A large glow flickers around a dark room, curtains drawn, a wet drizzly winter night outside and a dark grey box sits to my left. I’m sat on a bunk bed with 80’s décor around me in a box room that most young kids were ushered into in modest family homes.
My Gaming Life - by Andrew Foster - Musician
My friend and neighbour was lucky enough to have an actual computer with colour TV and I was allowed round there (as long as I was back by 8.30). Pacmania was one of my first memories of being immersed in a new world running off of the futuristic and beautifully designed Spectrum +2 128k.
I loved everything about it, the clunky tape buttons, the screeching loading screens and bright psychedelic block colours that made new fantasy worlds come to life. I would do anything to get round there and play it… so it didn’t do any harm to my fascination when a Nintendo Entertainment System was acquired by him just months later….
Super Mario Bros was and still is so many peoples entry point into gaming. Everything about the game is beautifully designed, the controls are weighted perfectly as is the sound, cartoony graphics and atmosphere’s between each level. We took turns in playing Mario & Luigi and trying to get to the next level. I was hooked in all things Mario.
I got the McDonalds figures, game and watch games, actual watch games and loved the cartoon, but still the NES was out of my price point and far too much money to ask my Dad for. I needed an excuse, something that would maybe benefit me in the future… I became something of a computer wiz kid at school, I’d learn about things from simple kids style books and read magazines to learn even more. Some things I even understood, and I started to know my RAM’s from my ROM’s by using the BBC Micro Computers at school. Then another turning point came when the school got a new computer….a single Acorn Archimedes 3000 and the machine looked like it could run the pentagon!
I watched my first video clip on a school computer as the class gathered round cross legged on the floor looking up at the screen in wonder. I forget what encyclopaedia it was maybe Encarta or Britannica, but Neil Armstrong’s moon speech was viewed in grainy full motion video. It was absolutely transfixing and I couldn’t believe the data that was being displayed to me on this computer in front of me, this was something for Tomorrow’s World!
It seemed all my friends around me were getting home computers in the late 80’s. Even the working class had them now, it wasn’t just the few who had the office ‘study’ containing a 486 PC with Prince Of Persia or Wing Commander being its only games, it was now common place for a house hold to have an Amiga, Atari ST, Commodore 64 or maybe even the Sega Megadrive! I was looking for something to fall in love with, something that could teach me but offer the games and back catalogue of software.
This is when after playing the Dizzy franchise, using the keyboard and immersing myself in Commodore Format I fell in love with the C64. My Dad was possibly convinced in getting me a computer once he knew it wasn’t a fad and the C64 had a keyboard.
It justified its purchase and although I maybe came into the 8bit game rather late as the Amiga was already out and growing, my acquisition of this well-loved home computer was something of a wonder to me. I had the “Playful Intelligence” system pack with the game cartridge including Flimbos Quest, Fiendish Freddies Big Top’O’Fun, Klax & International Soccer.
I brought the Adventures of Dizzy game pack straight away and from then on collected everything the Oliver Twins did (also worth mentioning Steg the Slug is an underrated classic by Codemasters). I was an avid reader of both Commodore Format and ZZap 64 and saved my pocket money to buy budget games (but not full price, they were sometimes £12!). The cover mount tapes were my way into the software which was a perfect balance of old classics for free and new demos. This was something us 8bit computer nerds had over the console junkies…free games each month.
It’s so hard to explain the memories I have with that machine without sounding slightly mad. For me the commodore opened up my head to a world of fantasy and imagination. It gives me a warm safe glow inside when I think about myself before going into my teens properly where nothing else mattered but the games and the vibe of the software. It got me at a time when nothing is expected of you and you can fully connect with the games and their secret worlds. Maybe that’s the magic I tap into each time I play something from the 8 & 16bit era maybe even the N64…. A childlike view on the world before the realisation of responsibility and work. Or maybe it’s just something simpler, a way of entertaining an inquisitive mind that likes to be manipulated in fantasy lands…..I think it’s a bit of all these things. One things for sure, when I hear the opening music of Cyberdyne Warrior on the C64 I still feel invisible! After the 16bit generation things got real!
The scrap to the top in the Playstation era was undoubtable exciting, and I was a great age for it. Seeing the Jaguar, Saturn, 32X, Amiga 32, Playstation, 3DO, Neo Geo, and more emerge was fascinating and exciting as games started to cross over into proper mainstream life. Some would argue it was mainstream before but there was still a stigma attached to gaming in the media and the playground.
The Playstation tapped into the come-down 90’s generation and made playing Wipe-Out after clubbing cool. Games were no longer something to feel you were part of an exclusive club of, everyone had them and only ever talked about FIFA or Call Of Duty, my proper devotion to gaming died at the PS2. I didn’t mind at that point as I was well and truly consumed with music and in the process of working up to playing in front of people and enjoyed playing my old games.
I’ll save the waffling about each system for maybe another time as I have owned and loved all things Sega Megadrive (including the hated Mega CD & 32X), Gameboy, N64, Dreamcast, SNES, Gameboy Advance, PS2, XBOX 360 & Wii.
My love for games is now going backwards as I am now a professional musician I don’t have the time or the incline to immerse myself in the new Assassin’s Creed.
It doesn’t feel the same anymore and to be honest I bailed out at the PS2. You can’t just pick up and play anymore, everything is so massive, big budget, and complicated with online achievements, downloadable’s, etc etc. I connect every now and then but I much prefer picking up the Game Boy Advance and killing an hour by entering a new world. To some people games were a way of letting off the overspill valve of creativity and fantasy explode in technicolour. A way to act out crazy thoughts, blot out the white noise of trying to understand being a teenager, a guiding light in an otherwise mapped out predictable path of achievements and life goals.
There were goals and achievement’s involved of course, that was the whole point….but these were MY choices and MY mistakes. The point was to beat the game or to just enjoy the ride. Above all its escapism… a beautiful drug that will never leave me and one which I have now transported over to attempting to connect with people onstage with my music. There will always be an element of rose tinted glasses sure….but it’s great to reconnect with that naive childlike wonderment when everything was simple in the many worlds that you could choose to occupy.
Back then gamers were seen as geeky, weedy and the underdogs, but to me they were the people who let the fantasy wash over them and wanted to shut the world out because at times it was boring! They were the true heroes…
I loved the outside world and spent so much time as a kid appreciating it, but my imagination was so vivid and overflowing that games were my outlet to control that before I found the acoustic guitar. I still love to switch off the world and defend the galaxy from an alien horde, collect gold coins, find power ups and see what’s on the next screen….. Green mushroom anyone?
Andrew Foster 2015
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