My Angry Holiday
by David Lee Beowulf
“Ho ho ho! I just checked my list for an unprecedented THIRD time! You’ll all have to die! Mwuhooohahahahaha!”
And everyone’s Christmas was just lousy. Except for Santa, who later remarked to his wife, Mrs. Claus, as he sucked the marrow from a young boy’s femur, “…best Christmas yet, my dear… I’m surprised I didn’t think of this earlier!”
My “Christmas” wasn’t anywhere near as good as Old Nick’s, er, “Saint” Nick’s. But did manage to give myself a cold that kept me out of work for a week and away from the computer for nearly four days.
It all goes back to October of 1996 when I was vacationing at the palatial riverside offices of Ink Nineteen where Ian Koss, Publisher, introduced me to hard drugs.
(Yeah, like it’s his fault, Dave.)
Shhh! I’m using a “narrative device…”
Ian and the Melbourne crew (I’d been away in New York City for nearly three years now) it seems would get together on Wednesday evenings and play Blizzard’s Warcraft II: “Tides of Darkness” over the LAN. Since I was in town, I got to play, too.
Now, all my life I’ve been mysteriously drawn to video games. Just like other kids, I’m sure, only I never seemed to get enough. Either I’d run out of quarters, or have to leave with a group or something, I just didn’t get my fill. A lot of the time I was clearly not welcome in the arcades by the other kids.
While I was growing up, Matel’s Intellivision was released, a couple of years after Pong became available for television. Soon came the Atari stuff, the Radio Shack stuff, and all the other crap and next thing you know we’re in 1999. Anyway, my household never had any of these fancy television gadgets, so, while Brenden and Colin down the street had a neat-o system from, where the hell was it, Sears? I had nothing. What to do with all this energy? Sit and built models. Either that or just think.
Not good enough.
As I reached the legal age of 18 and had a job to supply my habit, instead of buying a video game system (a smart move I think, now looking back, thank you very much), I’d hang out at the arcades and play Space Panic or Centipede.
But it got old. Hanging out with other human beings and drinking beer was more fun.
In college, I found that video games were a great way to “relax” after or before class. But you know what, after my freshman year I’d had enough and, come to think of it, I didn’t like the class of people I’d be forced to associate with if I wanted to play these things.
A couple of years later, the frat house got a few machines installed — as a way to earn extra income for the house. Didn’t do too well after we’d broken into the games (Defender, Qix) and played for free, did it?
So I’d gone through a few phases.
I needed distraction sometimes, didn’t I? I studied really, really hard and releasing all that nervous energy helped clear my head.
I used to like the Earthquake pinball machine, but I now associate it, and all pinball machines, with harsh emotional trauma so much so that I simply can’t play them.
Anyway, I thought I’d kicked the habit after mastering Black Tiger (I could complete the entire game on one quarter!) and realizing: is this all I get for spending maybe a hundred dollars over the course of a month? That’s it?
Flashing up to the near-present. I’d applauded my discipline and how good I’d looked not having any games on my home computer. Well, other than chess, and that I could play for hours and hours…
The little IBM 8086 my parents had was no good, so I bought a Mac Performa. Now here was a chance to play games! Ian had supplied me with a few good ones, which I played and, of course, finished.
To finish a game like, say, Glider 2 or Scarab of Ra, requires two things: 1) the game must allow you to save, and 2) you must have a sense that, while you’re playing the game, nothing else is as important as playing that game. This was no problem for me in any case.
So with my fancy computer I’d just sit at home, with (hopefully) no one to bother me, and play games. Sometimes I’d play for a few hours, sometimes not much at all. If the game was good, and I was doing well, I’d stay to the finish, or close enough.
And it went on this way for the last few years. But eventually I’d trained myself to not have any games on the computer (save chess, no, can’t not have a good chess game, I like Gnu Chess 4, very hard), and since obsessive self-torture isn’t my bag, my web addiction lasted one month. (Likewise for any chatroom antics.) I actually did work with my computer. Apart form messing with Zork and other Infocom games Ian gave me.
Flashing up to October 1996 for a moment. OK, so Ian introduces me to Warcraft II: Tides of Darkness. Here is a game that combined the strategy of chess, the carnage of Mortal Kombat, the puzzle-like rewards of Lemmings, and the ability to apply the economic history of warfare. All right there while you, the play, watch from above.
I was blown away.
And you had to work, too. You had to mine gold to pay for warrior training, you had to cut down trees to build battlements, you needed to build farms to feed your armies, you had to drill oil to upgrade weapons. And all the time your enemies were coming out of the black and attacking you with swords, maces, arrows, spears, catapults, ballistas, crazy dwarves with explosives, battleships; they were establishing daring beachheads, destroying mountains, etc.
All the while the sounds of battle were in the air. Swords meeting battle axes, shields smashing against each other, groans, thuds, death moans, etc. And in the midst of battle, the bodies are seen (real-time) piling up all around! It’s gorgeousness and gorgeosity! And all the characters are male, so…
Ahem! [For the record: in Warcraft: Orcs & Humans, the elementals are female as are a couple of Orc characters; in Warcraft II I don’t remember any too distinctly and in the expansion set it’s pretty gender diverse. Not that I really give a shit!]
