Archive for playing games

A Brief History of Trivial Gaming

Posted in Everything Else with tags , , , , , , on November 16, 2013 by trivialpunk

Welcome back. Today, we’re going to do something a little different. You see, I’m approaching one hundred posts on Trivial Punk, and it’s got me thinking. I know a hundred is a pretty arbitrary number, but it reminded me that I’ve been at this for a while. For almost two years, I’ve been bringing you weekly essays on video games, movies and horror. That’s a lot of time and effort being poured into any project. So, I’m starting to wonder, should I end this journey here and pour that into something else? The novel I’m writing, perhaps? Valid and Sound? PsychWrite? Forgotten? University?!

This is post number ninety-eight. In this post, we’re going to talk a little bit about why being a gamer has been amazing for my life. Ninety-nine, I think we’re going to review a game. For one hundred, we’re going to do… you know, I’m not sure. I’ve got a few things planned, but I’ll save it for the day. On that day, I’ll either recommit myself to the cause or tell you about where we go from here. Today, we’re getting a little personal, so here’s a picture of a younger me.


Look at that guy. All in his dorm, getting ready to go out for Halloween with a little red star painted on his face. Do you think he has any idea what he’s in for? I’ve been a freelancer, a hotel manager, a sandwich artist, a cook, a baker, a candlestick recommender, a clerk, a bartender, a porter… it’s a long list. I’ve been a fiancée and a boyfriend, an ex-boyfriend and a bachelor (I’m reeeeally good at that). I’ve been a wanderer and a homebody, a hitch-hiker and a student. The one thing that has always remained consistent is gamer. I have always played games. From pogs to Pokemon cards, chess to poker, all before the age of six. I have vague memories of playing an adventure game on a black-green monitor in daycare and booting up King’s Quest on a computer with less total memory than my current CPU.

Its been a long ride. People sometimes ask me, “Don’t you feel like you’re wasting your time?” while watching Dancing With The Stars without a hint of irony. Don’t get me wrong, it’s an interesting show, but it’s weird to judge someone on how they spend their free time when you’re spending it in an equally innocuous way. Has it, though? One of the things I’m interested in studying at University is the way in which playing games effects your brain. Yes, that’s the right “effect.” But, more than neurochemistry, how has being a gamer effected me?

Well, it’s definitely affected the way I compete. When I was in my early teens, my friends and I used to spend a lot of time and money playing games at our local LAN parlour: Fragz. We were teenage boys, so it was a pretty competitive scene. I still remember spending hours perfecting my rocket jumps and twitch-killing. I got pretty good at using unconventional weapons, too, for reasons I’ll explain shortly. When we played Counter-Strike, I would always start and play with a pistol then scavenge machine guns from the battle field, but you can blame Trigun for that one.

We played Star Craft a lot. Huge multi-hour, multi-player matches that taught me how to deceive and plan. In fact, a lot of my tactical management abilities came out of playing Star Craft. Getting the right units to the right place at the right time is essential to any management scenario, whether you’re running a Casino or crushing the Protoss (Zerg 4 life.). I wasn’t the best at any of these games, though. There were plenty of players that spent a lot more time gaming than I did. They had their game specialities, and I was trying to be pretty good at everything on a budget. I was playing Yu-Gi-Oh and Magic the Gathering at the time, so you can guess that I didn’t have a ton of cash lying around to buy game time with.

Still, there was a certain synergy to it all. Playing cards games is a great way to learn how to read an opponent, plan an overall strategy and execute logical functions. Seriously, when I studied Maths in school, nothing helped me more than the time I spent pwnings nubs and taking Life Points. Even here, though, I wasn’t the best. I didn’t have to money to buy the shiniest new cards, so I had to think differently. I had to start using unconventional strategies in every game I played to compensate for what my opponents were good at.

When you’re playing against someone that practically breathes rockets or trips over Ultra Rares, you can’t engage them on their ground. You have to get them to play your way. I started using the grenade launcher, because its insane projectile trajectories were difficult to figure out without the necessary experience, and their long fuses often caught people off-guard, especially in a game as fast-paced as Quake 3. Yet, when I really needed to unloaded some damage, a direct hit would cause the grenade to detonate instantly.

Card games were the same story. In MTG, I started playing Blue: the trickiest colour. I learned how to read my opponent’s expectations and violate them as often as possible. The expectations, not my opponent. When it came to Yu-Gi-Oh, I just built decks to beat the standard decks of the time, because there were like three of them. Nothing like a little imagination to slide past roadblocks to success.

However, even with all this, the most important thing I learned was not to hate my opponent. There’s a lot of vitriol that gets spewed on the internet, but that’s not just because those people are gamers. That’s because those gamers are mean-spirited or angry gamers (I know I’m simplifying, but run with me). When I was playing with my friends, we would have to switch around teams constantly. So, my greatest ally could become my deadliest opponent in the time it takes to press free-for-all. It was because of this that I learned how to learn from my mistakes and from my opponents. Love thy neighbour; love thy enemy, because we’re all playing the same game.

