Gamers: Then and Now

posted by : Jon Kroupa on 04/16/2014
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When I google 'what is a gamer,' Google comes back with

a person who plays a game or games, typically a participant in a computer or role-playing game.

Wikipedia has this varied definition

A "gamer" is someone who plays video games or board games.[citation needed] The term nominally includes those who do not necessarily consider themselves to be gamers (i.e., casual gamers),[1] as well as those who spend a notable part of their leisure time playing or learning about games.

I suppose that could be me in my teenage years, but it isn't a complete definition of what I think of as a gamer. A gamer is someone who doesn't just play the games, but tries to understand the hardware and software (if applicable) behind the games.

I feel like most gamers these days are people who spend a lot of time playing on their console (or multiple consoles) and that is that. They have no understanding of the underlying technology, and no interest in learning about it.

When I was a kid we had a Nintendo, and later, the Super Nintendo. At my friend's house, a few blocks away, they had a Sega Genesis. When we had sleep overs we would pull all-nighters taking turns beating Sonic the Hedgehodge or Super Mario World. I liked to beat every level in Super Mario World without activating any of the P blocks (it was Yoshi intensive). For a short time one of my brothers kept a log of how long it took him to beat a game.

Console gamers have it easy. As PC gamers, my friend and I couldn't just sit back and enjoy the games for hours on end. In the 80s we had our Commodore 64, so in order to play a game I had to understand how to load it. It went something like this:

LOAD "*",8,1
26 "CROSSROADS ][", 11:

To me it looks pretty straight forward.

Later when we got our first PC, it was a Compaq 386, with 9MB of RAM, and no sound card. For some reason it's 3.5 floppy drive would only read about half of the games we tried to load on it. This is where I started to learn about DOS and the dance of memory management I had to play in order to either play games, or run windows (sometimes both, but not always).

About a year after that we were blessed to receive a 486dx2 50mhz with 16mb of ram and initially 540mb of hard drive space. This computer came with a Sound Blaster 16 "compatible" sound card.

Because of the compatible nature of the sound card, I had to learn about settings on the sound card, and various tricks to try and get it to work with games. Because some games required a certain amount of conventional memory available in DOS, I had to learn different ways to load DOS and its drivers to conserve that memory. Sometimes that meant disabling drivers (like the mouse), or loading things into high memory (like the CD-ROM) so that conventional memory was as free as possible. I created batch scripts that would switch out the autoexec.bat and config.sys files depending on whether I wanted to run Windows 3.11 (and later Windows 95) or if I wanted to run DOS games.

When I started networking games with friends, I had to learn about network topologies, IRQ settings, cable splicing, and networking protocols.

When I wanted to download new games (in the form of shareware or whatever) I had to learn about modem hardware, BBS software, and the FTP protocol.

When I was 18 I graduated from high school a half a year early in order to attend a trade school for an MCSE (Microsoft Certified Systems Engineer) course. Included in the course was an A+ Certification class and Novel Certified Administrator class. Because of my years of messing around with hardware and software, I decided to opt out of the A+ class and just took the test. I passed (albeit somewhat narrowly). I also knew a lot of networking because of doing LANs with friends, which helped in get my MCSE and directly lead to my first jobs.

I once had an interview in which the guy asked me if I was a gamer, to which I said I was. He said that was good, because in his experience gamers knew more about how computer systems worked than a lot of computer science graduates he met.

When I look at the new era of gamers, I just see kids who know how to turn things on. Maybe you meet some who actually modify the hardware (installing a new video card), but it if doesn't work they just keep installing the driver, over and over. They don't know how to do anything else.

My friend and I both loved games, but we also wanted, and sometimes had to, understand the technology behind the games. This lead us both to have successful careers as computer programmers.

I think lots of modern day gamers would love to make their own games, but many of them will, because they aren't motivated to step away from the games to actually learn the things they need to learn.

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