About Last Night ...

About Last Night ...
The Gamer Within

Sean Sands | 20 Mar 2007 12:00
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"Well, what if I don't want to kill things? I mean, what else can I do?"
"You're a Hunter. It's kind of your thing."
"Oh. What if I wanted to start over and be one of the guys who heals? Can I go around healing wolves instead?"
"No, you'd just be healing the guys who are killing the wolves, or yourself, while, well, you know."

Eventually she conceded and set herself to the task. One of the wolf corpses that surrounded her dropped a pair of gloves, and I was grateful she simply accepted the fact without wondering what a wolf was doing with clothing.

"You know, it's nice that when I shoot these things they just come helpfully over, so I can kill them some more," she said, as another player wandered past and challenged her to a duel. I explained what was happening, and she clicked the decline button in disgust. The character, a gnome Rogue, began helpfully clucking like a chicken. After she declined his request, the Rogue proceeded to jump in circles around her character, putting on the kind of display one might expect from an avian mating ritual. I told her she was being griefed, and then explained what that meant and directed her back to town to turn in her quest and train up.

The griefer eventually lost interest, and when my wife asked why he had done those things, I again didn't have an answer. Every one of her questions revealed the dark truth of MMOGs: They simply make no sense. We moved on.

Game 2 - Half-Life 2
Following the concerns my wife expressed about the violent nature of World of Warcraft - the first time I'd heard such a complaint levied against the game - I worried about my second choice. So did she.

"Running around shooting things in the head doesn't sound like fun."
"At least it's not wolves, this time."

I hoped Half-Life 2's mostly non-violent beginning might surprise her. I never really held much hope that we might eventually enjoy long, passionate nights of toilet-toss in deathmatch, but if there was a game that might temper the scowl with which I am always greeted when she walks in on me playing an FPS, this was it.

She struggled with the controls again, but they seemed to make more sense to her than WoW's third-person floating camera. She wandered off the train into City 17 and the bleak heart of a dystopian future. I showed her how to jump, and she skipped happily among refugees being shoved and intimidated by Combine soldiers with a gleeful "whee!"

I filled in some back story as the plot unfolded. She approached the train station's main terminal, and a guard knocked a can on the floor and demanded she pick it up. It was a scripted event I remembered annoying me. She glared at the screen, picked up the can and threw it at the guard's head with a confident "Fuck you!"

Oh, how I beamed.

The pace quickened after that, faster than her ability to control Gordon Freeman, and a number of unfortunate, if comical, deaths followed as she tried to navigate rooftops under the pressure of gunfire. Frustration set in, and the giddy gamer that had stepped off the train evaporated under the stress of combat.

The hour finished without her firing a single shot. This was, for her, the most surprising thing about Half-Life 2: She hadn't just been unleashing bullets into nameless faces, but instead had been coaxed into a world that she began to care about. But, in the adrenaline afterglow she said, "You know, the thing is, if I want to see something die I'll just turn on CNN. Playing a game, to me, is about forgetting all that."

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