Gaming as a crutch, some honest reflections

I’ve often wondered about my interest in games. Why is it so strong? Since I was a young kid, absorbed in (terrible) Amiga games, through to my Gameboy, PC and N64 in the late nineties, through to today with a whole raft of systems, gaming has always loomed large. With all this extra time at home since March 2020, there was a moment I realised something that should’ve been painfully obvious: games don’t make me happy. That principle goes for all media: music, books, TV, film. It doesn’t matter how good any individual title is, it can’t make me happy, because at the end of the day that film/game/book is a fleeting experience, it has to end and then it’s back to reality. And if you aren’t happy with your reality, how then can a piece of media make you happy given that it can’t change reality?

I’ve always known this on some level, but in practice many of my behaviours and actions have contradicted it. There was a part of me that conveniently ignored or overlooked it. And so gaming at various times has been an obsession or a compulsive habit, beyond sensible limits. Some areas where I’ve let things get out of hand: collecting, shopping, researching, following news… and those are just behaviours outside of playing games themselves! That’s not even including the most obvious and indulgent of all, binge-playing games. When I think about binge-playing, some of the main series that spring to mind are Fire Emblem and Xenoblade. (Funnily enough, I don’t think of local multiplayer all-nighters in the same way as those are always social.)

Just to be clear, I don’t believe there’s anything wrong with playing and enjoying games. (Nor do I believe there’s anything bad about writing about games on a blog like this one!) Games are a great form of leisure, and especially right now, with world events such as they are, I’m more grateful for them than ever. But I also recognise that I have many times run roughshod over what I personally consider normal or healthy: games have been my escape, my crutch, in unhealthy ways, and I’ve used them to avoid looking honestly at my own life and making changes.

I turned to games for relief at a time in my life when I was young and most needed support. Games weren’t my first choice – they aren’t anyone’s – but I turned to them and isolated myself because I couldn’t find support from people around me. What happens when you look for comfort in gaming as a young person? In my case it planted the seed of desire to find and play all the best games. To collect all the best games. To overinvest in fiction and virtual worlds.

Part of being unhealthily invested in games is dissociation. Unless someone was around me to prompt me, I could easily lose track of time, miss appointments or forget things I needed to do that day. It was easy to find myself completely immersed and acting under a compulsion. The same was true of other activities too like reading and listening to music.

I’m not writing this to blame or demonise gaming. Yes, games are addictive by design. They inspire that “one more go”/”one more quest” feeling. But all commercial entertainment does this, past and present. When novels first became popular, there was a widespread fear of people becoming addicted to them, in the same way there is now with videogames. Nowadays no one seems to fear the addictive quality of books, and describing a book as a “page turner” is seen as high praise, rather than a threat. I’m confident that when games are no longer the new kid on the block, there’ll be less suspicion and fear of them.

So, out of all of this reflection, what have I learned and where do I go from here? This pandemic, tragic and tough as it has been, provided a unique opportunity to get to know myself and face my demons. I understand some of the methods I developed to cope in the past. And I’m also learning to show kindness to myself – there were good reasons for things I did then. With the benefit of hindsight, it’s now possible for me to move on, to make better choices and to implement positive changes.

Thanks for reading, and I hope all of you out there are taking care and keeping safe.

Adrian presents… acoustic guitar VGM covers

It’s been an extremely rocky past year and change. Even with life gradually inching its way back to normality, I still have lots of downtime for worries and fears to surface. So, I was looking to find something distracting and productive, and this is what I’ve landed on. Recording covers of videogame music fills this need – it’s an excuse to break out my guitar after many moons of it hibernating in its case, and a nice gentle way to ease back into playing, since during the recording process I get to correct my many mistakes. It’s also been a real learning experience on the editing side of things. Most of my audio experience comes from recording and editing the podcasts on this here Very Very Website, but music is not something I’ve spent any great time with.

Most of all, I love the music. Even when using crummy samples, old FM synths and generally dated tech, great videogame music still sounds great to my ears and I listen to it all the time. I don’t claim to be able to fully replicate, let alone improve on the beauty of the original tunes, but I hope my interpretations are at least interesting to listen to.

Without further ado, I’m excited to share the songs here. I’ve done six eight so far.

I’ve put them in a playlist from the most recently recorded to the earliest recorded. I’ll keep adding to this playlist over time, but as of today (updated 9th June ’21) the playlist contains:

  1. So Much for Today from the Ys series
  2. Domina (hometown) from Legend of Mana
  3. Frontier Village ~ Dali from Final Fantasy IX
  4. Overworld from Super Mario Land (plus the game over music from Super Mario Bros at the end)
  5. Call at a Port from Terranigma
  6. Castle Damcyan from Final Fantasy IV
  7. Boundless Ocean from Final Fantasy III
  8. Places of Soul from Legend of Mana

I haven’t uploaded it, but to get started I did a test run, a recording of one of my fave VGM pieces, Crysta from Terranigma. It’s a lovely song but I accidentally recorded a lot of background noise and I wasn’t happy with how it turned out in the end. Even so, it proved really addictive to work on, so here we are now.

For anyone wondering how I do each of these, it turns out there is a fantastic community and repository of guitar music over at gametabs.net, highly recommend it. They’ve done the heavy lifting for me in terms of transcribing these songs and thousands more. It’s thanks to this site that recording each of these tunes only takes a few hours rather than several days!

I hope you’ll enjoy listening! The songs I’ve covered so far all have a relaxed feel, and I plan to keep that going forward. This is the kind of music I put on in the background while working or studying. You can find my YouTube channel here – if you like what I’ve done so far, you may like to subscribe to keep up with any new recordings.

An action lover’s dream duo: Touhou Luna Nights and Crimzon Clover World Explosion (Switch)

These two indie games are so up my street it’s ridiculous, it’s like they were both tailor-made for me and that is a rare feeling indeed. Touhou Luna Nights is like Castlevania Symphony of the Night had a baby with Metal Slug. With the added bonus of time manipulation. Crimzon Clover World Explosion is a terribly named but extremely well done modern shmup. (Apparently weird names are mandatory for modern shmups.)

Let’s discuss Touhou Luna Nights first. A Metroidvania with time control; honestly it’s one of those great ideas that makes me say, “wow, I can’t believe no one did this before”. I say that, and actually there is another recent indie game called Timespinner that, as implied by the name, does in fact mess around with time. Even so, it’s such a strong idea you wonder why it’s not been done before in mainstream games. Continue reading

Games as escapism during tough times

We are living in troubling times. Here in the UK we are in our third national lockdown to try and stop the spread of COVID-19, and, with no firm end-date, who knows how long it will last. It’s both a trying and tiring situation, although there are silver linings with the vaccine rollout. Bingeing on all manner of media entertainment and struggling to muster the will to regularly exercise are my two main symptoms of lockdown limbo. And I know I’m not the only one. “Normality” seems a long way away, and with the chilly winter in full flow, quality escapism provides some small relief.

This post is about comfort gaming with a good old fashioned 2D game. Continue reading

Contra: Hard Corps is a hidden ura-Treasure gem

Contra: Hard Corps looks and feels exactly like a Treasure game, before Treasure was born. A great solo or two player co-operative experience, hyperquick pace, relentless action, boss fights galore, kaleidoscopic visuals, wacky and inventive designs – these are the hallmarks of Treasure game design. These qualities shine so brightly in Treasure games like Gunstar Heroes and Alien Soldier, and it turns out these are all are present in the Megadrive/Genesis’s sole entry in the Contra series, Contra: Hard Corps. Continue reading