One thing we always had was the latest computer or console and often both. From the Atari 2600, through ZX Spectrum, Commodore, PC, PlayStations and lots in-between. I must have played hundreds of games and am so glad I have been able to continue enjoying this part of my life as my disability progresses.
My Uncle Chris introduced us to the Atari 2600, but I was 10 when basic programming emerged in the mid-eighties. A simple computer language that was accessible to everyone! I was enthralled. And so began a complex relationship between myself and computers. You had to use your imagination a lot with early games like Manic Miner and Transylvania Towers. Some had a two-player mode but were often turn based and rarely cooperative. Two-player games developed further with the two-player consoles, I would spend hours playing with friends playing FIFA 98 or Wipeout. I am concerned that there is something solitary and addictive about gaming that enables people to remain invisible. I have to avoid strategy games after I got addicted to Championship Manager3 on the PC in the nineties, staying up until sunrise trying to win the Premiership with Kidderminster Harriers!
Games have tripled in price since 1983 (adjusted for inflation) but have developed beyond recognition since then too. They send vibrations through wireless controllers and are more like films, with credit sequences and soundtracks. Basic programming is still with us but has developed into several complex languages which power our apps and much of the internet. As a grown-up, I like first or third-person shooters or puzzle-solving adventure games. I am a big fan of the Grand Theft Auto, Fall Out, Assassins Creed series of games. As I’m a Historian with an eye for detail, Call of Duty or Battlefield must be set in the First or Second World War!
There are frustrations. As my motor skills have deteriorated, my wife has to do occasional button mashing sequences for me, usually intense moments of hand-to-hand combat! I tried playing online. I appear, and then while I am still looking around, somebody runs past and kills me. This dispiriting cycle continues for as long as I play! The auto-aim function does not seem to work as well, stripping me of what little ability I had. I usually take a support role, a medic who follows the action, healing people. I tried meeting my brother online and chatted as we played Battlefield 1, our conversation interrupted by sudden cries of ‘lookout’, ‘Ahh, I’m down’ or ‘Go on without me!’ Playing online is interesting and it’s a really important social tool, but I’m just not convinced it’s for me. I prefer the single-player option, where you go a your own pace. I don’t like to be rushed. Maybe I’m too old-school.
But gaming is liberating too. I love the way that after playing a game for a while, you get into that mindset in real-life. If I’ve been playing Assassins Creed, I’ll look at a tall building and my first thought is ‘I can climb that!’ or if I’ve been immersed in Grand Theft Auto and I’m stuck in traffic, I’ll think ’I’ll just nudge that other car forwards and drive on the pavement!’ – and probably worse! Virtual Reality is very exciting. It works by tricking the brain, telling it what you sense around you. For disabled people (like me) constrained by their environments, it clearly has the potential to remove those barriers. You can fly, float in water or tumble through space.
Our daughter is 9 and our son is 4. They both play Minecraft on the PS4. I had to learn that game in a few nights so I could help them! There is a split-screen option for two players, and they play together or with visiting friends quite happily. She is dabbling in coding and the games she plays with school friends online have a much more social aspect, both of which I am keen to encourage. They have my old PS3, Wii and had a Nintendo Switch for Christmas. Their introduction into the exciting world of gaming has begun!