NEarly half a century ago, I added video games to a long list of things that I was worse than my younger brother. On Christmas Day in the 1970s, Santa handed us what I suppose he’ll now call console. On it, as I remember, you can only play a simple game of tennis called pong. I hit him hard, but to be fair to the boy, he was barely of school age. Sadly, that was my last victory over him. Besides LEGO, math, and girls, video games have become something that I have been judged – not least myself – that I have no skill for.
Games are now a very big and smart business, pleasing to large numbers of people. Just this week, researchers from the University of Oxford reported that games could be beneficial for your mental health. It would be foolish to scatter scorn on all of that just because I haven’t made any progress since Bong’s famous win in 1970.
So, recently I felt as if I had missed an opportunity; Fomo is finally launched. But help was at hand. My friend and colleague at BBC and S4C, Stephan Powell, is a gaming geek. His podcast on the topic has been launched on BBC Sounds; It’s called Press X to continue. I might make an alternative aimed at the incompetent people of the Pong era like me, it’s called Press X to Give Up.
I asked Stefan to recommend an entry-level game I could try with my own hands – a portal through which I could glimpse the paths of this mysterious world. “For someone your age,” it started, which means no offense, I’m sure, “I’ll pick one on your phone. Try Monument Valley. It’s really beautiful – very touching, actually.”
Moving? I enjoy moving it like the next guy, so I downloaded it – in Monument Valley I installed. It’s really something to click an icon on your phone and plunge into another world. I suppose Twitter does it the same way it might raise a sewer hood on the street. But this is a more beautiful world. You have to get a little girl called Ida up and down steps and things. Soon I made a strong bond with her, and excitingly, during the first semester I got them unscathed.
In the second chapter, “Which Ida sets out to seek forgiveness.” Huh? what did you do? Pressed, puzzled but overwhelmed, I helped Ida as best I could. I wasn’t totally emotionally involved, but I felt a flash of anger at some crow-like thing that made her peck at her. Also, in one of the classes, she is helped by a friend in the form of a totem pole. This episode concludes with her getting out on a boat as the totem pole slowly dives into the sea, with Ida’s gaze. I must admit, tears choked me.
Around the seventh chapter, I began to falter. Everything was a little complicated. I found him less calm, accommodating, and more irritating. I ran my search engine to see what the gaming community was saying about Monument Valley. The first thing I ran into was a review saying, “It should take about an hour and a half to complete.” An hour and a half? I was on the eighth day at this point. I thought I was applying. Suspicions have seeped into my system; I really am It was Hopeless after all.
By day nine, I was reaching my toolbox to get a hammer to downgrade my iPhone to its component parts. I sent Stefan a cry for help. Soon send me some videos teaching you to take Ida wherever you want to go. So I sat at my laptop watching the video and copying every movement on my phone. It was a shame. I didn’t need this, Stefan. Don’t put me in any of these shooting games, for heaven’s sake. It will not end well. You’re done playing.