At some point, at some time, when I wasn't looking, computer games became an artistic medium.
I knew from computers when I was younger, see. My dad brought home a Commodore 64 when I was about eight, and I learned how to use it. There were a lot of really cool games on that thing-- games that still rank among the most easy to learn and difficult to master that I have ever seen (and that I now have a C64 emulator to play). I learned to like the blocky, pixelated six-color graphics, with the blank black backgrounds; the squiggly electronic music; the arcane and complicated system of commands. I never learned to like the ten-minute loading time, but hey, I could word process at school, where they had a REALLY up-to-date machine: an Apple IIc. My mother got her own word-processing computer at some point, an Apple IIIc, I believe, but it was hers and I didn't go near it much.
I am twenty now, and the Commodore was my old friend and Saturday afternoon amusement until I was at least fifteen. We did not upgrade. Why fix what works? It never needed maintenance, and my parents didn't want me to get a system primarily for gaming, because it would eat my life and because the games all involved violence. (Commodore games centered on puzzles and mind tricks; I have still not become comfortable with the shoot-em-up mentality of much of the gaming industry.) I saved desultorily for a Nintendo, but every time I had enough money, the company would come out with a better and more expensive system, or I'd want something else that cost that much.
We did get a new machine while I was in high school, and I spent a great quantity of time on the Internet, but I couldn't find any good games. My father, fond of strategics, had a great many games of the sort where the instruction manual is the size of a telephone directory and written with the same prose style. Computer games thus remained for me the pixelated characters and squiggly music-- until I got to college.
Final Fantasy VII had just come out for the PC when I got to college.
Suddenly, every time I went near a computer, I was tripping over games with easy interfaces, stunning graphics, orchestral music, and stories as complicated as most novels. More complicated, since every possible contingency that the player might decide on had to be taken into account; the plots grew and twisted like weeds. I was fascinated, and in many cases enthralled by the artistry, but it just seemed like too much of a time investment. I could get a B.A., OR I could beat FFVII.
Some time went by, and now I find, to my chagrin, that games on the new generation of computers have reached the deceptive simplicity of my favorite Commodore pastimes, while using the new iteration of art, music, and voice technologies. They are easy to learn, easy to play, easy to save, and impossible to walk away from, because they feature endless possible refinements of subtlety and skill. Princess Maker, the current cause of most of my procrastination, allows you to bring up a virtual daughter in a fantasy environment, controlling the schools she is sent to, the clothes she is given to wear, her diet, her religious education, her part-time jobs. You converse with her, pick her name, birthday, and blood type (according to the Japanese, who wrote the game, this has an effect on temperament), and do all this on a variously limited budget. There are over sixty possible professions she can choose to take, later in life, and several men she can choose to marry (including your butler); how you raise her determines her later choices and her happiness. She can become the Royal Princess, a housewife, a dominatrix, or the Queen of Hell.
This is just too addictive for words. The sense of vicarious power is, frankly, a little frightening. This is what the new generation of games seem to be like-- and you can download Princess Maker on the Internet, for crying out loud (those of you about to jump down my throat on copyright, rest assured; it was professionally translated from the Japanese and then the rights lapsed before it was released over here, so it's shareware).
Frankly, I'm not sure I can handle the new influx of computer entertainment when it contains both mind-bendingly catchy timewasters and truly emotionally affecting, powerfully artistic stories. Maybe I should go back into my tunnel. I mean, I never even got the hang of this whole Instant Messenger thing. Technology is scary. I have to go play Princess Maker until I feel better...
Changing the Subject, A Decision: I will wait a few months and see what this journal turns into before I decide whether or not to tell my parents about this website.
Angst-O-Meter: 1.5. Life is good, except for my damn sinuses.