Here was a challenge! I’d played long-term adventure games before, but none where you could build and command armies, where you could sent commandos on suicide raids, where you could see and hear everyone die! No, this was something totally new.
So I played it will in Melbourne and then went home to New York.
Now, my little Performa 550 couldn’t handle Warcraft II, but the demo version (like I’d spend my money on games, really!) for Orcs & Humans worked just fine! But it only took a weekend to completely master the three demo levels on each side (you can play as a human -beautiful white people, or orcs -ugly green things), without the cheat codes that came with the demo anyway.
I found a demo for Warcraft II on the web and installed it on my PC at work (heh! They’re good for something!) and, again, mastery of the three demo levels took only a couple of “lunch periods.” And it wasn’t too satisfying because I didn’t have stereo speakers at work.
And that was it until around June of 1998 when a co-worker announced to me that, during his “lunch hour”, he’d discovered a for-real video game emulator on the web.
“Emulator?” I said, as he installed the emulator software. “The only game worth playing is Warcraft.”
“Warcraft?” he replied. “Well, this is just like playing real arcade games. You just need the ROM…”
“So I could play Black Tiger during my ‘lunch hour’?”
“Sure, if there’s a ROM.”
There was, of course. But you know what? Less than two days later, I deleted the entire emulation system. Aren’t you proud of me?
Then in July of ’98 my home computer was upgraded by Santa Claus. Santa installed the emulator in my new Power Macintosh. It lasted three hours. Aren’t you proud of me?
In November 1998 things started to get weird. Right after CMJ I got a hankering for playing computer games. I don’t know why, but I was itching to get behind the mouse. The first thing I did was install a shareware adventure game by Badger called Prince of Destruction. It’s challenging, exciting, violent and takes a long time to finish. It took me about five days, over two weekends, and I think one sick day, to finish. Prince of Destruction is basically built along the lines of the arcade game Gauntlet, in which up to four “characters” go around killing things for cash and prizes. I chose as my character “Nanoc the Barbarian” and got to kill things with swords. I upgraded my weapons with the cash and prizes until, at the end, I killed the evil Prince of Destruction, and won the game. Exhausting, but too easy. Where was the strategy?
Then I installed an extremely addictive shooting gallery shareware game called Snood. I finished it in one three-day weekend and a few sick days.
Then, and here it comes, I had the opportunity to do something for myself: a buddy of mine asked that I purchase a RAM chip for him, as he had no credit card. No problem. But, and I’d wanted to do it for the longest time, now Warcraft was calling.
I purchased the Warcraft Battlechest three-CD set along with the memory. It came with Warcraft I, II and an expansion set.
Between the evening of December 24, 1998 and the morning of December 31, 1998 I did nothing but play Warcraft. This was my vacation and I left the house once. I didn’t work out, I didn’t go meet people, I think I ate once every twelve hours; I did nothing for seven days but build armies with which I killed people and destroyed cities.
As a human in Warcraft I, I finished the game (twelve levels) by destroying Black Rock Spire. As an Orc, I finished the game (twelve levels) by destroying Stormwind Keep.
Then I installed Warcraft II. As a human I finished the game (fifteen levels) by destroying the Dark Portal. As an Orc, I finished the game (fifteen levels) by destroying Stormwind Castle.
I would go from about ten in the morning until four in the morning. I could not stop.
I was alone in my room, my eyes glazed over as I watched the carnage I’d created. Glory!
This game is not easy. Each level takes a couple of hours (sometimes longer) to finish. And by finishing a level, I mean completely obliterating your enemy, unless otherwise directed. This isn’t a quest: it is war!
But I sat there, all alone and locked away, clicking at the mouse every few seconds, listening to all these damned CDs I had to review, playing a game.
By New Years Eve, I’d finished it all. Except the Expansion Set.
I immediately installed it, but was disappointed. The expansion set had too many girls, too much corny humor, and it was too “quest-like” or seemed to rely too much on magic instead of brute force. It was still damn hard, mind you, but, after the last seven days, I was ready to throw up at the site of another “start” icon for any damn computer game. Including chess!
What was that? Oh, right, wait a second.
So I went to a nice party for New Years, had a nice breakfast the next morning. Went home and went to sleep. Saturday I spent kind of staring at the ceiling and finishing up my Pretty Things interview. Saturday night I went out to dinner, but didn’t feel too good. Sunday I spent trying to finish my reviews, but somehow couldn’t. I was tired, but couldn’t sleep too well. (It didn’t help that my lunatic ex-girlfriend called me late at night, breaking my light slumber, either.) Monday I called in sick. I didn’t sleep much as every time my eyes closed I was directing armies against orcs or humans. I managed to finished the Pretty Things interview and tried to sleep early, I knew I was getting sick, but thought it wouldn’t be that bad.
Tuesday I lasted about four hours at work until I nearly collapsed.
And this is the first day since then that my eyes don’t hurt, my entire body doesn’t ache and the walls aren’t spinning. I can move the move without having a shooting pain sent through my shoulder, too. I was really, really sick for the whole week. I’ve never been this sick before in my life. I literally couldn’t move. Worse, I couldn’t sleep, I had no appetite (very unusual for me), and all my muscles started to twitch painfully.
But today I feel much better, my head is clear. I have emerged from the lower depths, cleansed.
And I don’t see the need to ever play a computer game again.