September 4th, 2018
|10:13 pm - Show me the games and I will show you the man|
The first meme to have really caught my imagination for a few years popped up on Twitter the other day.
Originally, Jennifer Scheurle asked: Let’s play the game version of this: Name 5 games that you’d recommend to someone to play to convey you best as a person. Go!
You would have to have a time machine to play mine but here we go:
It's A Crime!
Brian Clough's Football Fortunes
The Cyberdrome Crystal Maze
The DASH 5 puzzle hunt
It's A Crime! was, and might still be though probably isn't, a game played by post. It was at its peak in the mid- and late- 1980s and heavily advertised in the British 8-bit computer game magazines that I loved at the time. By some metrics, it may well have been one of the most played postal games ever. It attracted me as a game that might be played by more players than could meet in person at a single table - at the time, a shocking potential 500 players per game - which is a factor that still fascinates me with online games that have succeeded it. I played a number of postal games for years afterwards (this wasn't necessarily the best one I played) and I enjoyed making friends that way. The game itself had a not-especially-tasteful street crime gang theme, not especially suitable for me when I first played as a preteen, and the gameplay had flavours that might be compared to somewhere between an Ameritrash war game and a modern Megagame.
Brian Clough's Football Fortunes was a hybrid computer-moderated board game; while players interacted with each other using a physical board and cards, a computer program performed some computational heavy lifting that would have been impractically tedious, as well as providing a degree of obfuscation to the mechanics. It's almost disappointing that the form hasn't taken off, especially considering the ubiquity of smartphones and the dominance of as few as two operating systems, and the merger of two distinct gaming media was a thrill. The football management genre has always appealed to me more than the sport itself, and I've long been fascinated by sports and competition organisation. The game could be played by between two and five players; it was a mixture of an auction game and a roll-and-move game, which could be played as well for an hour or two or the length of a whole summer holiday day. All the computer versions had their own foibles but the Commodore 64 version was probably the truest to the intended experience, damnit. Oh hello, there's a remake on the way! Give me an hour to read all I can about it...
The Cyberdrome Crystal Maze was a live-action attraction, based on the The Crystal Maze game show, at its peak in the early- and mid- '90s. I described its operation and I enjoyed getting to interview the people behind it years ago. If I had to narrow down from five games to one, this would be it; it had the game show nature, the puzzle nature, the video game nature, the large-scale physical game adventure-playground cool-toys nature, the co-operative team game nature, the competitive attraction nature and the cutting-edge game format nature, all of which are drivers in my gaming life. As much as I've written about escape games in recent years, this pushes my buttons more precisely than any escape game I've yet played. I've played and enjoyed the current live-action attraction in London which is very good and inherently more authentic, but feels redundant, expensive and (here comes a horrible admission) mainstream when I had the joy to play this at the time.
Those three games were largely my twentieth century gaming experience; the DASH 5 puzzle hunt is perhaps the best encapsulation of my twenty-first century experience and the role puzzles have had on me over the last twenty years or so. I've enjoyed following the puzzle hunt community and the people who make it; its change in focus from single extravaganzas for small audiences in single locations to events that the world can enjoy, either through online hunts or through paid escape room attractions, is surely a change for the better, though a triumph of accessibility and practicality over romance. DASH 5 might not have been the very best DASH or the best puzzle hunt I've yet played, though if it isn't then it's certainly very close, but the lovely people involved (both on my team and not!) and the feeling of a start of a puzzle community will live with me forever. It had my favourite single hunt puzzle (Find Patient Zero: 5x5 Only Connect Connecting Walls with a layer of meta and a lovely decryption at the end) and we also happened to do rather well.
The fifth game was a tougher choice. In the end, Liar's Dice is a game I've enjoyed for decades and has the mathematical nature and the gambling nature in ways that are a part of me where the other four selections have not. This is as close as I want to get to poker, as much as I enjoy admiring its ramblin' gamblin' tales from afar. It's implicit in this meme that it's not the games themselves that can convey the personality, it's the person's experiences with the games that can only ever be judged, and in every case this includes the experiences with the people with whom the games were played; it may be cheating slightly, but my experience with Liar's Dice, and what pushes it into the top five, is more than my experience with just the base game. I'm firmly giving it credit for the Somewhat Demiurgic Drinking Perudo one-off piece of gaming magic and a sequel over a decade later as well.
Other games that were in the running for the fifth place were The Settlers of Catan for its trading nature, for its expansions and for its metagame of organised play over the years, the Civilization computer game series for its scope, ingenuity and addictiveness, Quasar laser tag for its physicality and the technical and social developments of the laser game community at large, incarnations of Nomic representing my interests of in-game creativity, the nature of play as opposed to gameplay and for tweaking my interest in organisation and voting systems, and Bubble Bobble for its teamwork, for the depths of its gameplay and for its cute audio and bubble-blowing dragons.
It's important to say that the five games I listed aren't what I'd consider to be the five greatest games I've ever played. I'd certainly include, for instance, the live action role-playing campaign I was involved in at university in those. (Some day I intend to get around to compiling my list of top n games of all time across all media, and I have intended to compile that for perhaps twenty years. Today is not that day.) However, as much as I have enjoyed several role-playing games in the past - and would happily enjoy more in the future, given the chance - the part of me that struggles with stories feels that they don't convey me well as a person. Similarly, as much as I have enjoyed action video games over the years, both in arcades and on home systems (and, through MAME, both at the same time) they don't feel like a particularly representative fit.
It's also worth noting that four of those games are somewhat old - or, at least, my association with them is somewhat old - though they still feel fairly reflective because of their natures involving themes that have carried on through my gaming life. A fun open question asks what might come in future years to supplant these!
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