It was late Spring of 1984, the Euro championships were in France and my parents had gone on an early vacation, to former Yougoslavia, with neighbors from the complex. While they were enjoying the great weather around Dubrobvnik, my grandparents had come over to watch me. Aged 9 I was rather self-sustaining already, at least if that meant eating crisps and drinking whichever cold thing I found in the fridge but my cooking skills were below par. Or inexistent.
I had no problem being alone with myself, after all there was cable TV, books, the football ground around the corner, the Olympic swimming pool, and of course that almighty Commodore 64.
I spent way too many hours on that thing and with my parents away and school only a stone’s throw away I could tell my grandparents pretty much anything as long as school didn’t call to say I arrived late or something like that. Ergo, the mornings after breakfast I would spend not on the schoolground but maximising time and playing Summer Games and Winter Games. Quick fixes loaded even faster with the awesome GTi booster. Yes, we had a floppy drive with our C64.
In the evenings, because the Spring was rather hot I wouldn’t play much, at least not until after bedtime because football was still the first love. And I long done all coding exercises from the C64 manual already. The local council library didn’t have any children books I hadn’t yet read anymore so computer games were pretty much my sole consolation.
Those encyclopedia tomes were reserved for rainy Wednesday afternoons sitting on the bed, browsing through them like a printed version of Wikipedia where grabbing another tome was the manual version of clicking a link. It wasn’t uncommon for me to need to drag 6, 8 or more even tomes back to the bookshelf some hours later.
At night though, I would spend most of my hours playing Impossible Mission by Epyx, usually until fatigue truly hit me.
Truth is IM was my dad’s game. Countless times have we, I mean he, played IM always failing at a later stage and for best I can remember he never fully finished the puzzle, usually missing a piece at around 54 or 55 minutes in.
It were different times, there was no Youtube. The Internet existed but right then our C64 wasn’t connected YET. So there was no help and the game became a true frustration. Not as much for my father as it did for me. Frustrating mostly because more often than not - read: almost always - I was just the spectator and when my parents were home I usually only got officially 25-30 minutes play time in those days. Not that I didn’t forget to watch time but starting a game of IM was usually out of bounds. If not for the length of the game, because inevitably dad would enter and take over.
Stumbling at the same darn level.
Yet, that spring I was going to beat to game. Or something like that at least. Not remembering any success, I assume that my ‘after bedtime’ knocked me out every day and I always went to bed before I got the opportunity to finish the game.
Plus, clearly, neither my father and I were too great at Impossible Mission as this 25 minutes long play hosted on Youtube shows. We even couldn’t complete it in twice that time.
In the years after, gaming eventually wore of and I became a casual gamer, spending then more time writing and reading on the computer than actually gaming. The PC we had after that was still a pillar in life but I started adolescenting and in those days that didn’t mean wasting life away on social media or watching online videos. They didn’t yet exist, streaming was still a distant future and when we wanted to watch a movie, usually that meant borrowing a VHS cassette. I, mostly, started hanging out with other adolescents in town, and also discovered beer.
For several years gaming became almost limited to just the waiting time before school would start, hanging at a sandwich shop where they had a pinball machine and also an arcade with SF2. Of course, Test Drive, Prince of Persia, Pac-man, and Minesweeper became staples when on the PC.
There only was one year anymore I truly spent time gaming, and it was before adolescenting. Often, during school holidays, I would stay at my grandparents’ in the town of my birth, and one year my mates and I discovered that a small electronics shop (Casio watches FTW!) had a Nintendo Entertainment System (NES) demo machine, complete with 16 games. Of course, we would hang most hours of the days there, when not Duck Hunting, playing Super Mario Bros hunting for Peach. And trying to beat each other’s times. None of us were Kosmicd12 though.
Did I say the shopkeeper was rather cute, hot even?
I truly turned casual gamer after that one summer. It was the confirmation that I failed as nerd because for the next few years “life” would catch my main attention.
Until I discovered DOOM. Not crypto’s Dr. Doom, Nouriel Roubini, but the game by id Software. The fun blasting heads of monsters wouldn’t last long though, I was around 18, had a car and loved partying. Plus I was fighting unknown demons inside myself, demons along the lines of
nerd trying to fit in, get laid, and other weird miscellany young adults do.
Not much later I would leave my country of birth and it would be a while before I truly returned I to computing. Pretty much until the Windows 98 era. Or late Windows 95 era at least. Those ‘Sent with Hotmail’ days.
