Grinding to Valhalla

Interviewing the gamer with a thousand faces

Psychochild (Chapter 2)

Posted by Randolph Carter on May 2, 2009

MMO community connection:

Psychochild’s Blog

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?

My family had a few of the “classic” board games: Monopoly, Sorry, and the like. We would occasionally play as a family. I don’t remember playing many games with other kids, other than your typical “cops and robbers” type games outside.

I did create a few board games of my own, though. My mother had some poster board for one of her classes when she was getting her degree at the local community college, and I used some of it to make a Transformers themed board game. I scavenged pieces from other games, such as houses from the Monopoly set to create “energon cubes” for the game.

One year for Christmas I got a “100-in-1” gaming set. It had a bunch of generic pieces and some printed game boards with different rules for games. That really spurred my interest in games and my desire to create new ones. I drew some additional game layouts on the back of the boards and created new rules for existing ones.

When I got into the more advanced games, few people were interested in playing with me. I remember getting a war game based on Napoleonic wars and begging my father to play with me. He got frustrated with the game very quickly.

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

I did a bit of music when I was in school. In elementary school we learned how to play the recorder (a woodwind instrument). When I was a bit older I tried to play the clarinet, but band practice happened during other classes and I was always too engrossed in class to remember to go to band. Added to the fact that my practices irritated my parents, it was a brief hobby.

I also got into programming as a kid. In 5th grade, we had a class on typing. I took to the class well, so the teacher gave me a game written in BASIC to type into the Apple II computers in the back of the classroom. I was enthusiastic, because I had been an avid console gamer to that point. After I had typed it all in, I got my first taste of debugging. Learning to debug the problems and then tinkering with the program got me into learning BASIC. Of course, I could only work on stuff at school since I didn’t have a computer at home. I used to write out programs on notebook paper at home in anticipation of being able to type them up at school. One time we were able to check out a Commodore 64 from the local library, and I missed the school bus quite a few times when I was typing in programs instead of watching the clock.

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

I was, in a very round-about way. I grew up going to a very conservative church that truly believed that Dungeons & Dragons was a gateway to Satanism; all paper RPGs were similarly evil by association. So, it was something of a forbidden fruit for me, and therefore very alluring.

One of my earliest “real” paper RPG experiences was buying a module for TSR’s Star Frontiers on clearance at the local Target store. I saved up the money to buy it. Unfortunately, it was just a module and I didn’t have the base set, so most of the stuff was practically indecipherable to me. It was neat to look through, though.

When I got into BASIC programming, a friend of mine, who was also very religious, got involved at the same time. We started making games and found some RPGs, but he didn’t want to play them because they had “Satanic magic” in them. So, we started creating our own little games with each other. We had basically re-created paper RPGs without knowing much about them. Because we couldn’t use magic, and I knew that some herbs can heal (like Aloe Vera), I did some research on the magical properties of plants. I found some books on Wicca from that research. That’s right, *not* playing D&D lead me to read up on witchcraft!

My first real introduction to D&D came from a friend I met at church. (Funny how church and D&D intertwine so much in my life, now that I think about it.) He loved paper RPGs, and we played a bit of D&D.  Eventually we started designing our own paper game system when I was in high school; it was a horror-themed game based on the Friday the 13th TV series where the players had to gather cursed artifacts.

I got into D&D heavily in college. That’s where I met a bunch of my friends who I am still in touch with and where I met my long-term girlfriend. People always get jealous when we tell them we met playing D&D.

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.

I read obsessively as a child. I was the quiet kid in the back with his nose in the book most of the time. The first books I really remember reading where the Hardy Boys books. The small school library had them and I read them in order. Don’t remember how many I ended up reading, but probably a few dozen. I also read the Encyclopedia Brown stories; I was often the smartest kid in the class, so someone recommended I read those.

