I am not the most accomplished – or even competent – gamer, but despite this I have dedicated a disproportionate amount of my life to it. In return, it has taught me a lot of things, both in terms of actual skills and also life lessons. Here are some of them.
- I learned how to type really quickly.
This is a quite specific result of a) my time playing MMORPG’s, and b) talking too much. Here’s the scenario;
You are in the middle of some quite dangerous territory. You probably shouldn’t even be there at all, but you have set yourself a personal goal that you are going to get to the other side of this place – even if it takes the rest of the evening. You pick a path, and nervously start navigating your way through a veritable minefield of mobs, all of which will chew you a new orifice at the slightest provocation. Unfortunately, you have badly misjudged your aggro radius, and not only do you attract the attention of everything in visible range, but they are making a ruckus and calling all of their friends. You are in trouble. There are so many things around you that you can only target individuals by hitting the tab key and hoping. You are pulling out all of the stops; the attacks you have never tried before because they never seemed useful, dubious healing potions, even the “Look There’s A Badger With A Spoon!” macro you made for a laugh a while back. You are just barely managing to surf ahead of the wave, and in half a breath you will either be in the clear, or you will be crushed under a wall of water.
Then someone says something funny in chat.
You can’t NOT respond, but precious milliseconds mark the difference between the most satisfying victory in the entire game so far, and a horrible run back to find your body, plus starting the whole fight again into the bargain, from a worse position. So what do you do?
The answer is that you type REALLY bloody fast. Don’t worry about spelling, punctuation or grammar, you just fire a load of letters into the ether and hope they achieve some cohesion by the time they land.
Eventually, you end out getting really good at it, and people at work are impressed, without ever knowing the true reason behind it.
- The English language can be degraded to a phenomenal degree, and still be perfectly understandable.
When you are in an environment where a lot of people a) are in the middle of combat, b) don’t have English as a first language or c) are just plain lazy, the written communication gets messy to say the least. What becomes apparent, however, is that it really doesn’t matter.
Everyone learns to read past spelling mistakes (which are often as not all the correct letters, just in the wrong order). What eventually happens with the most common errors is that they become adopted as the norm; a good example in my particular guild was when “teh” became the accepted version of “the”, and ended out being deliberately used more often than not. Another thing that found legs from gaming is abbreviating common phrases like “wtf?”, “lol” and “ffs”. I remember joking many years ago about the first time I actually said WTF out loud, but lo and behold it has in fact manifested in popular culture.
- Nordic people are a special kind of crazy
I have met some eccentric people in the UK, mostly those upper-class enough to have been somewhat disassociated from reality for most of their lives. I have also met people who were different in a way that suggested there was something a little unhinged inside them, and that they would probably benefit from some time with a specialist. However, online gaming has given me access into a world where crazy people just ARE. That world is most of Northern Europe.
Now, I am aware that I am generalising, and that this probably qualifies as positive racism, but based on the percentages of people that I have met who have been as mad as the proverbial box of frogs, here are my Nutter Rankings;
The geographical area covered, as I have learned through doing some recent research into English history, correlates almost precisely to the historical lands of the Angles, the Saxons and the Vikings. I am fairly certain that it’s something in the DNA…either that or the tendency towards heavy alcohol consumption, one of the two.
- One of these things is not like the others…
If something doesn’t look right – it’s not. If there is a difference in texture, there’s something concealed behind it. If a mob is a different size or colour to the rest, it’s more important than the others. If there is one thing lying on the floor, that’s your next weapon. Visual clues are really the only way for designers to point you in the right direction and you very quickly learn to compare and contrast the environment with a Terminator-like efficiency.
- Gaming turns you into a kleptomaniac.
Everything that has been deliberately placed within a game could be useful, probably in ways you don’t yet appreciate, so if you can pick it up, you do. It’s easy enough to get rid of it later, but there is nothing quite as soul-destroying as fighting your way through 20 minutes of harder-than-expected gameplay, backing yourself into a dead end, only to find that if you’d just picked up that stethoscope 4 save points ago, you wouldn’t be here right now.
