Is where you live a good place for your video game hobby?

It’s easy to forget with the popularity of the internet, but years ago we used to move mountains to play games with other people. We sought out someone to play multiplayer with, moved computers or consoles in trains and cars, even bought new hardware and software to increase the chances of playing with others.

Online gaming has eroded much of the need to do this now of course, but I still think where you live has an important bearing on how successfully you can enjoy your hobby.

My local area

I concluded pretty quickly in my teenage years that the area that I live in (Gloucestershire, UK) is not a great one for video games. This is my opinion of course, but the experience I’ve had of living here for the past two decades confirms that.

Meeting other like-minded people that play games, and being able to play with them locally is pretty simple in a very built up place or city, but in a rural of sub-urban place like where I live, I feel vastly outnumbered by people interested in other things.

When I briefly lived in a city – my ability to find other like-minded people was much easier, and there were better and more densely populated facilities for us to meet and play games. There were regular game nights at local pubs and bars, or retro days run by enthusiasts.

These days I struggle to find anyone with more than a passing interest in games in my immediate vicinity. This hasn’t proved a huge problem, it’s simply forced me to develop other interests and pursue the social channels of those, but sadly has meant that I too am forced to use the internet to wax lyrical about games in a way that isn’t going to bore the circle of people who live around me.

In fact when Game UK has its problems on the high street I was not (and am still not affected) by those store closures. I didn’t have a Game here in the first place, and seeing one means travelling to another city or town.

A streetview of Leila's milk bar. Running errands for Leila at the Milk Bar.

The consequence of not feeling welcome

While gaming isn’t a niche, it certainly feels like one around here, even though I know more than enough people that are willing to support video games retail and events in this area, no ones prepared to create or sustain anything.

There is one independent game shop in my town (there used to be two more, but they both closed long ago), and while it is good for pre-owned titles, getting hold of brand new games remains an ongoing problems. Truly, I have to travel further afield for a good independent shopping experience.

This is where the internet comes in again as a lack of decent video game retail in my town has forced me to do all of my games shopping online too – taking my money out of the local economy and perpetuating the problem.

Not only that but shopping online requires planning and care, if there’s a game I am likely to need on a certain day I have to pre-order to be certain that I will get it in time. Plenty of people will complain about pre-order but it’s a lifeline for me when a rare title is released.

I can travel to one of the many other independent games shops in another cities and towns around me, but that just repeats my desire for wanting a good one here, despite there not really being much of a market for it locally.

A in-game example: Ni No Kuni

In writing about my experiences of trying to enjoy games in a local area that doesn’t support it, I am reminded of the idea of two worlds in Ni No Kuni. Motorville (the quiet, peaceful almost bland suburbia) where the game originates, and it’s other, more fantastical world full of magic and intrigue.

Enjoying the settings of both worlds meant suspending your disbelief a little, and embracing the poetic licence of numerous RPG tropes; the young, pure-hearted hero on a journey, destined to combat all problems, a hidden magic power they were unaware of.

This example reminds me of my desire for a more enriched, video game-filled town, with thousands of other local gamers around me, yet I find myself stuck in an real-life equivalent of Motorville, as I crave a simplistic, yet busier gaming horizon. Ironically then, it is still the internet that adds that other needed dimension to my gaming world. The perfect gamers location doesn’t often exist, and forces me and many others to travel and mingle to find like-minded people in the most unusual of places.

I love where live, it’s a vibrant and eclectic place, but there’s no escaping the fact that it largely snubs my biggest passion and interest.


A lack of gaming conversation

Every so often I’ll bump into someone that clearly enjoys games more than the average person. There are little clues about their person, a gaming-related badge, an outfit, a particular sentence overheard.

Gaming is slowly but surely making it’s way into the mainstream, and it’s doing so ever so slowly and quietly that many people don’t even realise it. As video games become a little more popular. I’m finding it harder to come across like-minded gamers who are happy to talk and identify themselves as video game players.

We’re in the background

There’s a huge perception that gaming is heavily niche pasttime. Anyone active in the gaming community knows that this simply isn’t true, internet culture and video gaming culture is so heavily intertwined, because of that precise need for video games players to find each other forced by the ongoing stigma of playing or discussing video games in public.

I suspect this is a large part of the reason gaming exhibitions and trade shows are so popular, there are fewer occasions where gamers are likely to collect together in one place. Many years ago before gaming shops became solely about sales that was that easiest place for gamers to congregate. In reality large, specialist shows are one of the few occasions where this still happens.

