Game Over

The new video game sensation is ‘The Last of Us’, and for the Guardian’s Stuart Heritage, it’s bringing to clear focus just how hopeless he is playing them.

And you know what, Stuart, me too.

As a child of the 80s and 90s, my game memories begin with the beige box of dreams that was the Commodore64, cassette tapes and all. And whilst “New Zealand Story” and “Paddington’s Garden Game” passed off without incident, and the most basic of basic racing games attracted my borderline autistic tendencies, anything beyond “point, click, shoot” made my heart sink.

Upgrading to the Mastersystem and latterly SNES didn’t help. I could do Mario, I loved Mario, and Prince of Persia, all 2-D scrolling platforms and minor difficulty curves. Sometime between the SNES and not having anything at all, I had a brief relationship with the original PlayStation, though only for the aerial-shot “Grand Theft Auto”. And then…nothing. For about 20 years, give or take.

As expected, the subsequent years without anything more taxing than matching coloured shapes to each other to pass the time has not been without moments of computer game awkwardness. I’m the trainee judge, the clueless grandfather, the nervous first-date, politely taking a controller only to have it taken off me with barely hidden pity. Football classics such as “ProEvo” become lessons in advance mathematics, my eyes forever focused on a player unable to move, or unwilling to join his teammates, or just more interested in dancing around the touchline than touching the ball. “That one, that one to shoot!”, “SHORT! Just needs to be SHORT!” and all other manner of spirited instructions come my way for no great benefit.

A few months ago a friend asked if I wanted to join in as a third player in some crazy looking multiplayer first-person shooter effort. It soon came to an end; he and another player ran ahead shooting, killing, jumping, crouching, attacking. I was stuck. “Is that the sky?” I asked. “Yes, Liam, press that to run, run over here, we’ll wait.”

Oh, “We’ll wait”, how often I heard that. They would clear a room of enemies whilst I banged into doors, walls, or had my lower half cut to shreds by an unseen assailant. “We’ll wait ahead,” he’d say, watching me spinning around confused. Sometimes literally.

People I know are left bemused. Me, of all people, should be up to my elbows in computer games, eager to throw myself into words of warcraft and such. No, alas, not. I lose all my concentration, understanding of basic functions and sense of normality. Heat rises, confusion reigns, sense drips away like a badly coded Health Bar. I watch others play, say, “Red Dead Redemption” and think it would be possible to learn that sort of thing pretty easily. Then I have a go, and there’s more “dead” than “redemption”. Whoops, there goes my guns/horse/legs. Oh dear, I’m face to face with a leopard and all I can do is scroll through music options or pause-restart-pause-restart like a jumpy teenager worried about an XTube video has woken his parents.

Now games are growing more complex and complicated, not to mention components of multitudes of add-ons, downloads and the like, I’m left on the casual gamer island watching the Good Ship Video Game sailing off into the horizon. Where once I worried my mum with my inability to leave the Commodore 64 loading screen, I’m now sat at the back of the living room whilst everybody else crowds round the flat screen. I’m a regular visitor to ZeroPunctuation, only for the laughs rather than first hand knowledge of the latest installments of Shooter-Season 2011 or whatever the trend is at the moment.

Whether I like it or not, I have to accept that video games fell from my grasp at the first sign of advancing into what they are now today, leaving me with regular psychological check-ups for addiction to WordsWithFriends. Maybe “The Last of Us” truly is the newest high-point in a good few years in gaming, I really wouldn’t know. I’d spend too long fathoming out how to stand up straight before crashing into a wall. And then maybe I’d try to turn the game on….