The Internet was slowly but surely becoming a real mainstream thing and while I never left it behind, it now became an every day thing in my life and the occasional
flamewar bulletin board visits would soon be replaced by FTP and HTML.
I was online for good now. Email, chat, ICQ and the likes. And the summer after I would have a reunion with my gaming me. Spending many a day before work with friends who had a summer trailer just outside Utrecht (Netherlands), I reunited with that old friend Nintendo thanks to the Legend of Zelda which one of the camping habitants had. A single mother who also hosted the woman who would be my summer love that year. Well, my second love... after Zelda.
Zelda brought out the RPG fan in me and like many I spent days, weeks traveling the world and enjoying all quests. Something I would later repeat countless times with games like Gothic, Kingdoms of Amalur: The Reckoning, and of course with the epic The Elder Scrolls series. Not to forget Peter Molyneux’ Black & White.
Any other type of game I mostly played “Arcade style” and had little long term interest in. Blasting heads off would happen in Mafia and except for some years with lots of love spent on RTS games, I wouldn’t do much else than enjoying the freedom of roaming. Strolling through Vice City and Liberty city included.
The truth is I’m a horrible gamer. I suck at games and when I think of that guilty pleasure I still need to begin, “You will die” I lose any form of motivation because I’m not a controller virtuoso. If I were, I had mostly likely become a professional pianist, hadn’t I?
No, “Dark Souls” is beyond my skills. In fact, Devil May Cry (4) is pretty much as good as it gets for me and unless when playing with Kratos I’m not too awesome a gamer to watch play. Except, of course, you revel in laughing at a n00b at work.
Being a crap gamer is good thing.
Combined with the always existent presence of “nightlife” - read: clubbing and bars - in my life has saved me from what would probably have been my downfall. My downfall as who I am yet possibly the rise of a pre-eSports gaming professional. Because I am both a competitive type and have a slightly addictive personality. That is when I like something, when I truly like something.
And I chronicle, document errors I encounter.
That’s right, I would probablyy have discovered DOOM’s demos feature and become a speedrunner. There’s no way I would have accepted the tease of the “Par time” at the end of each level screen had I not always been on the run to the next thing. Next thing in life, not the next level that is.
So I escaped the world of finding always faster paths, decisions between blowing their heads of or trying another road, and more even spending hours and hours, days, and weeks even trying to find glitches in a game to travel to another level or stage. Only to perfect each run, jump, and practicing to become good enough to play without game saves.
Speedrunning is a different world, a true world and internet subculture. Most speedruns happen based on extensive studies, lots of practice to master every move, slide, glide, and jump of course. But most of all, they happen because fans document everything they find and share each glitch, or faster path, with the community.
...if you forget the video game part of it and all the negative connotations you might have about that, you get to see the collective effort of thousands of people over more than three decades who have studied a thing right down to the bare metal so that one person, standing on the shoulders of giants in a near-perfect performance, can do something no one has ever done before.
— Jason Kottke, A World Record Super Mario Bros Speedrun Explained
The type of community and contributions I’m a sucker for. Not that different from when I got addicted some years ago to the mobile MMO Game of War: Fire Age [before it truly turned money spinning machine] and for some months ran a popular website about GoW, documenting all gear, all crafting tips, and, of course, the best possible settings for “cores” and how to destroy opponents with defense or health debuff.
To discover, at a younger age, that “The Legend of Zelda: Ocarina of Time” could be done in less than 20 minutes (little more than 17 to be precise) rather than the weeks I spent on it, would not just drive me nuts but also totally motivate me to... go below 17 minutes.
Or at least would motivate the younger FknMayhem. Pretty much just like aged 9 only I wasn’t satisfied with holding all Summer and Winter Games records but also wanted to beat Impossible Mission, and that faster than my father.
Because I love a good challenge. And that’s what speedruns are, a challenge.
This is a theme which comes up again and again from speedrunners. ‘It’s a challenge,’ they say. ‘How fast can I get it?’ It’s a natural question to ask. When it comes to speedrunning games, there is no rulebook, no guide. There’s simply one possible way to do it, or one route which might be better than another. The game ceases to be the game it was authored to be, and becomes the landscape and language for an entirely separate practice. Players take what is given, and build something else out of it. It’s a kind of subversion, a subtle power play of guerrilla game design.
— Kat Brewster, A brief history of Speedrunning
Yet, Epyx’ game proved to be mission impossible for me.