So, it was the second week of August, Kingston had just come out of the sort of heat wave that melts the soles of your shoes faster than you can rush to the local corner store, and I was poking around on the Internet after playing a satisfying game of Counter-Strike at the local gaming parlor.
For those who have never played it, Counter-Strike is a mod for Half-Life where everybody in the game splits up into two teams: terrorists and counter-terrorists. However, instead of just randomly shooting at one another, the teams have objectives that depend on the map being played. One map has the terrorists trying to plant a bomb in their opponent’s base, another has the counter-terrorists trying to save a group of hostages, and so on. A great deal of fun, especially with the Kingston crowd.
To get back to my story, I was poking around a website called CSCentral, and I came across two articles by somebody named “Tatjana.” The first was about what it is like to be a woman in the Counter-Strike gaming community, and the second was about how the game has changed over the last few months.
To say the least, I was impressed.
Every now and then, I go looking for something like Garwulf’s Corner. Surely, I think to myself, I can’t be the only online columnist who is taking computer games seriously enough to deal with the issues involved. But, so far my searches have revealed almost nothing. An occasional voice calls out from the wilderness, but it is quickly silenced, drowned out by a plethora of strategy guides and rumors (guess what the next version of Diablo is going to have, kids!).
And here was Tatjana, writing intelligently and literately about women’s issues in computer games. Further down the article, where readers were allowed to post comments, came a clamor of assenting voices congratulating her on an article well-written that drowned out the cries of pre-pubescent teenagers.
Slowly but surely, it is happening. The computer game is starting to be taken seriously.
I know that it may seem glib of me to say so, but for the longest time computer games were rightly considered to be the domain of kids and teenagers, beneath the notice of any mature adult.
Think about it for a minute: games such as DOOM were completely devoid of depth or intelligence. Any given adventure game was utterly juvenile, and the one attempt at an adult game (Leisure Suit Larry), found itself snubbed by most players. Slowly but surely the technology got to the point that remarkable things were possible, but the games simply didn’t mature along with the computers.
And then, around 1993, things changed. I’m not entirely certain what the cause was; granted, it was around this time that Blizzard came onto the scene, but I tend to look at them more as leading the trend rather than a cause. For lack of a better phrase, computer games began to grow up.
Take Diablo I, for example. The game was very simple (verging on the plotless, in fact), but it had details that a teenager might catch, but not truly appreciate. The long history of the Tristram dungeons harkened back to the Conan stories of Robert E. Howard and the epic war between Lucifer and God in the Bible. The background was a rich tapestry for the well-read.
If you spend a moment examining computer games today, you’ll find games for every age and whim. Recent excursions such as Diablo II and Planescape: Torment tell vast, epic stories, and strategy games like Emperor: Battle for Dune and Myth II require the player to use their heads, rather than charge blindly into battle (which, while entertaining, does not actually bring glorious victory). And, while military training is not required to do well in Counter-Strike, it certainly helps.
But one thing is missing. One thing still has to happen before computer games can be considered to be a truly mature form of entertainment.
The people covering the industry have to start taking it seriously.
Strategy guides and rumors about that next version are fine, but there needs to be more. There needs to be a widespread coverage of the issues of the industry. It is through this coverage that the computer game will finally be forced to look at itself honestly, and find itself at long last.
Garwulf’s Corner and Tatjana’s articles are a start. The road ahead, however, is quite long.
Next installment: Ask Garwulf, in which your valiant author attempts to actually answer the flood of email questions that has come in.
Garwulf’s Corner was written from 2000-2002, by Robert Marks and published on Diabloii.net. Garwulf’s Corner covered gaming culture, fantasy literature, computers, and more. Robert Marks was also the author of Demonsbane, a work in the Diablo series of novels published by Blizzard Entertainment. Though he no longer writes on video games, his blog can be seen here.