It spotted an image through a friend of a friend, who had in turn liked a page that was shared by someone who I think I played Call of Duty with once, because that's pretty much how Facebook works. The image was a simple quote on a white background that looked like it had been lifted from YouTube's comments section. Of course, it was badly written because, once again, that's how things work online, but it told an interesting tale.
It was something of a ghost story, but not in the same vain as you'd expect. This had nothing to do with Silent Hill or Project Zero/Fatal Frame. It wasn't a gaming yarn of haunted Zelda cartridges or Kinect picking up dead people like a Microsoft production of The Sixth Sense. Instead, this was a much more uplifting story that told of a young boy who used to love playing the original Xbox with his father. They'd sit for hours racing around the track in their favourite rally game. However, an unfortunate turn of events, the cause of which goes unmentioned in the image, sees the boy's father pass away. It took the kid over a decade before he could bring himself to power up his dad's old console again, and understandably so, but when he finally did he found his dad’s ghost waiting within. This wasn’t a case of some corny poltergeist Psycho Mantis-ing the joypad across the floor or leaving nit bits of information around the house to act as clues. No, this was quite literally a ghost in the machine. The old save file from when the two would play together was still active, and this game, like many racers, would record your best run and leave a “ghost” of it behind for you to try and beat. Through this standard mechanic, the boy could play with his father long after he'd passed away.
Customisation has been a huge part of gaming since developers discovered that there was a way that players could truly inject themselves into the game they’re playing. Don't get me wrong, I enjoy scaling buildings as the Prince of Persia or annihilating grubs as Marcus Fenix as much as the next dude, but sometimes it's nice to have a little bit of you on-screen. When it’s your creation getting its hands dirty, you can sometimes become a little more attached, especially when it comes to games in which story is not really a strong point. The Tony Hawk games are a perfect example of this. I used to absolutely love these titles. Sure, their yearly releases bled the fuckers dry in little to no time, but when they were hot, goddamn, were they hot! Honestly though, who ever wanted to actually play as Tony? He didn't have much in the way of presence outside of appearing on the cover art. He's far from being an attractive man, and he's covered in more padding than the afore mentioned Mr. Fenix uses while rushing off to war. Put quite simply, there wasn’t really anything cool about old Tony. So, in retaliation o his all consuming blandness, I played as myself. I poured my appearance into the game and constructed a skater in my image. He wore a black heavy metal t-shirt, a pair of oversized cargo pants and a baseball cap that was swung around to a degree that ensured the blinding summer sun didn’t infiltrate the back of his little chunky polygon head. That's just how we rolled at the turn of the century; Limp Bizkit were in, black nail polish was cool and anything sporting even the most remote hint of taste was out. Then, just as I was starting to feel like an all powerful god, I hit that start button and proceeded to throw my little dude from his skateboard and bust his unprotected chunky head. Lesson learned, Hawk. The importance of safety gear is now duly noted.
Although building a character was fun, it was pretty much a one-time occurrence, with the occasional tweak where his backwards hat would be swapped out for an impossibly high mohawk, depending on the CD I was listening to at the time. However, when games allowed me to get creative, that's where the fun really started.
When most people think of the Need for Speed series, they usually think of tearing through highways in supped up cars and breaking more road laws than a cheap GTA rip-off. For me though, that wasn’t the attraction of the franchise. Instead, I enjoyed creating and designing the cars therein. Don’t get me wrong, I loved the racing side too, but ironically driving to a back seat for me. The adrenaline surge during the absurdly fast drag races were nothing short of exhilarating, the drift events had my friends and I completely engrossed as we cheered the player along, and I’d always loved straight up out running a motherfucker on the open road; but despite all this, most of my time was spent fine tuning the decals in the garage. Need for Speed: Underground 2 really gave a stage where I could just let loose and allow my creative side to take over.
Playing video games is a bizarre hobby at the best of times. It comes in so many different forms, each one catering for a different part of society, that it would be impossible for it to be average. Through the bullets and the punches, and even the Bullet Punches, there really is something marvellous about seeing what people make for themselves using only the tools that gaming allows them. We could chat about Mario Paint back in the 90s or the likes of MTV Music Generator 2 which allowed you to become a house DJ using only your joypad and a wide selection of musical samples, each one tailor made to be manipulated to your desire. However, the daddy of creative gaming has nothing to do with fast cars, painting plumbers or skateboarding to a punk soundtrack, unless of course you build it that way.
The finest example of people’s personalities existing in-game is a jaw dropping, awe inspiring one; Minecraft! The sheer magnitude of artistry on display in this game is fantastic and the fact that it has no age boundaries makes it even more so. From enormous, elaborate temples, complete with working drawbridges and underground chambers to entire album covers being recreated from thousands of blocks, there’s little to nothing you can’t do here. There have been people who’ve made everything imaginable in this title. If you’re willing to take your time and think outside of the box, or outside of the blocks as the case may be here, there’s nothing that cannot be built. It’s quite simply the pinnacle of video game creativity.
We all invest our personalities into the games we play, whether we’re aware of it or not. Be it through our own individual play styles or the saved games we leave behind, there are parts of us on display here. A save file can last forever, becoming a snapshot of who you were at the time, what you believed in or how you chose to play. They act as frozen moments which could outlast all of us and leave behind a hint of our legacies to be found by our children long after we’re gone. They could take an interactive trip through our worlds, walk through our creations and breathe in the atmosphere that we instilled into the games in order to make them our own virtual homes. These files could act as heirlooms as we pass our universes down to the next generation, allowing them to add their legacy and their personality to it, slowly creating something that embodies not just our ideals, but that of our entire families, combined as one. And so, the snapshot is taken again, and the creation widens to accommodate and embrace the newcomers. What other medium in the world would allow you to walk in the shoes of your parents, siblings or friends with this much freedom as opposed to simply observing it and wondering about how they lived?
The boy who found his father’s ghost within his Xbox’s save file spent a long time trying to catch up with his father. Of course, being out of practice and more accustomed to the smoother gameplay of modern titles, I’d imagine it took him some time to master the jerky controls and familiarized himself with the course. Sure enough though, he found his stride and raced alongside his father until one day he passed by him and thundered towards the finished line. He’d finally accomplished what he could never do as a child, he’d beaten his father’s time race time. However, just before the finish line he pulled the breaks and stopped his car, allowing his old man’s ghost to zip by and retain his record. If he hadn’t have stopped there, his father’s ghost would have been deleted from the system forever, and replaced with his own. And so he retired, leaving the ghost inside the file so that they could play together again in the future.
Video games provide us with so many alternate realities and universes to explore. Take a journey through some of the most eccentric, fantastic and downright beautiful fictional worlds gaming has to offer.
Spud speaks of growing up with video games, and memories of his father.
Think your family is messed up? Join Spud as his dives into the bizarre world of dysfunctional video game families; including murderous sons, savage siblings and a big old dollop of syrup to wash it all down with.