I also read a lot of science fiction after I got bored with those titles. I read through most of the kid’s science fiction at the public library, then started going after different books in the adult’s section. To be honest, most of the books were garbage, though. I didn’t have anyone else that liked S.F. giving me any direction, so I just picked whatever caught my attention, and it was usually bad. For example, one of the Star Trek novels I read had Kirk captured by the Romulans. He seduces one of them (of course) and makes an escape with her helping. Along the way, he kicks Romulans in the groin (ow!) and comments how the women were equally susceptible to a groin shot as the men were.

In the past decade, I’ve spent time reading some of the classics I missed the first time around.

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.

Paper gaming had an obvious impact. Learning computer programming and playing computer games got me into paper games. I think that since I didn’t get immersed into D&D immediately, it didn’t limit my design imagination as much. I was used to coming up with interesting new rules for mini-games for my friend. When I got into MUDs, I preferred the LP-MUDs because it was easier to program them without owning the game. I was able to earn a wizard (coder) position on one game and do game development.

As for books? I’d say gaming impacted my reading more than the other way around. As I said, most of the books I read were cheezy science fiction, intellectual cotton candy. I didn’t read many of the classics until later. For example, I didn’t read The Lord of the Rings until after I started playing D&D. I read one of my all-time favorite fantasy series, The Chronicles of Thomas Covenant the Unbeliever, because I played a MUD where someone had created an area and a player class based on the series.

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

I was about 5 when I saw a display for the Atari 2600 in a department store. I was fascinated by the idea of playing games on the TV. Every time my parents went to the store, they knew exactly where to find me when they were ready to go.

Later I got an Atari 2600 from my parents. I scrimped and saved to buy the cartridges. The big “video game crash” in the early 80s was awesome for me, because the local stores were trying to unload cartridges cheap. Yeah, some really sucked, but when you paid $1 for it the quality threshold was lower. I eventually had the largest collection of games of the kids in my neighborhood.

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

When I was at a department store, my parents would find me at the video game display area. When we were at the mall? The arcade (or, sometimes, the Radio Shack playing the computer games there).

I loved arcade games as a kid. When you’re poor, a $2000 computer is out of reach, but you can play a few 25 cent games easily enough. I would also beg for quarters/tokens from people, or find free credits people didn’t play. I’d also take over games from people who had to leave. Of course, when I was young I really sucked at the games because I didn’t have a whole lot of quarters to practice. I never got past the first levels of most games.

My favorite arcade games were Capcom’s Forgotten Worlds, Atari’s Gauntlet, Data East’s RoboCop and Midway’s Total Carnage.

A little known fact: the Windows GUI front-end for MAME was developed with help from Chris Kirmse, one of the original programmers for Meridian 59.

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

Probably Space Invaders, because I played the game on both the Atari 2600 and the arcade game. It kind of blew my mind that you could have the same game on different platforms. It was also one of the first games I really remember playing a lot (even though I sucked at it in the arcades). The Atari 2600 version also introduced me to my first cheat/easter egg: if you held down the reset switch while turning the game on, you could get 2 missiles at a time instead of one. That made the game a lot easier!

What gaming consoles have you owned in the past?

In roughly chronological order:

  • Atari 2600
  • Nintendo Entertainment System
  • TurboGrafix-16 (with the CD drive)
  • Atari Lynx
  • Super Nintendo
  • Sega Genesis
  • PlayStation
  • Gameboy Advance
  • Nintendo 64
  • Sega Dreamcast
  • PlayStation 2
  • GameCube
  • Nintendo DS
  • Wii

I’m scared to think about how many games I’ve owned. Easily a few thousand total. I tell people owning that many games is an occupational hazard for game developers.

I still haven’t bought one of the “current generation” consoles, though. I spend most of my time playing and developing MMOs on the PC.

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

One of the first arcade games I saw was the cocktail version of Donkey Kong at the local pizza place. I talked my father into playing it with me. Since the controls were at the opposite ends of the table, I thought one person controlled Jumpman (aka Mario) while the other controlled Donkey Kong. Turns out, each person played one at a time and the screen just flipped around to face the player. Looking back, it’s interesting that I thought the game should be simultaneous multiplayer instead of playing one at a time. Probably one of the reasons I like MMO development.

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