I was a really weird child, and I’ve found the definitive proof. My parents are moving out of state this month, so I made a few trips back home to sort through the cardboard-entombed relics of my youth. I’m weird now, but I had forgotten what sort of child I was until I found an unopened letter from my past. Tucked neatly into a manila folder, somewhere between the pirate ship I drew in second grade and my middle-school poetry journal, was a sealed envelope. Scrawled in my practically unchanged handwriting was an address for one Mrs. Brown, who apparently lived at the same address I did. I sat there crossed-legged, with a beaded Native American headband tied around my head and surrounded by the toys of my youth, and unfolded the letter, which read:
“Dear Mrs. Brown, my leg has been acting up so I will need you to send me more apples. The last lot was bad, they were too sour. And please send me another cherry cake. Two cherries were missing from the last one.”
There it was: undeniable, certifiable, WebMD-sponsored proof that while in-utero, the wrong wires done got crossed. Writing that letter was not a school assignment; I had just decided one day that I was going to write Mrs. Brown and give her a piece of my mind. I went as far as to put a stamp on the envelope, but it was never sent. It would just wait there patiently until its real mission was completed, proving my problem is more than mere boredom.
While I was writing to Mrs. Brown, little Christopher Dickens of Connecticut was playing ET on the Atari 2600. We wouldn’t meet for another 20 years, but he too was laying down a white-pebble trail to find his way back home. His game of choice was so awful, Atari deposited the cartridges into a New Mexico landfill in 1983. He wasn’t aware of that, though; he just knew that when you pressed the buttons and moved the stick, magic appeared on the screen. I imagine that “child Chris” did a lot of things back then that didn’t need explaining or justification; in his mind it made sense. That’s pretty much how he is as an adult, and probably a big part of why we are friends.
I’ve logged more online gaming hours with Chris than with any other friend. Our gaming sessions usually involve his goal-oriented gaming conflicting with my “chase the deer in WoW cuz I can” ADD.
“Booth, where are you?”
“I dunno, can you see me on your map?”
“No, but I pulled this mob for the quest you’re on…now I died.”
“Oh, sorry. I saw some copper on my mini-map so I went to mine it.”
In our friendship, I do most of the antagonizing, but he gets his revenge by peppering our conversations with made-up phrases that only he understands. Either way, we’re just free to be who we are. Sometimes we annoy each other, but I’ve never blocked him on AIM.
I was originally going to write this article about being a “balanced gamer,” but Chris convinced me that my idea sucked. So we bounced ideas back and forth. I don’t remember what we agreed on as being the best subject. My inability to focus frequently short-circuits my short-term memory’s ability to settle into long-term storage. Regardless, I remember us reaching the conclusion that the purest form of gaming is probably connected to the innocence of our youth. For him, it was playing ET on the Atari 2600. For me, it’s epitomized in playing A Boy and His Blob on the NES (sans instructions). I had no idea which jellybeans did what, and I don’t remember ever making it very far. I just enjoyed throwing jellybeans at Blobert and watching him mutate.
Our “adult” minds have turned gaming into frame rates, frame buffers, resolutions and “immersive gaming.” Most online gaming debates that I have participated in seem void of the most important question: are you having fun? That was my only consideration when I wrote Mrs. Brown, or when Chris was playing ET. It made sense to us, it kept us entertained, so we went with it. Our enjoyment of gaming was free from convoluted phrases such as “PC gamer,” “hardcore gamer” and “console wars.” That’s what I miss, and that’s what I want to return to. I know it’s possible; the hundreds of dead wolves I skinned in Red Dead Redemption are proof I can find it.
I’m sure that, when I’m too old to remember all the “flame wars” and people that made gaming less enjoyable, I’ll still perfectly remember gaming with Chris (aka Cpt. Splendid Pants). I’ll remember the time he showed me how to ‘/dance’ in World of Warcraft and made me ‘/laugh.’ I’ll remember the first time I played on Xbox Live with the Avault podcast guys, and the enjoyment my wife got from seeing how nervous I was. Hopefully I can game with some of you and create more lasting memories. Until then, be random, be quirky and have fun gaming.