Writer and gaming enthusiast Joel Golby on how video games shaped him and shaped you too
They Formed Our Memories
When I was five we got our first games system. It was a battered Commodore 64 – old and outdated even then – and I loved it with my life. It played games off a tape. They took between 20 and 40 minutes to boot up. The only good game was Blitz, in which you slowly inch across the screen in a plane and drop bombs on a city from above. We had to shift the TV and unplug the VCR to play it. It was the best thing in the world.
For my eighth birthday I was astounded in that kid-on-Christmas way to unwrap a Game Boy, all of my own, with a full pack of batteries and Tetris, just me, all mine, holy cow, holy cow. I played that game until my thumbs hurt. I played that game until my thumbs got blisters. Even now when I close my eyes and try to sleep I mentally play a Tetris game. Just edging up, up the sides, perfect blocks in the perfect order, and then right when I need one, yes: a four, a liner, blip blip blip, and it drops in just the right place, and the rocket goes off, and I am in nirvana.
When I was 11 I asked for a PlayStation and my mum got me a Sega Saturn, which was wrong, and we’re not going to talk about that phase in my life, because it was wrong.
Aged 18 I went to the first party in my life that me and my boys had ever attended with the express intention of meeting and/or talking to girls and instead I saw a full N64 set up with Mario Kart 64 in the corner and I sat cross-legged and played 19 games undefeated, the king, the champ, while my friend Paul had actual sex upstairs in the bathroom. But who was the real winner, Paul? It was me. It was almost certainly me. Ask people now and they will definitely say it is me.
And now here we are, on the cusp of a VR revolution, and gaming has come a long way. It’s no longer Pong and Blitz and gurgling pixels – now it’s huge sprawling economies and clans at war (EVE Online), homage-paying indie darlings (Hyper Light Drifter), the greatest, dumbest game ever made (Rocket League), blockbuster megahits (Call Of Duty) and Paul Pogba in 4K, doing the dab (Fifa 17). You can play games on your phone, now. Games are intricately woven in with our emotions. And I’m pretty sure it wasn’t a drunk hallucination but I once played a game, using my p*ss as a controller, on a pub urinal. Here’s how video games changed your life without you even realising.
They’ve changed war
Professor Christopher Coker on the link between gaming and drones
“Drones are a young person’s thing. They require the multi-tasking and motor skills of someone aged between 15 and 25 – skills that are honed by playing video games.
“Although I haven’t come across the US Air Force recruiting pilots from gaming conventions as depicted in the documentary Drone, I am aware that they go to hackers conventions to spot young talent.
“The theory was that operating a drone would have the detachment of playing a video game. That was the great fear – but it hasn’t quite happened. Drone pilots aren’t as desensitised as we once thought.
“The future of military training will be an immersive virtual-reality game. It’ll change the world and it will happen. When? No one knows.”
They’ve changed music
R&B singer Gallant on why his music features “sparkly 8-bit sounds”
“Video-game soundtracks are special. They sound completely different to film and TV music. With most games, you’re limited in what you’re looking at. There are only so many colours, only so many pixels – the blanks are filled in with the music.
“Gaming has been with me my whole life. The first game I ever played was Crash Bandicoot on the PlayStation. It took me probably five years to beat that game, hilariously. But that’s because I was so young when I got it, like four years old.
“My most memorable game is the same for many of my generation – The Legend Of Zelda: Ocarina Of Time. Music is so integral to that game – Epona’s Song, Saria’s Song, Prelude Of Light – those melodies stay with you the rest of your life. I remember The Temple Of Time theme – the choir of vocals, the eerie ‘E’ sound they sing. It’s just so odd and ominous.
“The soundscapes they use in Japanese video games are kind of atmospheric, kind of folky. They sound like the gates of heaven opening up. The most calming, most peaceful arrangements – just like the Kingdom Hearts soundtrack, another one of my favourites. It’s one of the reasons why I’m such a fan of Japanese culture – I even studied the language at university.
“Video games have influenced my music, for sure. My song Weight In Gold has an 8-bit thing going on. I really fell in love with that sound making it. That, and the beautiful strings and minor chord changes you get in game music. It’s like the world’s ending, but everyone’s accepted it. I became so obsessed with it I even went back to my album Ology and added 8-bit sounds.
“It’s influenced wider electronic music, too. Video-game soundtracks have a very specific, otherworldly vibe. It touches a lot of people – a lot of people who’ll go on to make music themselves.”
They’ve changed film
Drive director Nicolas Winding Refn explains how games have influenced his work
“I’m fascinated by video games. It’s the interaction, the sense that there are no boundaries. Most cinema is very flat. It’s rare you interact with it. Film is more interesting when it’s about what you don’t see. Video games have that ability – you can do so many perspective changes. It becomes a 3D experience on a 2D screen.
“Gaming was alien to me until I started on [2013’s] Only God Forgives. It was only when I met Hideo Kojima, creator of Metal Gear, that I really began to see the whole inventiveness that is possible.
“It becomes a circle of creation. Many people have said that Only God Forgives’ fight sequence has a direct gaming influence. The camera angle kind of looks like a fight screen, it looks operatic. The score, too, is very grand.
“The Neon Demon is designed like a video game in that it has different levels. It’s designed for a futuristic audience who will potentially see entertainment in different ways. Its colour palette has an artificialness to it which isn’t dissimilar to a video game’s. I find it very beautiful.”
The Neon Demon is out on DVD, Blu-ray, digital and VOD on 31 October
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(Illustration: MMJ Studio)