A Gaming Education: Year Zero

By Chris Phillips

I considered renaming it. I was going to call the column “Educating Rita”, until I remembered my name isn’t Rita. Then I got excited that I could call it “Educating Peter”, before I remembered my name isn’t Peter, either. I get no breaks in this life!

Anyway, a change of name would mess up my post-tagging, and you know how seriously I take my search engine optimisation. Everything else, though, is evolving.

I started my Gaming Education series out of a sense of embarrassment for not having played enough games. I’ve long identified myself as a gamer, but for many years I wasn’t actually playing much. And looking back, even in my youth I tended to stick with a few favourite titles, loving the Mario 64s and Half Lifes, rarely venturing into the more obscure esoterica. This is like trying to be a film critic because you enjoyed watching The Shawshank Redemption and American Beauty. Embarrassing.

So the idea behind the Gaming Education was that I would start investigating all those games I should have known about, but didn’t. I’d post articles detailing my adventures, discussing a certain game-system here, telling a story there, basically having fun. But two years later, the reality is that this hasn’t really happened.

The problem is I don’t like just diving in. I’m a perfectionist, unable to send my work out into the world until I’ve drafted and redrafted and edited and polished, and it represents the best possible version of myself. This has its advantages, of course, but beneath it all sits a terrible fear. I fear not being respected, being “found out” as a bad writer. My sense of self is entwined within my work — I want articles I write to be seen as perfect because I want to be seen as perfect.

The energy needed to create such polished articles has meant that relatively few have been completed. Spending months on posts, I’ve had to choose my subjects carefully, discussing only issues I feel strongly about, usually picking games that will illustrate my arguments, rather than classics that will broaden my awareness.

And always, the fear is there. It is beginning to stifle me, choking the spontaneity and joy from my writing. I love creating the longer pieces, thinking through complex problems affecting the industry, telling meaningful stories — but it’s so tiring having no other outlets for my thoughts. I’ve become used to the deep depression I feel upon hitting that “Publish” button, aware of the myriad ways the article I’ve finished hasn’t achieved what I wanted it to, realising all that awaits me is another climb up that lonely mountain, amassing my thoughts, building yet one more tower from the sludge and slippery eels of my thoughts. It’s hard work, and too much of that gets boring.

The answer, then, is another style of writing — not replacing, but running parallel to the larger posts; writing where I just do, and learn through doing. Sketches, if you will, that don’t have to be perfect, that I can use to mess around with, to experiment with, to play. That’s what this blog is about, after all.

The polished pieces will still be coming. But now the long gaps between them will (hopefully) be filled with shorter, bite-sized posts that I’m going to have fun with. That’s the plan, any rate — but as this whole endeavour is supposed to pull me back from obsessive over-planning, I’d rather just start, and see what happens.

Publishing stuff on here always reminds me of diving into the sea as a kid. And I’m the boy on the pier going, “Yeah, gimme a minute! I just need to check the straps on my goggles again, and re-read the diving manual, and go over my arm and leg movements in my head.” That pretty much symbolises my whole life, in fact.

But sometimes you’ve just got to leap, inexperienced and ungainly, and not worry about getting a bit of water up your nose. Anyway, in that limbs-splayed belly-flop is contained all the elation of why kids jump into water in the first place. It’s about learning to love life, innit?

[Image courtesy of Chris Phillips. Used with permission.]


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