Grinding to Valhalla

Interviewing the gamer with a thousand faces

Wilhelm2451 (Chapter 2)

Posted by Randolph Carter on April 23, 2009

MMO community connection:

The Ancient Gaming Noob

Chapter 2: Origins

What kind of games (if any) did you play as a child before you got into video gaming? Did you play with family, friends or was it more of a solo activity?

We played games quite a bit at my grandparents place. They had a farm out in the California Central Valley where TV reception was spotty and there was a general “early to bed/early to rise” rhythm of life. In the late afternoon before dinner, there was a point where pre-dinner drinks were served up (I got to have a soda) and we would sit around and play a game. Dominoes was the popular choice for a long time. Gin or other card games were played at times. At home too, we played games. Monopoly was always popular. When I was older and Trivial Pursuit came along that became a favorite. I suspect it was because, as a family, we have a remarkable knack for trivia. My mother and I were an unbeatable team, with me covering science and history and her on entertainment and sports. With friends I ended up playing war games, usual the Avalon Hill bookshelf variety. While we played all varieties, I grew to like the game Tobruk the most. It was a much more tactical game than some others, like PanzerBlitz or Third Reich. The more strategic, and thus the more abstract, a game got, the less I seemed to enjoy it. At least to a certain level. A game like Risk, warfare abstracted to the extreme, I did enjoy quite a bit.

What other hobbies and/or activities did you have as a child (sports, music, etc)?

I played some sports. I was in little league baseball and ran track through junior high. For hobbies I built models, usually tanks or airplanes to go along with my toy soldiers. I had quite a collection of Airfix 1/72 scale figures.

Were you ever exposed to pen and paper role playing games? What was that experience like?

Not until high school. My family moved before my freshman year and I ended up at a different high school from all of the friends I grew up with. Then, alone and susceptible to the influences of strangers, I fell in with a crowd of role playing gamers. They started by introducing me to the light stuff like Tunnels and Trolls, but I quickly moved on to the hard stuff and had a copy of the AD&D Players Handbook before my parents could intervene. Soon I was reading Tolkien and affecting a bad British accent. Still, I was able to keep my head to a certain extent and never, for example became a Ren Faire regular or an SCA member.

Did you read much as a child? If so, what did you like to read (books, comic books, etc?) Please list some favorite authors, titles, etc.

Honestly, I read very little of my own volition until about 8th grade. I used to mostly flip through books and look at the pictures. MAD Magazine’s “Spy vs. Spy” comic was my level of reading commitment. Then at some point in junior high school I decided I wanted to know more about the pictures than the rather scanty captions in a book I was looking at, so I started reading the thing. This is, of course, all heresy, since my grandmother was a librarian and I spent hours and hours at the library. I was just browsing the pictures most of the time. In high school I read a lot of Science Fiction. Larry Niven and Harry Harrison figured prominently. Oddly, I tended to steer clear of the “classics” from authors like Asimov and Heinlein. “Bil the Galactic Hero” was much more amusing when I re-read it years later after having soaked up more of a foundation in the genre. (I only recommend the original book, not any of the follow-ons.)

Would you say that any of these games or books had an effect on your later appreciation of computer gaming and ultimately MMOs? Please explain.

Certainly. Larry Niven was all about space. There is a direct line somewhere from me reading “Ringworld” to me playing EVE Online. And certainly RPGs and Tolkien mixed in unhealthy doses pre-disposed me towards fantasy. The one thing I disliked about table top games like D&D was all the accounting that needed to be done. While computer games and then MMOs restricted much player initiative, they hid ALL of the accounting that I so loathed. That made me a natural for the genre. I just want to attack, not calculate my THAC0.

How were you fist introduced to video games? How old were you? What was the platform?

I played Pong at The Old Spaghetti Factory in downtown San Jose when I was just a kid. It was amazing.

Did you ever play coin-op games at the arcade? What was that experience like?

Of course, from the point I found Pong to the day I got a personal computer, I spent a lot of time in arcades. It could be a lot of fun, but it was also expensive. For 25 cents back in those days you could get a comic book. This probably explains why I did not do much comic book collecting.

What was the first video game you can remember playing that really made an impression on you? Please explain.

I played Star Trek on an HP system. A friend’s dad brought us into the office one weekend and let us play it while he got some work done. My friend and I loved it and went about creating our own board game version of it since we did not have ready access to any sort of computer.

What gaming consoles have you owned in the past?

I have owned three, an Atari 2600 that I got for Christmas in 1977, a Sega Genesis that I got as a bonus of sorts for a project at work in 1992, and we got a Wii in 2007. That is one console every 15 years like clockwork. I’m not due again until 2022.

Feel free to share a story related to your gaming experience as a child.

A story about gaming? That’s what I have a blog for! Okay. At one point a friend and I were very excited about computer/console games. This was in 1978 or so, and I had an Atari 2600 and he had a Fairchild Channel F. We were both enamored with the technology but somewhat let down by the lack of depth there was to most games. Because of this, we tended to build metagames where you might have to play any given shallow two-minute-thirty-second “shoot the blocky thing with smallers blocks” as part of a single turn of the bigger game. There was a lot of role playing and pretend around it. We were nerds once, and young.

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