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Vol. 2, Issue 6
December 14, 1999

Birth of a Gamer:

(No more butterflies)

by Heather "elki" Haselkorn



round graduation time, one of Josh Vasquez's columns inspired me to try to look at video games from a literary perspective. I wanted to see whether games could be considered a form of literature. Most people laughed at me when I brought up the idea, but a few suggested that I play Half-Life. They said that, as far as games go, this one was fairly literate. Suffice it to say that right after commencement I immediately began to worry about other things such as a job, paying for graduate school, you know all the little things. So I never got around to the research. But now, this column has finally given me the opportunity to play the game. Or at least, to try to play it!

Once again, I had to play a tutorial. I think tutorials are evidence that games have just gotten way too complicated. Could you imagine one of those old NES games requiring tutorials? Maybe some of them did, but I don't remember ever having to spend forty-five minutes learning how to play a game. The need for the tutorial became immediately evident, though, when I found that I couldn't even walk a straight line. I couldn't line myself up to jump forward; instead I kept jumping off to the sides and missing the platforms by about a mile. I did discover, though, that if I did a little jump out of my seat at the exact time that I jumped in the game, I could make it. I also found myself getting really dizzy while I was learning how to walk and jump. A column from volume one describes this "simulator sickness," but I didn't think it was really possible. I actually felt like I was suffering from motion sickness! I finally mastered walking, running, jumping, duck-jumping, and all that, and moved on to the firing range. Where I proceeded to somehow blow myself up. Oh well, I was getting bored anyway and I just wanted to play the game. I've heard that the controls for most first-person shooters are similar, so hopefully I'll never have to run through a tutorial ever again.

The opening of the game is probably familiar to most of you: You (as Gordon Freeman) are in a tram riding through the Black Mesa Research Facility while a pleasant, computerized, female voice guides you through this "tour." She then starts to talk about job opportunities at Black Mesa, and asks you to refer your qualified friends and family members. That actually surprised me. In an odd way it seemed very realistic, sort of like those job posting bulletins that you see in an office. You look at the postings, partly to see whether you'd be interested in one of the positions, but also because you'll know you'll collect a finder's fee if you refer one of your friends to a job. Although, Black Mesa didn't look like anyplace I'd like to work! In spite of my annoyance at the tutorial, and the awful bout of nausea it caused, I was starting to like this game already. The only drawback so far was that the computer had to pause every so often to reload, and that was more than a little annoying.

So there I am, Dr. Gordon Freeman, wandering around the research lab, trying to find my suit. I'm saying hi to my co-workers and following colored lines along the wall to the locker room. Maybe my suit's in my locker? I check. Cute...photographs, sticky pads, typical stuff that you'd find in any locker or desk drawer. I didn't bother looking in the other lockers; even in the make-believe world of a game I still felt compelled to respect the privacy of my co-workers. I saw the toilet stalls, though, and the scatalogically-prone side of my mind took over; I just had to look inside. Oops, someone's in there. No the door didn't open, but I distinctly heard something.

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Credits: Illustration © 1999 Dan Zalkus. Birth of a Gamer is © 1999 Heather Haselkorn. All other content is © 1999 loonyboi productions. Unauthorized reproduction is prohibited, you cartoonish villian, you.