Tuesday, 29 December 2015

Christmas: As Interpreted By A Gamer

A Christmas thing I wrote last week for Forces Of Geek...

Altering situations to resemble something else is often a sign of obsession. Such is the case with me and video games. I may not have the most extensive current catalogue or intimate knowledge of retro obscurities but I love the principle of gaming and because of that, they affect me heavily. How is this relevant, you ask? Well, it’s Christmas and as with a great many things in life, I can’t help but see a large amount of similarities. Sure, it could just be a case of art imitating life but where’s the fun in that?

You can actually buy this wreath, here!
All gamers know that the first aspect one encounters is learning new controls, whether it’s through a manual, a guide or a tutorial, getting accustomed to the actions of a new environment can be tricky. Even franchise titles that you’ve played since their inception can introduce new elements that throw you off your game and have you looking like a fumbling noob. And what could be a better example of this than trying to get to sleep on Christmas Eve? You sleep every day of the year, sometimes take naps and if you’re anything like me, crave it wildly all the time. Yet on 24th December it becomes a seemingly impossible act that you’ve somehow forgotten how to execute.

Throughout the day, you may notice that every time you try to carry on with the main objective (playing with.. oh, I dunno.. a new video game perhaps?) you are constantly bombarded by side quests that you don’t really want to participate in but you know it’ll probably benefit you in the long run. The first of such side-quests is spending time with your friends and family. This can be the trickiest element for an inexperienced player. Visiting relatives is akin to interacting with RPG characters, wherein you need to execute a perfect combination of phrases to get through the entire thing without sounding like you don’t recognise them or starting a fight.

Remember, you can choose to ignore those irritating family members!
After all the social niceties, we come to the exchanging of presents. Gift giving is very much like turn-based combat; you have made your selections months ago and now all you can do is wait and hope it pays off. The epitome of reaping what you sow, preparation is key; if you’ve analysed your target you’ll know exactly what they want or have a really close substitute to hand. Nothing worse than using a fire attack on a rock type or giving a lewd dictionary of slang terms to Old Aunty Doris.

Most families will also employ the use of party games or singing carols. This can strike you in one of two ways, as all mini-games do. Either you’ll jump straight in and even look forward to this section as much as the rest of the day (kinda like the card game in Final Fantasy VIII) or it’ll drive you up the wall crazy and have everyone shouting at each other that they shouldn’t have bothered with this waste of time (kinda like the card game in Final Fantasy VIII). The carolling on the other hand depends entirely on skill level. While you can master the art of tapping the green button on a plastic guitar while simultaneously strumming, this doesn’t automatically make you a qualified master axe shredder but you can still be very proficient at something like Rock Band or Guitar Hero. The same cannot be said for singing. No matter how good a gamer, you can either sing or you can’t and much like carol singing, everyone will soon realise which category you fall into.

Crackers...gunpowder and cheap tat!
For my international readership, I may have to explain the next two points. Firstly, we have the Christmas Cracker. A cracker is a table accessory used only at Christmas. It’s a colourful shiny tube loaded with a gift, a joke, a paper crown and a tiny amount of gunpowder that makes a snap when you pull it open. Saying it out loud, I appreciate how weird it must sound. This is our equivalent of MMORPG looting and chests.

Even cheap crackers are decorated nicely but my God they can contain some crap. Then there are some extremely high quality crackers with pocket knives, chess sets and other mad useful things. The element of surprise and immediate disappointment as you add your new tiny set of screwdrivers to an already large and equally useless collection of tiny screwdrivers from previous years, is indicative of that moment you watch that loading icon only to see that your reward for killing that surly bad guy is yet another item ideal for someone multiple levels below you or of an entirely different class.

Merry Christmas Ma'am, I mean...Your Royal Highness. 
The second Britishism is the annual tradition of the Queen’s Speech at 3pm – or the Royal Christmas Message to give it its proper title. For many households, this is a direct message from their leader and to be absorbed with concentration and severity – which is especially tricky with a paper crown on your head, from the aforementioned cracker. For those who don’t know, Her Majesty the Queen appears on our televisions and greets the nation by giving a run-down of the year, namely how bad it’s been but keep your chin up because hopefully next year won’t be too bad. This is the equivalent of that FMV sequence (usually somewhere on your HUD these days) that seems to stop the whole game and update you with things and objectives you already know. You sort of run to a safe area and half-watch but you don’t give it your full attention and before too long it’s over and you just sort of salute and carry on while impersonating it out loud “Destroy the enemy turrets, destroy the enemy turrets! I’m trying to destroy the enemy turrets! I don’t need you telling me every five minutes!”

I like to imagine I'm indulging in an epic Elder Scrolls feast.
Finally, Christmas dinner. Whether you eat later or early in your house, Christmas dinner is a herculean effort requiring immense preparation and skilful execution. But if you’re only eating it, rather than making it, Christmas dinner is the boss fight. After snacking all morning on dates, nuts, pretzels, chocolate, Turkish delight and all kinds of rich nibbles your body must now endure an enormous meal that never seems to end. Packed with heavy root vegetables, hearty meat and lashings of gravy followed by sickly Christmas pudding with brandy butter or cream, it has defeated the best of us several times in the past. Few make it to the end and those that do can often feel weak and drained by the experience, yet oddly proud.

While there are a few esoteric traditions, most Christmas Days have a standard format and it’s this rigid formula of familiarity that reminds me most of replaying my favourite video games. There’s always something comforting about familiarity and even if it drives you mad, who could say they wouldn’t immediately fall back into the old habits and joys of nostalgia firing up an old favourite? So this year, whatever you’re doing, whoever you spend it with, hopefully all the positivity of reliving the greatest and most irritating of times will please you all.

Merry Tetris everyone!

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