It sneaks up on you. Sort of like cars that have more electronics than mechanics, mobile phones, computers, iPods, the internet, Facebook and Twitter. One has to keep up of course, but with the speed of the technological explosion it is necessary to draw a line somewhere. There are certain things one decides one will just simply never get round to doing.
For me one of those things was online gaming. I was a wee thing in the era of the pinball machine. This gaudy contraption was usually located in the corner diner, inevitably occupied by young kids playing truant from school, and young men who couldn’t hold down a job and had nothing better to do with their time. I never really saw the fascination myself, and as my own children grew and the ‘Arcade Game’ became the pinball machine’s next generation, I stoically discouraged their use, convinced that such Game Arcades were the hangout of lowlife’s and hooligans!
But quickly technology forged forward, and before I could blink the old computer games Pong and Tetris had given way to Mario Brothers, Dungeons and Dragons, and Tomb Raider. From scarily flashy and loud Arcade areas in the back end of down-market malls, gaming quickly re-invented itself as a slick, intelligent, in-the-comfort-of-your-own-home entertainment activity. It was even in some cases, we worried parents were told, quite educational, and developed speedy eye-hand co-ordination in children. Not that I believed a word of it. Although I did relent to small degrees, purchasing “The Yellow School Bus” for my children to play under my watchful glare. But I was determined that ‘Gameboy’, and ‘Playstation’ would not see the light of day in MY house!
So it was odd that online gaming did manage to sneak up on me, insidiously plucking me boldly downward to a place I never dreamed I would go. I started using computers extensively in the early 1990’s, so by the mid to late ‘90’s I was diving headlong into the World Wide Web. Well, as headlong as the limitations of my not-quite-yet-Pentium computer would allow. Soon, and often, I needed to upgrade hardware and software which I did as soon as I was financially able. It’s a common enough tale. One thing led to another and I soon found myself involved in a couple of Sci-Fi fan sites, and inevitably ended up on Facebook.
It appears innocent enough, this interaction and re-connection with friends old and new. But beware, it is a devious and demanding master! Soon a friend of mine sent me an invitation. An invitation to build a cyber farm. Now of course, knowing me you are wondering why anyone would think I would want to build a farm! But naive and fairly new to the online community lifestyle I was under the impression that if I refused something a friend sent me, they would know, and I’d hurt their feelings in some real and tangible way, and they would ‘un-friend’ me, and I would have to live with the disgrace and misery!
So I accepted. And started trying to build up a farm. I did find a lot of my friends who seemed to like farming, and soon I had neighbours who could help me out, and water my lands when I forgot! Oh the shame of allowing a crop to die!
Dead wheat, Rotting apples, dried up ponds. I wondered that my few pigs, sheep and horses (mostly ‘gifted’ by my neighbouring farmers) did not seem to lose much condition, and wandered around a brown dry landscape with supercilious smiles on their mugs. I was reminded of the year of the ‘virtual pet’. A time I would rather forget. My daughter bought herself one with birthday money. I had the ‘day-shift’ as these pocket-watch sized devices were banned at school. I shall never forget the horrid feeling in the pit of my stomach as I watched the puppy on the small screen sprout wings and fly up to ‘heaven’! I had missed a couple of feedings! I think my daughter and I wept over that poor picture-of-a-puppy dying, than we did when she inadvertently killed her (real) goldfish by trying to pat it too much!
I was finally brave enough to admit to my friends that I really did not enjoy farming much, and wanted ‘out’. My sigh of relief did not last long. Another friend invited me to run a café. Well, I told myself, a café is much more up my alley (excuse the pun)! And I did not entirely hate the idea of having something I could build up myself, albeit nothing but bits and bytes on a computer screen. I told myself it was the farm I didn’t really like, but I loved coffee, and so plunged headlong into starting up my café. Perhaps my software and hardware were showing their age as for some reason the graphics-heavy operations involved in running my modish café made my poor computer hang itself so often that trying to keep the blasted thing going was just not fun anymore. I told my friend’s my woes, and quit the café business.
What I really needed was a game based on a theme I enjoyed, that was not very graphics-heavy, and that did not require that I sit hours in front of my computer screen trying to load applications and do the necessary cyber-business to advance. Wouldn’t that be fun?
But did I really need a game, for goodness sake? After all I had found they are somewhat hard to get oneself weaned off. A sense of guilt and failure plagued me whenever I wanted to quit. The friends I would let down as the weeks of hard work would inevitably sit there in cyber-space somewhere untouched, uncared for, unloved, with the little cyber-figurines waddling around, trusting little smiles on their faces, till their bits and bytes finally melted into that space where unused cyber creations go to die….wherever that may be.
And you thought it was just peafowl that I got too attached to!
But we live and learn. Yet another invite came via Facebook, from yet another friend. And it looked oh so tempting and appealing! No pithy little farm, café, aquarium, zoo or girly shopping spree, this. Here I could be part of a new medieval empire, building my own village up to a small town, commanding troops, plundering silver, and the best, it seemed to need little by way of time, it loaded quickly, and did not seem to confuse my poor old computer at all! What more could a girl want? Facebook was at last speaking my language.
So I joined “Realm of Empires”.
I found myself in a whole new world (again, excuse the pun). I was now surrounded by rather more serious gamers than I had ever been before. Way out of my league, I thought at first. But I did find the online gaming community, at least in this game, to be very helpful and tolerant of my silly rookie questions. I went further along the advancement path in this game than I had ever managed in a game before. At first it appeared less time consuming and a more casual game than most, suitable for those who are not, nor intend to become, game-tied to a computer. But eventually even this became too much for me to deal with, and despite the ever present guilt at the thought of who I might be letting down, and where my poor surfs and soldiers would end up, I knew I had gone as far as my interest and abilities reached. I extricated myself from my cyber-kingdom and easily ignored any further invites. That was a good ten years ago now.
This short and shallow sojourn into gaming probably served its purpose. I think it taught me not to be quite so scared of new technology, and I can totally see myself one day hobbling around my house on my Zimmer-frame, Zooming with my geriatrician, facetiming with my children while at the same time programming my dinner requirements, all using floating virtual screens above my kitchen island.
I remember when a ‘game’ entailed putting on a very short white dress, draping a cardigan casually over one’s shoulders, bouncing into a room and announcing “Anyone for Tennis?” It was all about getting out into the sunshine working up a bit of a ‘glow’, socializing with friends, and enjoying a refreshing G & T after.
Who am I kidding? With my ball sense and dislike of the outdoors I never really made a success of that either!