I’m quietly comforted by each person I see who is obviously a gamer. I talk about it to them when it’s appropriate to do so, despite being the huge gaming advocate that I am, I’m also deeply aware that other gamers are not comfortable with their hobby being publicly known. It’s a sad fact, but one I think we can all relate to.

So over time, this quiet contingency of gamers are slipping around in the background of public life, enjoying the mastery and beauty of video games as a medium, promoting it’s social aspects over it’s well discussed negative aspects as best they can, or perhaps more realistically as much as they dare to. Over time perceptions are slowly improving, one step forwards, two steps back.

Pushing back

The result of our gaming interest being pushed underground is we all collectively miss out on that effortless banter that only really happens in person. Despite there being more people playing games, it seems to be getting harder to openly chat about a love of video games in public. It’s easy for someone with a passing interest in sport to do so, similarly for fashion, television, films or books. Talk about games though and a distinct atmosphere fills the room, as if it’s something you shouldn’t do.

So there’s an underlying quandary here about the ability to be yourself in a public sphere. Unfortunately (as is the case for many gamers I suspect) I don’t get to do this as often as I’d like. In vocalising our love of video games we do so mindful of the risk of stigma. Talk about video games too much (even to someone as equally appreciative as you are) and you may get a response from another in the room in jokey, but negative tones. Even when this happens playfully there are few other hobbies where it would be socially acceptable for people to respond in such a mocking tone. It would be deemed rude if anything else.

Passing judgements

These judgements usually come from people who have hardly played any video games. This has always puzzled me. I wouldn’t be in a position to judge past-times that don’t suit my taste, I simply haven’t experienced enough of them to be able to comment on them, or understand why someone else might enjoy them. I believe the same is true for video games. Although games developers are making an apparent effort to make video games more simple for people who play games less to simply pick up and play them. Very few interests can be understood or mastered within minutes and for the most part gaming is the same.

We’ve also started to depend far too much on our communities online to meet other gamers. The internet has become the de-facto place to gather socially, as gamers find fewer occasions to meet up and play something in person. It’s become a bit of a double-edged sword as the availability and popularity of online games has soared we’ve found less need to venture out to find gamers in our locality.

It’s enough to put you off talking about video games altogether. These days I don’t tend to talk about video games to non-gamers at all unless directly questioned about it. Given how long this sea change is going to take. It’s no wonder than going online has become this communities preferred method of conversation.

Nothing is going to stop me from enjoying video games though. With any luck I plan to do so so indefinitely, I’m a firm believer that improvement in our ability to start gaming conversations will come. So we’ll have plenty of time to share our passion with the rest of the world as gaming becomes even more heavily intertwined with popular culture.


Are gamers selfish?

It’s a look I get often. A look of disdain and misunderstanding. I see it when I mention to most people that I play video games. Be it someone I’ve known years or just met. Their eyes gloss over, mind made up. Their perception of me is almost pre-drawn and near impossible to change.

Although it has taken me years to understand why this is; why something as normal and natural to me as any of my other hobbies provokes such a reaction. But now I know – they think I’m selfish.

Difficult to deal with

This gets to the heart of the issue I think. But for some reason gaming has developed the perception of being a selfish pastime. A solo effort. Something done alone, ignoring every other person and by association joy and social interaction in life. By admitting I enjoy games I am admitting to spending vast amounts of my time alone, ignoring my responsibilities and ambitions, and shunning the company of others.

The thing I find hardest to articulate after that look that makes me shudder, is that my hobby does not relate to any of these things. People who have this perception of gaming find it hard to tease it from a dislike of the outdoors, or a waste of time. They ignore the obvious comparisons between game playing and TV watching or reading because the benefits of other hobbies are more obvious and often more immediate.

Nothing other than the pleasure that gaming brings is speedy. Culturally and artistically, it is a passion of slow burn. We need to spend years waiting for a game, hours mastering it. All for what is in reality a tiny proportion of our waking hours. As gamers we live for the moments of pleasure we work hard for like every other normal person.

Not selfish in the least

Years of pushing gamers to the margins of society has made it harder to meet like-minded individuals. We are often split-up by distance and thus resort to other looked down upon mediums (such as the internet) just to maintain the sorts of day-to-day conversations about our love that most other people take for granted.

