There was a time, early in my childhood, when games were an untainted joy. I was 9 and my mother had recently met my future stepfather. A get-together at his house marked the first time I'd ever laid eyes on a Nintendo, when prior to, the occasional Pac-Man machine had been my only real exposure to big boxes with lights and music that did stuff when you pushed buttons. At first, just playing
the games was ample entertainment for me; no matter how often I accidentally caught a ricocheting Koopa shell in the ass or flipped my bike backwards on Excitebike, my wonderment was absolute.
Much like the bliss of newlyweds after mortgage payments and excessive drinking, tension eventually began to set in when my aim wasn't simply to play, but to win. When I realized that there were whole other levels to explore, different enemies and bosses to defeat, having them revealed to me became my imperative. Only a few things could stand in my way - "cheap" CPU moves, "unresponsive" controls, "unfair" gameplay in general, and other things completely out of my hands to ever change. After my tenth or eleventh life completely blown on the goddamn Metropolis Zone and its three
(not two) acts; after the Eternal Champion's FOURTH FUCKING LIFE while I was down to only a sliver of my own meter; and after an unabashed ass-beating from Shao Kahn himself - well, there's only so much one dignified 12 year-old can handle before being completely within her rights to scream right at the television.
Of course, there's not a lot in the way of colorful expletives you can get away with when you're 12, unless you were raised by wolves. Most of my old-school verbiage was more or less Napoleon Dynamite with the beginnings of breasts. If my mother never started popping Valium after the 19th or 20th "GOD!" and "stupid IDIOT!
", then she's truly a stronger woman than I ever gave her credit for. When mere screeching and groaning just weren't avenging me fast enough, I sometimes took great pleasure in shoving the power button to "Off". Think you're hot shit, Jafar? You are nothing without your precious electricity.
Closer to my teens, I was given a little more linguistic leeway from the parentals, especially since my dad had taken to a lot more computer gaming than he'd ever previously done, which meant I did too. Gaming with my dad is sort of like a trip to the library with a coked-up Robert Heinlein fan - you ask about one title, you're going to leave with an armful of them. So around the age of 15 or 16, my hand-me-down Zeos was stuffed to its virtual brim with things like Hexen, Doom II, Quake, Half-Life, Mechwarrior II, Wing Commander III (also Death Gate, though it was more like Myst in its overall lack of movement) - pretty much every PC gaming gem from that mid-nineties era. Loads of fun for us both, until either of us began to lose. Again, in retrospect, I feel quite sorry for my poor mother, to whom a pinball machine was the extent of her electronic gaming experience, one that had never prompted her to swear much. I imagine she heard this, muffled through the walls of the back part of the house, at least every weekend:
Me: You've got to be fu . . . rking kidding me!
Dad: You son of a bitch!
Me: I was shooting him RIGHT in the face, what the HELL!
Dad: Oh, that's bullshit!
Me: I HIT him, why isn't he DEAD?!
In recent years, I wish I could say that my language has cleaned up, my game-activated fury toned down, or that I'm simply too grown up to have such dramatic reactions to mere video games. And for the most part, I don't often HAVE to anymore, because games have become less about procedural "challenges" with the sole purpose of keeping the player out of unseen sections of the game, but about presenting challenges that don't have as much to do with the opposabilty of one's thumbs. A lot of my favorite games haven't been unrelentingly hard, nor have I had to suffer through classic Last-Man Anxiety - story-driven games like Bioshock and KOTOR I and II have no need for such dirty business. And even in the newer brawlers like Castle Crashers, or accurate button-mashing games like the Guitar Hero and Rock Band series, you're never going to really see a Game Over screen because you've led your last Crasher or Hero to his untimely demise.
Still, there exists a drive to win (or "complete the game"), and therefore an innate hatred of that which interferes with that victory. I've likely worn down molars from all the clenching that happens when I'm about to fail Hot For Teacher. My downstairs neighbours are lucky they're old and near deaf so that my 100-decibel "FUCK!" doesn't rouse them from a decent night's sleep. And that's only on games I know I won't really "lose" entirely.
I revisited Street Fighter HD Remix on my PS3 last night, and I realized how far I'd come from from the days of watered-down substitute profanity when my rantings actually included bits from old high school history courses. Somehow, after being Hawk-Dived for the umpteenth time by T. Hawk, "Where is a smallpox blanket when you need one?!" seems like a perfectly reasonable thing to say. (I'm sorry to report, however, that turning off the console in a huff doesn't have the same satisfying effect now that you have to scroll through two menus without even touching the box itself).
Alas, I fear there will always be that small piece of a haughty child who hates to lose that I carry around until I'm well into my 80's. Even then, I imagine my controllers will still continue to hit the ground. Unless they find a cure for Parkinson's by then.