Wednesday, February 11, 2009

Why I Suck at Playing Video Games

I have never been good at playing video games. It is not that I lack eye-hand coordination. I’m good at other tasks that require this skill. And yet I suck at playing video games.

My gaming history goes back some years. It goes back to when I was a kid. My first experience with video games was in Chhatarpur, where my nani lived. We (my brother and I) used to visit, along with our mother for about a month or so in the summers. There was nothing exciting about the trip. I mean, it was good to see nani and nanji and mama and mami but then there were no kids to play around with (not until our cousins came along) and nothing to do, except eat and sleep. As an 8 or 10 year old kid, life was highly frustrating.

This is when I discovered that you could play video games for a price of 2 or 3 rupees an hour. It wasn’t exactly at a game parlour. It a small town kirana shop – the kind that keep everyday groceries, candy and other knick-knacks. At the back of the shop, the kirana-wala had installed some cheap TVs and gaming machines. The games available were the old classics – Contra, Mario, Road Fighter, Bomber Man. The gaming machines were the old 8-bit ones (from Sega or Nintendo, I don’t remember) that came with joysticks which had arrow keys on one end and four buttons at the other.

My mother had absolutely no idea what video gaming was about. For the longest time she thought that it was gambling of some sort. Her only experience with shiny, flickering displays had probably been with casino scenes in movies. Needless to say, she was completely scandalized when one day I shyly suggested that I be allowed to go and play for a while.

The other issue was money. For my mother, spending money on playing games, video or not, was completely unthinkable. So for the longest time all I got to do was stand at the kirana-wala’s and watch other kids play.

The first I got to play was when one of my uncles took me along when he himself went to play. He was only one and a half year older than me, (you know how it gets in extended families), and quite keen on spoiling this young man under his wing. We played some game that involved boxing the hell out of street thugs. It was great fun. I don’t even remember what that game was called and never ever found it again anywhere even though I looked and looked. And the best part was, we played on a colour TV.

It was not as if colour TVs were anything exclusive by that time. We’d had one at our home for many years by that time. But black and white TVs were still cheaper. So the kirana-wala would have a number of black and white TVs and have only a few colour TVs. And then he’d charge more for playing on the colour TV. If the black and white TV charge was 3 rupees, say, then the colour TV charge was 5 rupees.

But the real gaming experience came along when my nanaji was posted in Panna and we spent one summer with him in Panna.

Now Panna is a weird town. It is a mining town. (They have diamond mines there.) And needless to say, people are abjectly poor. The town has (or had) an uncharacteristically large number of tea shops which sold an uncharacteristically large number of rusks along with the tea. It seemed as though all the city ever had was tea and rusks.

Panna also seemed to have an uncharacteristically large number of mentally disturbed people. Nanaji always used to say it’s the diamonds. He said that being the most powerful ‘ratn’ the diamond was apt to drive people crazy.

We had this old man who used to come every day to the well right across the street. Our house was on the second floor and we could watch him from the building. He used to arrive at about 7 in the morning and bathe at the well till 3 in the afternoon. Yes, bathe. He lived nearby and brought all the big utensils in his house to the well one by one. Then he used to wash each of these meticulously. At times we’d watched him wash one utensil as many as five times over. Then he used to take his bath, again washing himself many times over. He used to do this till late afternoon. And along with this he used to shout things out. We never understood what they were.

Yes, if there was nothing to do in Chhatarpur, Panna was a recreational vacuum. I was so bored with my life that summer that I actually began reading this Hindi novel that nanaji had on table. (Much to his alarm. The novel was way beyond the understanding of a kid my age.) It was something called ‘Hansali Baank ki Lok’katha’. It was one of those regional novels whose sole purpose is to bore the reader with every excruciating detail from the lives of people from some remote village in India no one knows about.

So, seeing that I was getting bored out of my wits, my mother finally relented and let me go play the video games. The fact that the charges in Panna were a full rupee cheaper (per hour) than Chhatarpur might also have something to do with it.

Obviously, I played on the black and white TVs because it cost less. That was when I discovered Mario. The shop used to be hot (and you have to live in Bundelkhand to realize what heat means) and cramped. Sometimes we kids were sitting with not more than a foots distance between the TV and our heads. Every time a kid had to move, all of us had to pause our games, get up and make way. These used to pauses with much restrained anger. It took a whole minute or two off your playing time, after all.