It is the immediacy of pleasure that gaming affords that perpetuates the selfishness of the hobby. We are all apparently people that slink away from our real lives in order to indulge in virtual ones. Nothing is mentioned of the vast array of things that gaming has taught us, or the enlightenment offered by it’s music, heritage or artistic content. It’s profoundly social elements are largely ignored, the chatter around a screen that brings people together, the accessibility that its social ability affords. The vast array between pick up and play and unbridled complexity petered down in one quick and initial assumption.

The mass market of family-friendly, beautifully scripted (and expertly designed) gaming output is continuously undermined by the mainstream flogging of the same issues, particularly violence (to note one tired example). Of which comparable movies and TV programmes which flaunt similar populist content (which all mediums can be easily boiled down to if we’re honest) continue to limbo quite happily under the public consciousness in an enviable manner that I still don’t quite understand.

Moving on

I’m tired of that look. Despite seeing it thousands of times gaming has helped make me the person I am – a comparatively normal person by any stretch of the imagination, with a full-time job, worries, concerns and passions. One of them just happens to be gaming, and that fact alone out of the multitude of things I am capable of shouldn’t be the basis of anyone’s disdain or pity.

The only problem is, as hobbies go, we have the hard sell. The up-hill struggle to convince anyone that things are nearly always the polar opposite of what they expect. Video games have been and always will be profoundly social hobby filled with friendship, camaraderie and competition, and it’s nothing to be ashamed of, despite those disheartening looks, I am still remarkably and quietly proud of what I am part of.


A love letter to the Monster Hunter community

I’m ashamed to admit that I underestimated Monster Hunter for many years. However the last year has led to a series of epiphanies – this is a game that calls for more thought than most games, encouraging you to improve with the promise of a thrilling and compelling experience just out of reach.

The community is at the heart of that experience – so here’s what Monster Hunter feels like to play with them in tow.

The Qurupeco flies over as I reload.Cheering a Rathian Victory.

Fighting through difficulty with others

Camaraderie is at the heart of this game, and that works because of how the rewards and drops are independent to other players, there is very little sense of competition, and the balanced etiquette of play means that the focus is on information sharing, helping each other avoid failure by striving to make a strong group. The deepest criticism about this game is the steep learning curve, but ultimately all that is needed is time to learn each monsters patterns, made infinitely easier by a group of friends willing to spread the difficulty between them. Even the vastest struggle becomes a series of battles made fun just because of the thrill of play.

So all at once what was once a slow, unwieldily weapon, transforms into the tool right for the job, utilized with new-found precision and fluidity, no levels have been gained, no experienced unlocked just a better sense of how to succeed. The only thing that has improved is your intuition of how to play, amassed after observing every monster for minute weakpoints, evening the odds over time, and as such each victory feels all the more rewarding.

The balance of tension and humour in this game is paramount, after a hair-raising fight or titanic struggle against a new foe nothing beats the comic relief of playing with others – a perfectly timed comic gesture shared between one another, a playful kick once the fights over – sending someone flying using a powerful attack. With no friendly fire the moments of hilarity are ripe, easing the tension after short, very focused moments of concentration.

So in Monster Hunter success is hinged on the collective skill of your group, clawing back respect from a monster as your group grows in confidence, all with the encouragement and support of each other. This is a game of friendship and initial gameplay complaints aside the synergy between community, the lush environments, and captivating music are a fantastic reward to those bold enough to keep going.

A Rathian flies overhead.Cooking some meat on the BBQ to restore some stamina.

Mind over matter

Like any healthy community there are veterans and newbies, all drawn together by Monster Hunter’s stylish, old-fashioned gameplay elements. The old idioms of risk and reward from 8-bit consoles and older have returned; nothing is for free, everything has to be crafted, bought or grown.

As a result most objects in Monster Hunter come from toil. Money comes purely from finishing quests, meaning everyone has everything to play for – constantly. While it’s a different item mechanic to most other games, starting to gather the money and resources to start a hunting career can be tricky, but this doesn’t mean that the game is punishing, it simply takes more patience to get started.

In the beginning the camera can difficult to manage, the individual weapons take some time to register in the memory, the lack of enemy health bar can be a burden. But slowly but surely over the course of each hour things begin to click and Monster Hunter sprinkles you with hope eternal. Be it in the form of your post-battle reward or the rush of success. Suddenly the game becomes less about constant struggle and more about a comfortable dance around your enemies, as you revel in your new-found mastery of both combat and self-sufficiency.

Over time we become master hunters capable of moving between strict professionalism in the face of danger and comic relief, as we fight enemies methodically with the smartest movements between evasion and attack, we move between the role of hunter and player behind the persona with ease; destroying a foe and then returning to laughter, gestures and drinking, relieved to have succeeded, or simply laughing because of how badly we failed.