Now, when I play on-line, I don’t see some stupid nub who can’t play. I see someone whose schedule is too busy to play every damn day. I know that maybe they’re just having a bad game. Maybe they’re just starting out. I love games. I love playing games. If I want to share that, sometimes that means being patient. Playing at Fragz taught me that I don’t always have to play the way my opponent does, but the flip-side is that my opponent doesn’t always have to play the same way I do. We’ve all got our lives, but if we love games, then that should bring us together, not harass us apart.

Honestly, that’s been my experience. I read quite a bit as a youngin’… still do, actually… and reading isn’t really a social activity. Talking about and loving books can be, but the act of reading is usually a solo activity. Gaming was the key to breaking the shell around me that travelling in a literary universe helped erect. And it wasn’t just social gaming, the fact that someone was a gamer instantly gave us something in common. Let’s ignore sub-cultures for this and just think about it as connecting person-to-person over a common interest. In fact, I met my ex-fiancée because we both played games. I remember it like it was years ago…

She sat behind me in Chemistry, but my friend was sitting behind her. One day, when we were discussing Resident Evil, she piped up with, “Yeah, but Zelda’s better.” I stopped, mid-sentence, and stared. She said that she just didn’t like getting talked over and wanted to say something. From there, we just sort of clicked. Over the years we were together, we had the conversation that followed about the comparative merits of survival horror and action-adventure over and over again. On our third anniversary, I got her a Wiis on launch day, and she got me a PC. We even ran a WoW guild together, nurturing and nudging the newbs we recruited until they were a well-honed fighting force. Eventually, we broke up, but that’s just life. Whatever the reason for it, it was gaming that had brought us together. Let’s see… at about that time, I was wearing this Halloween costume:


Aww cute. He’s all tuckered out from raving. I didn’t stop running the guild after we broke up, though, because it taught me responsibility. No matter how hard it was, I owed it to my friends and players to keep going. We’d worked too hard to build the Guild to just abandon it. Plus, and this is where things are going to get really strange, World of Warcraft honed my social skills to a fine point.

Do you know how long you have to establish good will when you’re the leader of a 25-person pick-up group or the tank for an instance? Minutes, even seconds. You have to make your players believe that they can trust you, depend on you, to get them to the end of the instance in a decent amount of time and, then, to distribute loot fairly. At the same time, you have to be able to correct people and chew them out without damaging their position in the group or hurting their feelings. Making people feel bad about a performance is NOT going to improve their play. Nerves and all that. It gave me my voice and taught me to be confident in my decisions. Even today, I can always use a little of that.

We can skip over what I learned about economics from the Auction House and mimetics from Trade Chat. Suffice it to say that I’ve written roughly five papers on topics gleaned specifically from World of Warcraft. MMOs are their own human ecosystems, after all.

Problem solving, social relationships, academic considerations… there’s no part of my life that gaming hasn’t touched. Even family. One of my best, clearest memories of my dear departed mother is playing Mario 3 with her. She did that thing that people do where they flick the controller while they jump like it’s going to help them go farther. I bet she would have loved the Wii. Tailor-made. My sister and I still talk about playing Wave Race on the N64. Even my dad helped me solve puzzles in Myst and learn how to catch a baseball. Together, we would play Chess and Go. And we all used to play cards. Poker, Bridge, Rummy… the whole family would gather round and play Sevens or Hearts. When I was eight, I won a lot of money at extended family gatherings from playing Rummy. Well, it seemed like a lot.

The important thing to me was the play, though. We might call it engaging today, but I just called it fun. We call it social media and social gaming, but the truth is that the social comes from us. It comes from players –People– spending time together, telling stories and enjoying each other’s company. That large family has sort of drifted apart. I’m far away in another city studying every day and writing posts, making videos and playing games. But, I still have that memory. Those memories. I have gaming to thank for that. I have my family to thank for letting me join in their play.

From all that, I learned the most important lesson of all: how to include someone. Gaming with my family, friends and significant others taught me that no matter what game I’m playing or who I’m competing with, the person on the other end is a human just like me. It’s shown me how to treat them like a person and, if need be, to help them learn how to play. Most of all, it’s ingrained in some deep, secret place of my self that games are more fun when everyone can play.

So, Dear Reader, while I don’t know who you are or what you’re about, I can appreciate that you’re a person. Gaming links us. Sports, cards, PC, Playstation or XBox, we’re all gamers. It’s part of the human condition. Now, the next time someone asks you why you’re wasting your time gaming, you can say, “Because I’m human, and it’s a thing we can do.”

And, you know, while I was going to wait and think about whether or not I should continue writing Trivial Punk, writing this post has made me realize that I should. Sure, it costs time, money and energy, but, like my Guild, I’ve worked too hard at this to just abandon it. So, many happy returns! And, just to show you how far I’ve come to get here, here’s a picture of last year’s Halloween costume… I’m sure you’ll recognize the mouth, if you look up.