A Life In PC Gaming: My Shame

A Life In PC Gaming: My Shame

Republished from Rock, Paper Shotgun

I’ve been playing games on computers for the vast bulk of my life. From BBC Micro to Spectrum to 486 to assorted Athlons to the quad-cored radiator I used today, I’ve rarely been far from a keyboard. I have seen much, I have played much, I have learned much. But learning so often comes from failure. There have been many, many failures: these are but a few.

  • I spent what was then my life savings on a Voodoo 2 card — my first ever 3D card — specifically to play Half-Life. Excitedly fitting the card and installing the game, I was depressed by how poorly it performed, how the game would only run in software mode, and how any sequences that involved swimming were impossible because the entire screen turned flat, soup-thick grey. I should have bought an ATI Rage, I thought. I didn’t play many games for a while, because they either didn’t run or looked hideous. PC gaming wasn’t me for me, I decided — too expensive, too inconsistent, too mysterious. It was a full year before, when opening up my PC to fit a new hard drive, I realised the Voodoo was only resting lightly on the edge of its slot. A little gentle finger pressure later, a whole new world awaited.
  • Having breezed my way through Quake 1 on easy with only a few hundred deaths, I confidently accepted the challenge of an older acquintance to hook our PCs together with a serial cable and engage in dramatic deathmatch. I’d absolutely murder him, I was sure of it — and I told him so. I think I even bet him a Mars Bar or something. Of course, he knew what strafing was. I didn’t. And I was playing on cursor keys with left and right set to slowly turn rather than sidestep. And I wasn’t using a mouse. I believe, to this day, that this was the formative moment that made me primarily a singleplayer gamer, often nervous to the point of terror about stepping onto a server in case that dread childhood humiliation is repeated.
  • A little later, after my Voodoo 2-inspired sabbatical, the release of Aliens vs Predator led to my deciding to build a new PC from scratch. I’d never done this before, but I had upgraded pretty much every common component at some point or another. What could go wrong? Blazing, humiliating rows with the impatient manager of a PC hardware shop in Swansea coloured a full month of my student life, with him stubbornly refusing to refund what I’d paid for a motherboard that clearly did not work. I can’t remember how we worked out that I’d bolted the board directly onto the PC case — no static-blocking separators or washers or the like, just screwed straight onto the bare metal. The first time I turned the new build on, the motherboard and everything attached to it was instantly fried. So I never did get my refund from that angry Welshman. But I did send the motherboard back to its manufacturer, plead ignorance and somehow wangle a replacement.
  • I was convinced Thief was a jolly cartoon PlayStation platformer until around 2001. I have no idea what I was actually thinking of.
  • The first time I played it, I couldn’t complete Doom II without cheating. From the second level onward.
  • I managed to hack some ancient, incredibly basic but undeniably entertaining DOS game about trying to catch fish that fell from the sky with a basket so that the introductory screen declared I had written it. This copy of the game somehow made it all the way over school, most every pupil with access to the computer room spending their lunchtimes playing it. Normally something of an invisible man to my peers, for a short time I was approached with something like reverence. “Did you really make that fish game?” I’d smile smugly and say something like “oh, y’know, piece of piss.” My invisible status returned all too swiftly when another pupil wandered in one day with an elderly boxed retail copy of the Spectrum version of the game in question, whose manual declared a rather different author.
  • As a young boy impatiently wanting to access to my family’s PC so I could play more X-COM, I would occasionally sneak out to the garage and flip the electricity breaker switch to interrupt my mother’s word processing (she was studying for an Open University history course) in the hope she’d give up. “Another power cut?” I’d wonder innocently as she fumed. “This probably wouldn’t happen so much if we didn’t live in the middle of nowhere.”