- You quickly lose all sense of decency
If the game will allow you to, you will perform a body cavity search on a dead old lady, on the off-chance it will yield something useful. Nothing is out of bounds. Yes, you will start out with the obvious cash registers, kitchen cupboards and half-opened safes – but you will end out snuffling your way through rubbish bins, used diapers, medical waste, the pockets of the urine-stained trousers of an unconscious homeless dude…anything and everything that the game mechanics will permit.
- You learn to abandon common sense
Often, I am an awful shot in-game. I always assumed that I just was really bad, and that I should stop denying it. You can give me a gun with a super high-powered scope, and ammo that shatters into a hundred pieces when it reaches the target, I would still be lucky to hit what I am aiming for. However, I suddenly switch to having a 100% strike rate if you give me a crowbar.
What I had been getting wrong for so long was that I was fighting against the will of the designers. Where my instinctive response would be to take the safe option of staying as far away as possible and taking pot shots, in game I am actively steered towards running screaming into the middle of a load of armed guards and battering the crap out of them.
Learning to work counter-intuitively based on the environmental responses in-game was something that I struggled with for a long time. However, it’s taught me to think differently, and has actively improved my problem solving abilities. Now, I find it far easier to try something once, and if it doesn’t work, throw a marmot at it instead.
- You can learn everything you need to know about a player by what they choose to name their character
Deciding to party with ‘Nooblolz’ is basically accepting that you are going to spend the next two hours stuck with a gibbering high school idiot, who probably has some attention deficit disorder, and will get you killed more times than he will offer any reasonable support. Scrappy Doo, in essence.
‘Hunterdk’ will be a focussed young Scandinavian who has had a sense of humour bypass. He will be far more interested in the loot than in making friends; not a lot of fun, but will turn up on time and pull his weight.
‘Leslienielsen’ will be older, funnier, and more chilled out. Thoroughly entertaining company, but probably drunk or stoned a lot of the time, with a somewhat laissez-faire attitude towards timekeeping.
‘Gartaghthebrave’ takes the game a little too seriously, and probably struggles to make friends in the real world. He will bend over backwards to help you, but all hell will break loose if you kill any sacred animals while he is around.
‘Hairyballsack’ will be the most competent player in the party, and outrageously funny, but will not give a moments thought to just dumping the whole group in the middle of a boss fight, if it’s not up to his standards. He will upset people on a regular basis, and is the gaming equivalent of the good looking kid that never needed to develop a personality.
- Real-life panic doesn’t hold a candle to in-game panic
…the maniacal jabbering of a splicer somewhere just out of sight…
…the sudden appearance of a small girl child on the other side of the door that you have no choice but the walk through…
…desperately spinning the mousewheel, trying to find a weapon that has any ammo left…
…the sound of a Rogue dropping into stealth mode behind you…
The only thing that reality has to offer that comes in any way close to these moments is the shock of your awakening brain realising that it’s not sure whether it’s Friday or Saturday.
- If you play any game for long enough, it will start to bend your reality
Many years ago, I went on a camping holiday with a group of friends, up in the Lake District in the North of England. We were in a three-car convoy, and I was driving with my at-the-time boyfriend, bringing up the rear in the same tiny little Fiat that I still have now. There came a point where we were quite close to our destination, and had veered quite significantly off the beaten track. We had to follow a track up over a hill that had a 1:3 gradient, and I do not mind admitting that I was in a fair state of concern. I did not know where I was, my car was not big enough or powerful enough to follow the others at any speed, and they quickly disappeared out of view. I took my right hand off of the steering wheel, and reached up towards the windscreen. I paused, and put my hand back on the steering wheel. My boyfriend turned to me and said,
“…did you just reach up to click the map key?!”
That is precisely what I had done. I was lost and worried and had played World of Warcraft for so long that my instinctive response was to pull up the map and see where I was.
This is not an isolated incident. I was in Norway a couple of weeks ago, sat around a beautiful body of water outside of Oslo, where fish were coming up to the surface and causing circular ripples. My instinct was to hit the Fishing key shortcut before someone else could turn up and steal the fishing node.
Also, a couple of months ago, I was watching a cop show on Netflix, and in the interview room there was one wall that was covered in some kind of soundproofing material. My first thought was that I could shoot a Portal onto it.
I am not sure whether to be proud or ashamed of these things.