Gaming the System

21 April 2010

My father has a pair of Microsoft® Xbox 360™ systems. He spends a fair amount of time on one or both of them, by himself and with my brother.

(My mother reports that my father's interest in the Xbox developed after I sent to him links to the Rooster Teeth Productions Red vs. Blue machinima videos.)

I have more than once been impressed by video games as programs, and wouldn't mind doing such programming, but I've never been much for playing them, unless one counts Rogue and NetHack as such.

And I really loathe the Xbox controller. It strikes me as a product of path-dependency, rather than otherwise optimal design. The particular path was begun by a controller for the 1983 NES (an 8-bit gaming system with a clock-speed of less than 2 MHz and accordingly limited possibilities), with understandably little consideration as to the effect of the design on the future. Each subsequent controller design was affected by the desire not to impose too much change upon users, and perhaps in some cases by a need for compatibility with existing and anticipated gaming systems. Were controller designers starting with an understanding of the information that players would now want to be transmitted, but otherwise fresh, then the designs would be radically different.

But it discernibly saddens my father that I don't join him on his systems when I visit. So I have purchased an Xbox 360™ wireless controller for Windows and a copy of Halo®: Combat Evolved for Windows, so that I can practice using controllers of that d_mn'd design, with a game of the sort that my father plays. (My computer does not have enough umphf for some of the newer video games.)

I'm also then being compelled to boot-load Microsoft® Windows in order to play the game. So I'm running an operating system that I hate to play a game that doesn't appeal to me to familiarize myself with a controller that I hate. Maybe I'll stop hating the controller. (I sure won't stop hating the operating system!)

I mentioned this matter to the manager of the apartment complex in which I live. She noted that there are far worse things in this world than feeling obliged to play video games. That's certainly true.

And it's even true in the face of something that I didn't mention to her, which is that something about the game — beyond the awkwardness of the controller and the usual objectionability of Windows — adversely affects my mood. Perhaps it's that the fictitious world has been one of emptiness punctuated by violence.

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4 Responses to Gaming the System

  • The Apocolyte says:

    It's a good son who submits himself to unnecessary unpleasantness for the sake of pleasing his father!

    It appears you are a person with many skills, including technical knowledge such as programming. I wish I had pursued greater technical knowledge, as I agree with you that the Windows OS was apparently birthed in the fiery depths of Mordor itself. Alas, unlike you, I have little recourse other than subjecting myself to it's insidious perniciousness. I am generally a calm and gentle person, yet using today's banefully deleterious Windows OS tends to cause my throat to become raw from loud and uncontrollable outbursts, and I have removed any breakable objects from the vicinity of my desk to prevent further the undesirable and costly effects of said tantrums.

    Lastly, I personally eschew gaming whatsoever, partly for the reason you describe. The world is violent and dreary enough without retreating into the destructive fantasy realms that I have seen others totally lose themselves in. I suppose if I ever become disgruntled enough with life I will be regretting all the training I have missed by not gaming, when I go on my final firearms laden death spree. (I realize not all games are based in violence...wait...oops, yes they are.)

    • Daniel says:

      While Linux still presents some challenges for the user who is not technically oriented, there are flavors that have become increasingly easy to install and to maintain, and I expect this trend to continue.

      The other issue is the availability of applications. I have at least one friend who is highly technically sophisticated, but runs Mac OS X (rather than Linux), because his work requires him to have PowerPoint (as Impress is not perfectly compatible). I believe that the best vector-graphics program available for Linux is Inkscape, but it's not a mature program yet; there was a version of CorelDraw for Linux, but it involved using a Windows emulator, and development of this version of CorelDraw stopped a decade ago.

  • Mykal Banta says:

    Daniel: Good on you for trying to make Dad happy. Good lad. I gave up playing video games, particularly shooters. They make me feel a very unpleasant combination of depressed, restless, mildly angry, and somehow inadequate. I finally saw no reason to play more (except when my twenty-year-old son visits, and then I play with him to make him happy. He loves punching, beating, or shooting Dad to pieces. Good lad).

    • Daniel says:

      So far, my father has been playing games that involve forming one team against the AIs, rather than deliberately shooting at each other. I did once overhear my brother laughing and saying Thanks for missing! after my father shot or threw something that accidentally came close to him.

      My father and I played some of the early adventuring games together, and then some of the dungeon-crawling games as these were introduced. (These on Unix minicomputers.) But we enjoyed the puzzle-solving, rather than the combat as such.

      Halo and Borderlands also entail some puzzle-solving, but that which I've seen has been very simple, and there seems a much greater emphasis on dexterous (or lucky) manipulation of the controller (whose physical interface, again, is largely a perverse result of path-dependency).

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