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  • In my initial forays into World of Warcraft — on its original beta — I had no idea whatsoever of MMO lingo. Playing primarly solo as a Night Elf priest, I fought what I believed to be a titanic battle against a pack of gnolls (about three), somehow surviving by a whisker. Another player had wandered up to watch me and my eventual victory, and as I self-adoringly wrote in a magazine preview of my experiences a little later, he uttered “way to go” in awe at my actions. Because I was amazing — he knew it, I knew it and the reading public of PC Format magazine should know it. Of course, what he’d actually said was ‘WTG’ as he’d spotted how cackhandedly I was fighting and thought I needed a hand, but I didn’t know the abbreviation for Want To Group? back then. Thank the lord not too many people were still reading PC magazines by that point.
  • I critically mis-described the Witcher 1 combat controls in a magazine review, which was then used as incontrovertible evidence by a small but very loud and utterly fearsome contingent of outraged Witcher fans as to why my 68% score for the game was because I was an idiot, rather than because I didn’t like it that much. I will, I suspect, never escape that shadow. (It was a lousy review in many other ways, in fairness — I’d been given way too short a deadline for a massive game, and did a horrid rush job. Lesson learned: I always take/ask for more time if I need it now, or pass the game onto someone else if I can’t/aren’t allowed to give it the hours required.) I still shudder.
  • I’ve said this before I know, but I was humiliated in front of my entire history class for drawing dozens crude Dune 2 Ornithopters on my exercise book when the teacher noted my lack of attention and asked me who Churchill was.
  • Believing it to be my likely big break, I sent a reader review of Deus Ex into PC Zone. It was 90% ranting some crazy grievance about ladders I can’t even fully recall now, and said nothing of the game’s achievements. Suffice to say they didn’t publish it, but I live in fear it still exists in someone’s inbox and could be unearthed.
  • I bought the PC version of Street Fighter II.

This is my shame. What is yours?

Alec Meer is a writer for Rock Paper Shotgun, one of the world’s best sites for PC gaming news. He enjoys robots, ladies and vegetables. Follow him on Twitter.
Republished with permission.


    • Thats not a shame NegativeZero, thats a bloody honor because as fellow mac gamer we got play Marathon (the first game to use mouse and keyboard set up well before duke nukem). We also got the Quake 3 demo before any other platform. We also saw how lazy Valve were when Epic, ID, Blizzard, Iron Storm and other developers were porting to the mac that Valve couldnt get Half Life’s MP to work with MAC vs PC (it was a problem with the actual Quake 2 engine) that they said fuck the mac and refused to release the Singleplayer part of halflife (the part that everyone loved)

      • Me too, Mac gamer. So many good times playing weird shareware games downloaded for free off the WORLD WIDE WEB. 28k power. Not having Halflife was such a kick in the balls – I remember reading about it in Macaddict magazine, and then months later, perhaps even years later, hearing of it’s sad demise.

  • 12 years old.
    Virtua Fighter for our new PC hda spazz and wouldn’t quit.
    “I’ll fix it!”
    *highlights everything on the C:/, deletes*
    *computer freezes halfway*
    “Mum’s gonna kill me….”

  • I once spent several hours trying to determine why everytime i installed my graphics driver i would get no display, it turned out because i was using dual displays once the driver was installed it was outputting the primary to the hdmi, instead of to my secondary monitor on the dvi connection which i used during the install. Conveniently i had changed this displays primary input without realizing, so it was set to my 2nd hdmi port. I reformatted 3 times before i figured this out. /shame

  • Bought Daikatana not long after release. I was young, and new to the gaming scene… Now I read reviews first, even if I do ignore their final score. And I know that if a game is on sale for $25 not long after release, it’s probably for a reason.

  • As a kid and during my first years as a teenager, I had a horrible tendency to play every game with cheat codes or trainers of some sort. Probably because I had gotten so used to the idea that I would be hopelessly screwed without them. This was at a time when my household had no internet, so I had no concept of online multiplayer.

    A personal favorite of mine was modifying the weapons and attributes of various units in the first Red Alert, having grenadiers throwing missiles, attack dogs setting people on fire and tanks shooting tesla blasts.

    At one point I finally decided to try a game without using cheats, expecting to fail horribly. I discovered that I could actually play most games on hard difficulty without too much trouble. It was more fun to boot when there was an actual element of risk involved. Lesson learned I guess!