With a good party not even winning becomes too important, just the idea of completely escaping the normal online pressures of competition.

Selecting a Herbivore egg quest.

The Great Baggi rewards screen.

For the greater good

This represents the sort of online game we should be getting from developers – a simple to play, hard to master challenge supported by a free drop/in out model that is the antithesis of modern MMOs. Monster Hunter comprises a friendly, co-operative community bound together by a common goal – to succeed and to have fun while doing so.

This is Monster Hunter’s addictive element and it helps to create a game that is vastly improved by the quality and character of others playing.

Most of the appeal at the moment surrounds the buzz of the online version, because it’s a game of vivid experiences and memories, this is the sort of game you think about every waking moment, looking back on your time played years after with nothing but the fondest of memories.

Ultimately this is a game of friendship with each person bringing skills to the table, offering a different tactic or approach, and while Monster Hunter Tri is by far the most accessible by quite a margin, the elements of the gameplay still left explained in both this game and previous iterations are clearly meant to be a point of discussion.

Monster Hunter has built up a ferocious reputation for being hard to master, but this is offsetted by the genuine passion its fans have for the game, they are its ambassadors, helping and explaining its intricacies to others so no one is left behind, and that’s the way it should be.


Memories lost: the fear of saving

In my experience the most terrifying games aren’t survival horrors, they’re moments of gaming that tamper with something that we all rely on, the ability to save.

All of my most horrible gaming experiences have involved losing or almost losing save files, because anything that puts this fail-safe in doubt means the loss of my most precious commodity; time.

Taking an experience from sweet to sour

As gamers we rely on the ability to save like never before, it’s a relatively recent invention in the scheme of things, but a crucial one for most of us as we become older with less time to play. We can no longer sink days into mastering a game like we used to. We rely on saving often for minimizing risk, preparing for a gameplay gamble, or even just to stop and take a break.

Because of this we forget how special the ability to stop and save really is – that is until it’s gone – either by a game sidestepping the normal saving convention, or because of something more sinister.

I equate the loss of a save file or storage device to losing a version of your gaming memories, those treasured snapshots of a favourite game that you worked extremely hard for. They are one of the few physical bits of evidence of beloved gaming experiences, giving us the ability to return to or archive our adventures.

If an important save is lost, challenging experiences can always be repeated but nothing will replace that initial experience with the game. The triumphs and struggles either with others (or alone) that lead to landmark gaming memories, the complicated thrill of completing the hardest challenges, finishing every quest, or exploring every corner of a world. For our favourite games starting over isn’t an option – that experience will never be the same again, the memories will always be tarnished by that first loss and the idea of what might have been.

And every new loss or almost loss opens the wounds on all the saved games you lost before – how much further could that character have gone, or your passion for a brilliant gaming experience soared for that much longer if you didn’t lose it all?

Walk away or start over?

The next very hard decision is about building up the energy to start over by returning to the difficult moments of a beloved experience that you never thought you’d need to go again. Whether or not this decision is made depends entirely on the game – some experiences are shallow and as such can be happily lost. Others are so enjoyable that the chance to start over with a fresh perspective is a welcome one.

One thing is certain though; for better or worse that second attempt at a game, particulary after losing everything you had invested in it first time around is never comparable to that first unabated play.

Looking past that detail, could our fixation with keeping save files be mere sentimentality? This could well be true if the game has been completed many years ago with all but the most memorable moments washed away over time. There can’t be that many games that we still need that save file for five, six or even ten years down the line as that partially undermines the need to replay them. We often treasure our memory card contents like we treasure achievements; they are the written record of our pastime regardless of how infrequently we get to show these results off.

Mourning the loss of a treasured save file is of course something that’s difficult to explain to someone that hasn’t put the emotional and physical investment in, it seems like an irrational reaction to something quite petty. This is a well-known situation for the years before memory cards and hard drives when on-cartridge saving was the norm. Losing a hard-earned save file can be particularly hurtful when lost by someone who doesn’t fully understand their folly – such as the innocent need of a new save for their playthrough – how heartbreaking to explain.

Too close for comfort

This was an ode to my 240 hour Monster Hunter Freedom Unite file that was almost lost this week during an epic Lao Shan Lung battle. Dedicated to my stoic yet heroic best friend and Monster Hunter teammate Owlsensei who kept me sane while I waited through those awful moments for my save file to be okay.