Flicker flames and haunted faces
Shuffling feet find empty spaces
Moving shadows, someone's hurting
Huddle closer, campfire burning.

Saturday 11 May 2013

Game Saved: Spec Chums

This is Game Saved. I’m Daniel Ness

(SFX: Spectrum Game Loading)

There isn’t a lot that hasn’t already been said about Spectrum gaming. There’s a reason for this.

(SFX: Loading continues)

And it’s not a happy one.

When American gaming culture breached the United Kingdom it did so with the tenacity of the grey squirrel. Do you remember red squirrels? I do, though I’m worried my memories might be misremembered, that I might never have seen a red squirrel in the wild. Childhood memories are so malleable. My wife remembers a kindly, grandfatherly old man plying her with Werther’s Original.

That probably didn’t happen.

And I’ve probably never seen a red squirrel in the trees, munching on acorns. By the time I was born the greys, immigrants from US shores, had infested our woods, our forests.

And many years later . . .

Look, I never owned a NES. Nobody I knew back then had one. There was no Nintendo culture to speak of in the UK until the Game Boy’s release and Tetris fever. My first run in with Super Mario Bros. was in the arcades for Pete’s sake.

And while we might have had some inkling of Duck Hunt and Mario from those demo pods in the Co-Op, we had no grounding in Metroid or Zelda or Ice Climbers or any other NES classic you care to mention. Where I live now, in the United States, yeah, sure, but we didn’t play Nintendo back home in good old Blighty.

We played computer games.

Yes, computer games. No video game systems, no Atari, no Sega.

All right, a little Atari, and a little Sega, perhaps, but only when the cartridges were cheap. Ten quid for The Ninja, sure, we could just about manage that. But forty, fifty pound a pop? For a video game?

Computer games were where it was at. And when I called Master System carts cheap, I was lying. Codemaster’s budget titles for the Spectrum, for two or three quid, those were cheap. Mastertronic games were cheap. Two months pocket money, avoiding The Beano, The Dandy, no Kola Kubes, no Sherbet Dip Dabs, find a penny, pick it up, scrimp and save and for three pound notes you’d have a new game.

And all of us, with skinned knees and school uniforms, skinny ties pulled in peanuts, playing off-ground It and singing from Come and Praise hymn books at assembly . . .

. . . we’re angry.

Because ours was a diet of cassettes and diskettes, of loading screens and rubber keys, and R-tape loading errors. Our rampant piracy, trading games in the playground, and our Darling Brother heroes, our Saboteurs and Wally Weeks and attribute clash and Dizzy the Egg, and it’s all gone now, subsumed beneath false nostalgia like the last of the red squirrels drowning under grey. We are of a dying tribe. Our culture is gone, our language corrupt. Our kings, our Gods are jokes now. Sir Clive Sinclair, a fool in a C5. Sir Alan Sugar, a collection of ill-tempered catchphrases.

So we proudly shout: This is not how it was. We shout: This is not how things were.

And we spin stories of our history, like legends from before time began, when games loaded from cassettes and an Acorn was mightier than any full-grown oak.

To you . . . foreigners  . . . our wars were petty. To us, they rage on still. Spectrum versus Commodore, Amiga versus ST. Our battle lines were drawn and divided us in fanboyish ways. Never was there a kid who played the best of both worlds, who was rich enough to own more than one system in a generation.

You were one thing or another. You were with us or against.

Our bitter rivalry endures. As a matter of fact, as far as I’m concerned, anyone with a C64 is still The Enemy. Ooh, Paradroid, ooh, Rob Hubbard. I’ll give you the SID chip, but everyone knows the Spectrum did gaming better. Faster, more colourful, more iconic. Your washed-out palette was no match for magenta, cyan,  green, blue and yellow . . .

All dead, now. Even the CPC and Amstrad compatibles. Even the ST, reaching with withered MIDI interface, the musician’s choice, as dead as the rest.

Our memories have been tainted by what has come since. There’s little that remains of our once proud industry. Whenever dim life flickers in hope that a once-loved franchise might flourish again, it dies, unfulfilled. There’s no room for Great Britain in today’s video game market, except as pedallers of American sensibilities.

And every once in a while one of us weaned on gaming, our gaming, speaks with historical authority, blows dust from the pages of Your Sinclair, Zzap 64, Digitiser and spins a tale of what once was but is no more.

And you read, and you move on. It’s a curio; no more, a feature padding an Internet already fat with nostalgia. Little Britain’s little games, of little value, of little worth.

We have a lot to say, us Spec Chums. But our voices crack and wizen, and we wrinkle, and we fade. And what we once loved falls forgotten, to be ignored by those still to come.

How tragic, Britain’s heritage, computer gaming at its finest, which gave birth to developers beyond comparison and writers beyond reproach, is now gone in all but memory.

Even recording this, I struggle to remember what made Britain great.

Except there were games, once. Many, cheap and colourful, traded like stickers, adored. Beloved of me and people like me, who can never let go of the past.

No comments:

Post a Comment