Old Computer Games: Looking Back to Simple Joys of Childhood

This morning, I was sitting back, eating breakfast, thinking about the impossibly hectic life of my landlord’s maintenance man at 7am on a Tuesday. In such moments, while chewing a bit of spinach and eating canned tuna, I get to consider my life: where did I come from, where am I going?

I was skimming through science and technology news, when my eye caught the mention of “XCOM”. I could almost feel the neurons in my brain desperately trying to wake up their comrades in the attic, the long forgotten keepers of long forgotten memories. I felt as if an ex-girlfriend from a far away past showed up at my door at 3am, as must happen to everyone at least once per ex-girlfriend. I felt a melancholy smile build and clicked the link to the news article.

X-COM, the way I remember it, was a 1995 sequel to a 1994 computer game called UFO: Enemy Unknown. It has often appeared as the top 5 game of all time in IGN rankings, and  several times made it to #1. Of course, I’m not an sufficiently avid game to justify that ranking, but I will say that it is one of the only games that has ever affected me on a psychological and emotional level. I clearly remember times when I was genuinely afraid for my life while playing it. It sounds ridiculous, but I have never since been able to reach that level of immersion with any game, movie, book, or simulated experience.

Of course, it wasn’t just that the game was good. I’m sure it was. But I was also the perfect age (~12-13) to achieve a thorough suspension of disbelief to a degree that the pixelated drama on the computer screen became real drama in my life. I miss those days, when the joys and disappointments were simple, big, and all-encompassing. The bigger context not only didn’t matter, but didn’t even exist. Friendship was eternal. Love was pure. And any time I sat to play a game of UFO, I had to be prepared for a life-altering experience.

Anyway, back to Earth now, XCOM came up in the news, because a sequel is coming out today. The reviews are great and for a damn good reason. I checked out the gameplay footage, and the folks behind this sequel did what too many companies fail to do when they make sequels to classics: they stuck very close to the basic gameplay of the original. This is challenging given that the original was 17 years ago. They made the graphics sexier, the flow a little more natural, but didn’t touch any of the core personality of the game. Well done! Here’s the footage I looked at:

I only wish I was 12 again and could throw away all the baggage of deadlines, commitments, pursuits, and “real-world” goals to enjoy many hours of playing the game without feeling like I was somehow skipping out on the “more important” responsibilities. It’s sad to acknowledge that while I can still enjoy a game like this, it would not be the same, because I am no longer the same person.

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