I thought I was better at Mario than I was at Contra but I never made it beyond the fourth level.

In the subsequent years video games became more commonplace and people even bought them for home. Playing them was no more a taboo for my mother. Money was still an issue but then nothing beats the persistence of bored kids on hot summer evening. My brother had grown up a bit and I had to take him along every time I went playing. Obviously he wanted to play. But usually I didn’t let him and he had to stay content just to watch. Sometimes I used to let him play for a while. (Looking back, I feel so guilty about it.)

But gradually I lost interest in video games. Truth of the matter was, I completely and utterly sucked at it. Very soon, my brother who was barely half as tall as me could outdo me at any game. There’s no point in playing a game you can’t win.

Enter computer games. The first time I played a game, it was one a 12 inch monochrome display. It was a game called dave. There was this little man who had to jump over obstacles and shoot pretty little monsters with his gun to clear levels. I played it at a friend’s dad’s office.
We learnt computers at school. I also did some classes outside of school. At both places the teacher would sometimes let us play. There was the classic pacman and various spurious versions of Mario. There were sky, dave and yes, the legendary wolfenstien 3D. Wolf 3D made me realize how much I really sucked at playing games. Not only could I not make any sense of the 3D world, I could never remember my way around the map. (Even today I can’t find my way around a map in an FPS. Has something to do with my ability of not being able to navigate properly even in the real world.)

I never owned a computer until I was 20 years old and was in college. So these experiences with computer gaming were limited.

I did however code a pacman clone in qbasic when I was 16 year old. Yes, I am good at programming.

The only game that I’m moderately good at today is Age of Empires. I daresay I was an okay player in my wing at IITK. Other than that, I’m a complete and utter dolt at playing video games. I don’t know why. Perhaps the answer lies somewhere in this post. But I don’t know what it is.


  1. Lame excuses! I just think you never try hard enough. You can't pick a game and get good at it. You need to spend time (days, months) with it. I used to be awesome at street fighter when I was a kid, but now I get my ass kicked by tiny kids. I've seen you play AOE, you very never crazy about it, you never tried to do things as fast as possible and go smashing around everything. You're more into sitting back and taking in the graphics than going and destroying things :P I think you should take a shot of adrenaline before you play your next game :P

  2. @ Ankit - Bhak sale. Why are you spoiling my hard earned AOE cred?

  3. Heh heh, Vinod, a very enjoyable post! :D I'm wondering teko ekdum se Video Games kaha se yaad aa gaye.

  4. Abe subah hagge mein baithe baithe badi ajeeb cheezein yaad ati hain. :P

    Vaise you should connect it the other way round. I read a blog by someone who was travelling in the Chhatarpur/Panna area and that brought back memories.

  5. I've never been good at Video games either, I dont know why. The only games I can manage are word games.

    Nevertheless, an interesting post. Nostalgia is always magical, I liked reading it.

  6. @ instinctivecuriosity - Thanks. Can't you get a shorter nick, it's a pain to type it every time. :(

  7. I was a champ in playing Mario :). I used to play for hours at a stretch. I remember once I played all throughout the afternoon and the evening and then when I went to bed at night, I could hear the Mario background sound (too too toooo) even while I was sleeping. Freaking!
    I never liked the fighting games as such like boxing or the sports ones - tennis, cricket, etc. But I was a fan of contra though.
    I am trying to recall the name of the gaming set I had. It was called "Little Master", if am not mistaken. We used to exchange the game cassettes among friends in school. And my guy friends were always taken aback by my videogame skills ;)

  8. I've never understood why people play the sporting games at all. Might as well go out and play.

    I love the mario music. I wish someone would remix it and bring out a CD. :P

  9. I think the name of the game you were looking for is STREETS OF RAGE I or II for sega megadrive.

  10. i have been playing MW2 on the pc forever
    but as soon as school ended i suck
    and i dont know why
    plz help

  11. This article was lame as hell.

  12. I am not sure if I am too late but I suck at video games too.

    1. I get my self too destracted by the background objects and also wondering what the programmer was feeling when making said objects for the/that time period.

    Then enemy X comes whizzing by and I am all like.............what???

    2. I also get myself too absorbed by the music as well if it's good.

    However I cannot STAND Mario controls one bit as he never lands where I want him if I want him at a certain spot.

  13. Also please ignore the troll who said your article was lame as hell.

    It tells more about the person posting then your actual article.