedule of writer's workshops that look both enjoyable and useful.  (Larry Correia's even in town for this one and I owe him as least a steaming mug of Postum or whatever his beverage-of-choice might be.)

     ...On the other hand, given that all this (GenCon) week I have been working an early-morning-hell shift that has included a couple of extra-long days already and bids fair to go very long on overtime before it grinds to a halt, it may be for the best: I'd only be frustrated.

     But that, to paraphrase Mr. Arlo Guthrie, is not what I came to tell you about.  I came to talk about why it is I don't play computer games.

     You see, at one time -- and it was a very long time ago -- I did.  How long ago was it?  I played games on a PLATO terminal, when the florescent-orange displays showed up at the crummy little extension campus where I went to college.  I was one of the many users who called up the (poorly) hidden copy of STAR TREK on the DEC-10 we shared time on, and slowed it to a crawl.  I played Lunar Lander using a printing-on-paper teletype terminal connected to a "minicomputer" and loaded via punched tape because it took just forever to enter a program using the front-panel switches.  Yes, it was that long ago -- the more serious users still wrote in FORTRAN and hauled boxes punch cards down to the computer center and picked up their results hours or days later.

     I played all those games quite assiduously, along with starting up and managing the campus radio station.  I put in long, long radio and computer games.  What I wasn't doing was studying; most of first-year EE is ridiculously easy if you've already been doing electronics -- okay, circuit analysis was a whole new notion and Mr. Thévenin and Mr. Norton offered the keys to some interesting puzzles.  Math.... I'm no great shakes at math, but the guy teaching it was a retired engineer who had used the stuff all his career, loved it, and managed to share some of that delight.  I got by (Bs and Cs) on very little work, very little sleep, and then...

     Then the sleepy little extension college decided it need fewer amateurs teaching.  Came the second semester and all us EEs got dumped into a heavy pure math course with a heavy pure math prof who had very little use for the sort of vermin who would sully the shining edifice of Mathematics by actually applying it; he announced on Day One he was out to flunk as many of us as he could and that he didn't intend that as a spur or a challenge: seventy-five percent of the class were dead meat.  My other courses got more difficult, too, and my response to it was -- can you guess? -- more time playing computer games.

     And so ended my one and only year of Higher Education.  Back then, if you weren't in college, your access to a computer to play with was very nearly nil.  I still had my radio experience and, for various reasons, I moved out my parents' house at 19 and have earned my own way for nearly ever since (age thirty, I was a returnee for six months.  It went a little better than when I was 19.)

     ...Oh, yeah, when I went out and made my own way, I started smoking.  Five years later, I wanted to quit -- and kept trying for the next fifteen years.  Turns out I have a wee bit of an addictive personality.  I even had a few years of drinking heavily -- never at home and eventually I figured out what kind of precipice I was looking over.

     So my reaction to computer games, no matter how interesting or sophisticated they are, is about that of a dry alcoholic discovering there's a distillery next door that hands out free samples.  Tamara sometimes chides me a little over my "superior" attitude towards them and I will admit what I see of computer games strikes me as suffering a certain formless simplicity of plot: too many short arcs, few if any long arcs, too much bashing things with hammers, swords and magic spells -- but that's not why I avoid 'em nor why it irks me to be around them.  Nope, I'm stuffing up my ears and lashing myself to the mast lest the music draw me in.  That's why you won't find me in the War of Worldcraft or elsewhere: I'd have too much trouble getting back out!


bluesun said...

Though, to be fair, GenCon is tabletop games mostly.

bluesun said...

Of course, that probably puts it even further off the radar!

Roberta X, remotely said...

Those, well, I'd need two things I ain't got: RL friends, and time.

Jon said...

With the right game (Agricola!) you only need one of those things.

Agricola is a game around building a farm - and then seeing who scores the most points by the end of a certain number of rounds. It can be played solitare - though admittedly, doing so tends to require about 20 minutes of set up.

It is however a great time, fairly easy to learn and once you get into it - reasonably fast paced.

Good with a beer and some friends too.

...not that you *wanted* a recommendation :)

Dave in Indiana said...

" he announced on Day One he was out to flunk as many of us as he could and that he didn't intend that as a spur or a challenge: "

Either you were in the same trig class I was or that dill hole of an instructor got around back in the day. I wound up dropping the class and taking the following semester, which was the fall semester and the arrogant jerk went back to his regular gig at I.U. or Purdue, where ever he came from.

Anonymous said...

Ahh yes, punch cards & FORTRAN 4. Takes me back to the first year EET courses.


Tam said...

Windy Wilson said...

I still have a box of unpunched computer cards. I doubt there's much of a market for them out there anymore.

Roberta X said...

Dave, you may have got him right before my school did, as he showed up for the fall semester from elsewhere. Wouldn't surprise me.

Anonymous said...

Oh dear. I admire your candor. Immensely. I too fell into that trap and it took me well over a decade to recover and actually get the degree.

For me the worst was old LPC MUDS. The worst of that lot was Genocide. Imagine your best FPS only played in a text based environment, where the real badasses can type at over 180 wpm or ten-key at 25-30k per hour. Everyone who played was obsessed, at least bright, and in at least some ways channeled you, Tam, Larry Corriea, or Michael Z Williamson. I have a few people that would vouch for me being very smart, and the best I could do was mediocrity.

As a now functioning member of society I also avoid games, but I am rarely tempted.

William the CPA

Joseph said...

The best way to get revenge on a professor like that is to ... PASS HIS COURSE!

If you want even more revenge try looking up his research and then ... DO SOMETHING USEFUL WITH IT!

Earl said...

I am with Joseph. Make a million off of his research and then say 'thanks'!

But I have come to the conclusion of many things, and those that don't work for me - I am so glad I stopped wasting time on them, not that I can't still find a way to waste time. Like making comments on your post instead of the yard work.

Roberta X said...

Joseph: it wasn't actually a passable course unless you'd had the pure-math course the preceding semester instead of "Math for Engineering." My math stops cold just short of calculus and it's going to have to stay there.