shadow of the beast image by psygnosis

I've been playing video games for decades now.

I played some of the first classic games upon release. Secret of Monkey Island. Another World. Even obscurities now lost to time, like the French scifi game Captain Blood.

I fondly remember arthouse developers from then, too, like Psygnosis.

There was always a question, from the beginning, as to what these computer games were really about.

Were they games?

Were they military simulations?

Were they art?

That was one axis.

Were they about doing (often violence), or thinking?

That was another axis.

captain blood image

In the beginning, they couldn't be simulations, because the graphical resolution was too low, as was the audio and video capability.

That kept a certain element out: people who liked a tough, brutal aesthetic. The resolution was just too low to convincingly sell that. People who liked that kind of entertainment stayed away.

So video games evolved in an artsy, abstract direction, even in mainstream releases. Even Mario had his chiptune soundtrack and stylized, angular monsters.

It was partly necessity: that's what games at the time could do.

It attracted that crowd around it. It become self-selecting, self-supporting. Many games seemed like borderline art school projects.

If you were in this group, that puts the history of video games in a different light. Your milestones are different, your masterpieces are different.

For me, when Doom came around, in 1995, it was a little ominous. One one level, it was fine. I could see that, technically, it broke new ground.

At the same time, it wasn't really my kind of game. Contrary to the news reports before and since, I wasn't 'electrified' or anything.

The colors were drab. As much buzz as it got, I didn't find everything about it to be genius. It gets old, moving around the same dungeons, shooting your gun.

It's not just that games have gotten better since then. I had favorite games back then too; Doom wasn't one.

owl over the water gif

Doom meant the movie-dominating story of a guy with a gun had come to video games, in a way that no longer seemed totally ridiculous.

Now that kind of guy was going to advocate for games like that to come to video game shelves - which didn't sound great to me.

Next came Quake.

Doom had some gonzo creativity going for it, but Quake, to me, just seemed boring; now they were really going hard for simulation. It felt, convincingly at the time, like playing a claustrophic game of paintball.

I could enjoy that in small doses in a James Bond movie, but I didn't want that one scene stretched out over hours as 'entertainment.'

At the same time, something weird was happening in the media landscape.

There was a history of people playing video games pretty seriously at that point. But the perception hardened around the Quake/Doom player as the quintessential video game player.

Why?

It was just one more kind of game, one flavor of many. But that, increasingly, became what games were about: iterating on the Doom/Quake model, pretty much to the present day.

A bad development, from my point of view.

red gun image

From my perspective, games started out good. They were original. They worked within tight constraints. They were mind-warping. They were strange.

A lot of the developments post-Doom I didn't particularly like. By college, I'd quit entirely.

Years later, I got back into 'indie' games, which, as the name implies, is a niche. But from my perspective, those games continued the original tradition.

It's a different view on game history - one where games started out fun, lost their way when they become commercial, and then splintered off in a way you could love again.

But it's a reminder, when you see a definitive history of 'how it happened,' the milestones, the breakthroughs, the notable achievements - it may not be as agreed upon as Google front page search results suggest.