Childhood Gaming Narratives

Jane McGonigal’s recent post about her trip to China to run an alternate reality game on the site of the Olympics also discussed her first Olympic gaming experience in 1988 with Summer Games on the Commodore 64.  McGonigal goes on to describe her experience gaming that summer:

During the real Olympic games that 1988 summer, I held my own Summer Games for myself on my Commodore 64. I would start up the computer game and enter 8 players. They were all made up versions of myself from different countries – you could play with 8 at a time — “Jane” from USA, “Juana” from Mexico, “Janelle” from France, “Jana” from the Netherlands (I don’t know why I thought that was a Dutch name), “Enaja” from Australia (Jane backwards, plus an extra “a” because it sounded prettier, ha ha thought my clever 10 year old self), etc. I would run every Summer Games event as all of my different Olympic Janes. The game was asynchronous multiplayer, rather than synchronous multiplayer, so I could try to do equal justice to each avatar. I would keep track of medals in my pastel pink Cool Shades notebook, and then after all the avatars ran every event, I would see which country had won the most. I was extremely methodical about this. And this would take pretty much an entire day. And THEN I would start over, and run the “simulated Jane Olympics” again, doing exactly the same thing with 8 more international Janes and see how THAT medal count went. And on and on and on.

I had a similar experience over on the Apple IIC with Summer Games and also Winter Games.  I would create forms using Bank Street Writer with different countries and names.  I created brief backgrounds for each character and had them compete against each other for glory.  I did this for both Winter and Summer games and had the medal tallies combine to see which country would be champion.  I think I brought this over to other games like RC Pro Am for further events.

As the years went on I did this in other games.  Track & Field II was a more developed game that allowed me to use more events and countries.  I remember a week long tournament I did in Nintendo World Cup where I came up with the idea that whatever team won would have their plan for world peace implemented.

The big gaming narrative moment for me however came a few years later when EA introduced their NHL series for the Sega Genesis.  The first few years not only did not include real player names (which caused me to spend hours watching ESPN and hockey games to memorize them) but did not have the season modes gamers are familiar with these days.  I spent the entire thirty game season making my own schedules (I forget the formula, but I think I just made sure the number of home games was even and then randomized who each team played) with all the team represented  (I played a handful of games each day after school) and then a playoff tournament.  I created my own schedules and kept detailed scoring notes and standings on the computer.

I also did this in other games like Baseball Stars (still the best Baseball game ever), Super NES Play Action Football (where I spent an entire fall doing a tournament of all the college teams, since the real NCAA didn’t seem keen on it even back then) and some others.  Baseball Stars was especially fun because not only could you create your own teams but you could create players.  There was a way to add female players to the teams.  I always made the girl I had a crush on all through middle school the star of my team.

I created my own leagues and narratives in real life play as well as a child.  More on that in a future post.