It is a long, proud, completely made up tradition that on Leap Day, you should “take a leap” and try something you’ve never done. To celebrate this day, I thought I’d share with you my recent experiences in a huge area of gaming that has somehow eluded me my whole life: first-person shooters.
I’ve never really played one. I should qualify that. I’ve played some of the Metroid Prime games and I am, ahem, intimately familiar with the Portal games. But I’d call those hybrid games, as they break many of the conventions of the genre in favour of exploration, puzzles and the like. I’ve never played a pure FPS. When I was little my mom probably wouldn’t have approved, and by the time I was old enough to make my own gaming decisions, I guess I had dismissed them as too samey, or too violent, or too disorienting. I might be the only person ever to own an N64 and neither Goldeneye nor Perfect Dark.
But I ended up with totally free copies of Half-Life 2 and Left 4 Dead 2 thanks to the Steam Winter contests, so, at the end of January, I decided to get out of my gaming comfort zone and see what I’d been missing out on. I figured HL2 would be a good stepping stone for me, as it uses the same engine as Portal and so would feel familiar. This backfired on me hard when I spent the entire first chapter instinctively thinking I could use portals.
The first thing I should say is that I’m really, really bad at this. I expected to be bad, but seriously, it’s on Easy and I must have died at least 50 times by now. It’s been a trial-and-error experience figuring out which weapons are good in which situations, and sometimes even how to use them. (Time between me getting the rocket launcher and me figuring out you can control the rockets: at least two hours.) But the more important point to be drawn here is that I don’t care that I’m bad. My expectation going in was that there would be points at which I’d be frustrated or not know what to do and it would make me quit for a while. That hasn’t happened. I have gotten lost (in Ravenholm), and annoyed at large waves of enemies (antlions) but I haven’t encountered anything that made me want to give up.
Probably no one wants to hear me gush about an eight-year-old game you’ve all played already, so I’ll just summarize what I like in HL2: all of it. What I like is that the game keeps mixing it up. It is not at all my mental image of FPSes, with endless hordes of faceless masses to slaughter all the time. It gives me breather areas, and puzzley areas, and areas where I get to control a boat or a turret or a crane. It keeps me coming back because I want to see what crazy thing will happen next. Even the dreaded antlions become awesome allies.
There’s a lesson here about new experiences and how they help you grow as a person. I’m not going to make any claims of life-changing epiphany from playing a video game, but I’m certainly glad I’ve broadened my horizons a bit. I’m not done with HL2 yet but I’ve already bought the episodes. I can certainly see why this is one of the most celebrated games of the past decade. Now my only worry is that I’ve played the best and all other FPSes won’t seem as good….
Readers, have you taken a leap recently? I’d love to hear about people like me filling a hole in their pop culture understanding. Or maybe you did something really brave like skydiving or eating fugu or something. Leave us a comment!
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