There’s an old friend of mine who I haven’t seen much of in the last decade. Today reminded me that once you’re really friends with someone, you’re just… friends with them. We went to Hawksmoor with his dad. His dad very kindly picked up the bill, which I’d been quietly worrying about but rolling with the idea of. We were having steak ahead of the main event: A computer game exhibition at the V&A.
I got banned from the computer room at boarding school aged 10 because I had a pirate copy of Strykers Run. No way I could afford a real one, obviously, and no way my parents would pay for a computer game. There was trade going on frantically at school around pirated floppy discs and I had a huge advantage in a brother who was four years older than me at a secondary school who could provide me with excellent contraband.
I was sneaking into Mr Wimbush’s classroom out of hours to play Saber Wulf and Repton and Manic Miner and Chuckie Egg on the BBC. This was a boarding school. Think Brideshead and then take out all the chins. There was a BBC Microcomputer in most classrooms. God. Just imagine if the BBC had kept up!! They were at the cutting edge at the start. And there were loads of games being made for these simple 8bit computers.
Those early expressions of game design… Mister Wimbush just hated them. He was a complicated human being, in retrospect, and a bore. He was the maths teacher, but he also randomly directed the Shakespeare play in the brand new theatre. He looked like a starving and unhappy frog. He’d ban me from things as a way of avoiding conversation because I would always debate him like an equal and he didn’t know what to do with that. He expected pure and blind obedience. He was essentially a comic character to my childish imagination, and his hard-line anti computer game stance was worthy of mockery and also red rag to a bull.
When he suddenly directed Macbeth I was floored. Suddenly this idiot had something I wanted. He already didn’t like me, and I hated him, but I wanted to be an actor so I applied to be in it. People who were good at maths got the leads, and he put me in as Seyton (sounds like Satan). To his credit he got me to do loads of the set changes. That taught me early that theatre is more than what happens on stage. He cut all my lines but “The Queen my lord is dead,” which I had to say “as fast as you can.” But I attribute my enduring love of computer games partly to his gulping and ill informed distaste for the medium when it was young. Maybe he was a lovely man. He was atrocious with me. I’d have to stand outside most of his lessons because he “sent me out.”
But computer games – the battleground for us… Repton eventually led the industry to Minecraft. Strykers Run eventually to The Last of Us. Dan has made his money in that industry for decades now, and he’s one of my closest friends. We went to an exhibition that celebrates the ability of the industry to disrupt expectation. Beautiful thought pieces like Journey, continuing experiments like No Man’s Sky. I watched three teenage boys play “Graveyard”, a thought piece where all you have to do is control a very frail old woman through a graveyard until she can sit on a bench. It’s honestly done, and it’s frustrating just because she can’t move very well and the bench is visible from the start. It’s one of many examples of this new industry working to produce a reaction for a reason, even if it’s just frustration. This industry that has burgeoned into a huge part of the economy, and has seeded its language into common parlance. Achieved.
I had a great day thinking about the nuts and bolts of gaming with my old friend and his dad, and then I went home and spent three hours playing Fallout 3, one of the many games that was released after life made it harder for me to justify spending time playing games. It still holds up. I should properly activate my voicereel so I can contribute properly to these glorious stories. They really are the most remarkable medium, invented almost entirely within my lifetime…