  • I remember walking into a store as a kid with a freshly saved $100 in my pocket, ready to buy a game. On the shelf was both Half Life, and SiN. I hadn’t read any reviews of either game and I wasn’t sure which one to get… So I bought SiN because the box art had cleavage on it. I will never forget that mistake.

    • SiN isn’t the classis half life was, but I still think it was quite good. Granted, I was 13 going through the ‘ phase that date not speak its name’ so its probably nostalgia.

      • Oh yeah totally. It wasn’t terrible; I was actually pretty impressed during the first level and using the ATMs. I played all the way through it and enjoyed it. But because of that decision it was a long time before I eventually picked up Half Life, and when I finally played it I realised the full enormity of what occurred that day.

    • For me it was Blood 2 🙁
      As crashy and buggy as Blood 2 was, it was still enjoyable (though not as much as HL was)

  • 6 years old. Grabbed a floppy disk and wrote “Games” onto the label. Was upset when it didn’t have games on the disk.

    9 years old. MW2 Netmech. I would sit in the lobby waiting for people to come in to play against. My parents tried telling me we didn’t have the internet but i wouldn’t have any of it.

  • When I was in high school I bought a stick of RAM from Dick Smith, without researching prices.

    Suffice to say, I was extremely ripped off.

  • Took my pc to a friends place for a LAN session. The next morning, packed it up into my car, then walked back inside to check out some other stuff.

    2 hours later, walk back out to my car and realise I’d left the door open with my stuff sitting on the seat for the entire time.

    Security FAIL

    Not really in the same category as many here, but thats as close as I can think of right now.

  • – 12 or 13 yrs old. Installing a friends nice expensive sound blaster pro or some such. Left one of the metal covers unscrewed, turned it on, instant smoke from the sound card. The metal plate was hanging down touching the sound card. Still worked fine afterward tho.

    … many, many years later … had expensive power supply, fancy led display panel and such. After installing, was fiddling around in the dark, at the back, trying to switch it off. Hit the 240v switch. Bang!

    – most recently, building a computer kids xmas. Everything together, turn it on … nothing. Check everything, determine it was the motherboard. Only 1 or 2 days til xmas, shops shut everywhere. Finally found somewhere with equivalent mobo. Got home, installed it, same thing. Then I realised I hadn’t plugged in the secondary power cable (both times). FUUUUU!!

  • 13 looking at porn cause a friend figured out how to. Being convinced I deleted every trace. Dad figuring it out despite being pc illiterate, saying it was a virus and my parents believing me.

    Same age, returning said new pc to shop going it wont play Sim City 3 it keeps crashing it’s broken. Finding out it was the sound card not being good enough…. nice guy at shop upgradded it and only charged the differenve. Lovely fellow.

  • Thought would be a good practical joke to pretend hitting the reset button when my mum was almost finished with Windows 3.11 Solitaire.

    For some reason that day my aim was far better than I expected. She didn’t even need to punish me, I was so embarrassed.

    Years later, my first attempt at upgrading a PC. Got a GeForce 6600 GT. Learned two lessons.

    1. Never trust PSUs created by Usicase (they just don’t hold up to a load).

    2. I was an idiot to not think about updating XP to Service Pack 2 first – the machine had not been updated since Service Pack 1a. I updated everything else instead.

    • Yes and no. Hardware tends to be self-configuring (though it can cause more problems than it solves) but the problem is with PC DRM.

      Like with drivers and software, DRM can sometimes be incompatible with some hardware thus preventing legitimate users from playing store purchased games.

  • . I refused to switch to PCI-E from AGP claiming it was still superior.

    . I had a pentium4 HT@ 3.2ghz with an X800pro. During the days of Core2Duo E8xx series and stuff. Wasn’t planning on upgrading until 2010.
    Had a blackout that fried everything. CPU fused to the Heat sink Fan. Thermal Paste cemented. Only thing that survived was my X800pro.

    .Using cursor keys and claiming it was better because it was neater and there for superior.

    .Getting caught installing CS 1.3 on school computers. Halfway through installing PodBot 2.5 when the teacher caught me.

    .Refusing to upgrade to XP from 98SE beacause I thought it was and I quote ‘Shit and homo-looking’ And I still Reckon 98SE was pretty damn good.

