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It’s rather disconcerting to think that man’s most expedient form of public transport i.e. the rail network can be brought low by something as simple as rain. “Goodness, what are these strange barbs of falling water? Best cancel all the trains”. It’s almost like that one movie Signs, just with all of the otherworldly stuff replaced by the equally alien concept of timekeeping. Ooh burn, that’ll show em… So yes, in summary — the rain on trains causes us great pains, and so it was last week when I attended my first ever ‘video game book club’.
Ok, so here’s our first big hurdle to overcome — rather like an errant leaf or discarded bit of tissue on a train track. *Cue panic in the control room* When i say ‘book club’, I don’t mean that we all studied a game book prior to attending, but rather an actual video game. It remains a ‘book club’ in that sense, and in that one sense alone (no word on whether they also got together to discuss the Kafka-esque themes in Prima’s latest strategy guide). Anyway, my train was late by about 15 minutes, with many more being outright cancelled for the evening, leading rather inevitably to a much smaller turnout than expected.
Around eight-or-so players had initially RSVP’d for the event, though only three of us were actually able to attend. It was looking like DashCon 2014 all over again. Still, whatever pangs I felt in seeing such a small turnout quickly turned to elation, as it appeared that some bright spark had rented for us all a room. This, it should be said was very much to the chagrin of just about everyone else in the packed London pub. Seeing these bitter, huddled legions all elbowing one another for space, as I stretched my legs in the lap of luxury, awoke something of the 18th Century aristocrat in me. “Let them eat cake”, i declared with a decadent giggle, after which they burst down the doors and cut off my head.
No, that didn’t happen, but I was very much glad of the extra space as we settled on into the discussion. That month’s topic was none other than the original Abe’s Oddysee for PlayStation, along with its more recent re-release as Oddworld: New N’ Tasty. My two companions were both longtime fans of the brand, while I for my sins had never previously clicked with Abe’s charming, if somewhat cumbersome adventures. But that was in the weeks leading up to the event, and in meantime i’d endeavoured to give the game one last whirl.
Shedding my childhood attempts to see the game as a straight-up platformer I now discovered a fantastically rich and irreverent puzzler. This revelation and more were discussed at length, in amongst a mixture of fond memories, cultural hallmarks and the occasional mild criticism. So too did we discuss all manner of related games, and their impact on our lives, jobs and personal fandoms. Of course, since i forgot to ask either of these two chaps whether I could use their real names in this piece, I’ve decided to do the only sensible thing and create some wildly inaccurate stand-ins. Attendee number one was Hank, an astronaut with a terrible secret. Gamer number two meanwhile, a certain ‘Hernan Cortes’ was famous for subjugating the Aztec peoples in what is now known as Mexico. Got that? Good.
Hank was actually a programmer, modding an RPG classic on the side. He spoke of the difficulties inherent in guiding players to their objectives without removing those elements of discovery and challenge so often ruined by blatant signposting. Cortes, also a programmer had been a near-top-level fighting game player, his skills honed in shady arcades and tested against some of the best players in his native country. Now I know, that does sound completely made up, but I promise you it’s the truth. Well, the bit in this paragraph is, at least.
To be sure, it was wonderful meeting up with my fellow players in such a relaxed and friendly atmosphere, and while it was apparent that every one of us had our own particular niche, that variety only served to enrich our eventual conversation, as we disputed the merits of Dead Space, Final Fantasy, Metal Gear Solid and more. The whole event was a pleasure to attend — laid back, though never aimless, and academic but without being snooty. The sort of thing you might hope for in an online forum, before the trolls descended en masse.
In a world of online echo chambers and torrential rudeness, meeting up for an old fashioned chinwag may just be the least techy, but most fulfilling way to engage with the video gaming community. If you can find a similar event in your area i say head on down, and if not — why not set one up yourself — provided the trains don’t encounter any moisture, that is…