    .Creating new folder within a new folder within a new folder etc. to store my porn, school assignments and important notes. There were mix ups.

    . Starting off my PC walk of shame on a Penitum 3 800mhz with 128mb SDram and 20gb hdd and a 32mb TNT2 Riva. And used it til 2010 as a server…a shit server but a server none the less for.. What ever is small enough to fit on a 20gb hdd.

  • – Bought my first mighty beast around 1996: Pentium I 133mhz, 16mb EDO Ram and a kickass 2mb Cirus Logic PCI GPU, and a Tasmanian Devil 33.6kbps modem.

    – Bought Issue one of PC Powerplay when I saw that it came with a CD full of game demos 🙂 I still remember them: Quake 1, Time Commando, Worms Reinforcements + some others. The demo of Quake is what hooked me on PC gaming and FPS’. I too was playing with the arrow keys 🙂

    -Sold my 33.6kbps modem to my IT Coordinator (he had no idea about IT) and bought myself a 56.6kbps US Robotics modem, and a copy of Duke Nukem 3D. This led to MANY MANY HOURS of hogging the phone line playing death match with my friend.

    – I remember downloading Gameboy roms at 300bytes a sec on my piece of crap AOL connection, so I can play Pokemon Blue on NO$GMB Emu. I remember thinking how badass i was when i downloaded Pokemon Gold/Silver and had Mew and Mewtwo before anyone even knew the games were coming out. (I had no concept of piracy at age 12 or so)

    – Spent SO MANY hours on mIRC.. SO, SO MANY. I’d jump on at about 6/6:30 and id be on till like 2am. literally. religiously every night. school night or weekend.

    – Signed up to the Wireplay service. Had no internet service throught this time so I signed up to Wireplay after convincing my parents it was only $10 a month. Played so much Quake 2 and Monster Truck Madness 2 it isnt funny. Got involved in a Quake 2 clan: Nova Clan.

    – Had the Quake III demo running on my the same Pentium 1, which had received a minor upgrade to 32mb of Ram, and a 4mb Diamond Viper 3D GPU which my cousing gave me when I visited him when I went for a holiday to greece. Yes folks it ACTUALLY RAN. at a good 30fps too. Jerky at first but once i went around the map once, it was all smooth baby!

    – throughout my first 2 years i must have completely killed and reformatted my PC about 15 times.

    Jesus i could go on and on… 🙂

    Oh and i also switched credits in an ice hockey game for windows. I used the dos “EDIT” command and opened the exe… knowing what i know now about hex editors and such, im suprised that i didnt break the code 🙂

    • “Bought my first mighty beast around 1996: Pentium I 133mhz, 16mb EDO Ram and a kickass 2mb Cirus Logic PCI GPU, and a Tasmanian Devil 33.6kbps modem.”

      Nice! That would have been bleeding edge in ’96. I bought my P1 200 the next year and was stuck with some sort of integrated sound/vga/modem/fax multimedia card that failed horribly when I tried to upgrade to Windows 98. Acer. POS, even back then.

  • My PC shame is really not having a machine competent enough to run the latest games ever (the PC I’m typing from can run Minecraft and Portal and TF2 (at really low low res textures) but that’s about it – next year I will correct this – its one of my resolutions.

    My other shame is being hopelessly addicted to Sim City 3000 for a time in my life.

  • Primary school, year 5 or 6, someone convinced me that the library’s C64 could load a game from the -cover- of the 5 1/4″ disk if the disk itself was missing. I saw them put the cover in the disk driver, saw them type something on the keyboard, saw the program run. For the longest time I believed this to be true.

  • Got caught in my first year of high school by the systems admin booting into the command prompt and running the ‘hidden’ games like Doom and Wacky Wheels.

  • I bought my first 3D accelerator card in anticipation of Indiana Jones and the Infernal Machine… 😛
    Not a horrendous game, but still… I had strange priorities I suppose.

    Lucky for me the purchase ended up letting me play my a newly acquired copy of a game called Half-Life in ‘gorgeous mode’ as my cousin called it…

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