Softcore Gamer

by stavrosthewonderchicken
Features, Games and Gaming

Do you think of yourself as a game enthusiast, or even, heavens forbid, a ‘hardcore gamer’? If you’re reading this, you must be some species of gamer, someone who likes to talk about games and read about games and even, once in a while, play them. Well, I’ve got a question for you: how many of the truly great games have you played?

A recent post on Gamefilter got me thinking about my own video gaming history, which stretches back at this point into the deep mists of halcyon time, the mid 1970s. I’ve been playing games on screens for nearly 40 years, a statement that makes my eyes go a bit wobbly as I type it. I admit that from the early 80s to early 90s, I pretty much only played arcade games, mostly in bars, because bars were a lot higher up my priority list in those days, and I didn’t play much of anything from the early 90s up into the late 90s, because I was wandering around the planet (and also spending entirely too much time in bars, if I’m honest). But still: four freaking decades.


I started back in 1976, when I was as over-excited as any 11-year-old was back in that day by the cornucopia of Cool! Stuff! in the Sears catalog, and I somehow managed to convince my dad to buy one of the Home Pong consoles — the only console I’ve ever owned. As ridiculous as it sounds, playing Pong was a revelation. You could move the paddles ON THE SCREEN by twiddling a little knob. Holy crap!

I started back in 1976, when I was as over-excited as any 11-year-old

As much as I enjoyed the experience of controlling those white blocks floating on the cathode ray tube, at least for a while, it just fed a desire for more. More blocks! More colors (well more than one color, anyway)!

I started lobbying (all right, begging) for an Atari 2600 as soon as they were announced. Those suckers cost upwards of CA$300 at launch, though — one of the most expensive consoles ever, taking inflation into account — and that made it a much harder sell, particularly given how quickly my Pong-mania had faded, something my parents did not fail to remind me.

In a move of surprising parental wisdom, though, my folks suggested a compromise in 1978 — they wouldn’t spend that kind of money on a gaming device that might end up gathering dust under the big RCA in the living room, but they would consider spending around four times as much on an actual, real computer. I could play games on it if I wanted, but they hoped I’d use it to learn. And so I did. My desk upstairs became home to a hulking, silver-grey TRS-80 Model III.


And I was off to the races. I typed in programs from magazines, I bought cassettes (no floppy disks yet!), I learned BASIC and wrote my own games and graphics demos that showed off the awesome power of that 127×47 (47p resolution!) monochrome display. I spent long, long hours tapping away at the ludicrously-long-throw black keys, and I learned the folkways of the computer pioneers.

Or I did until I was about 15. There came a day, a lovely hormonally-drenched summer day, when I realized that I might just be missing out on a lot by sitting in front of that plastic box so much — mostly girls, and booze, and parties and an entirely other category of fun, and I so tugged the plastic cover down over the old Model III and I barely touched a computer for the purposes of fun for the next 15 years.

I still played games, mind you — Pacman and Donkey Kong and Defender and Robotron and all the rest at our local arcade — but I did it with other people, with quarters purloined from giant change-filled milk jar in my parents’ kitchen.


In the meantime, computer and console gaming was taking off like a thing that takes off very quickly with, you know, noise and light and stuff. I missed most of it, but you know: bars and punk rock and women and all that.

I came back to computer gaming in the mid-to-late 90s, when I found myself working with computers. Computers that, after hours, were powerful enough to run Wolfenstein, and not long after, Doom. The first time I found myself moving through a virtual environment, shooting the Bad Guys, I had the same sort of Holy Shit moment that I’d first experienced back when I realized I was actually moving that white paddle across the TV screen in my parents’ living room almost 20 years earlier. I was hooked, again.

And now, 20 years on from that point, I run a gaming community and small network of gaming sites and I spend a pretty significant chunk of my time every day thinking about games, talking with people about games, and even, when I have a few minutes, playing games. I recently got one of my oldest friends from right back in those early TRS-80 days back into gaming, and the whole thing is just a massive happy part of my life.

The Tally, I’m sorry to report, is woeful

All of which is to say that with nearly 40 years of gaming under my belt, and having been an enthusiastic PC gamer for the last twenty years, I figured I ought to have played a fair number of the Really Important Games. But reading that post at Gamefilter, I started to realize that, beginning with the old LucasArts adventure games that are so universally loved, the truth of my PC Gaming Cred was, well, a little embarrassing. I needed to quantify my credibility, to myself at least.



PCGamer is one of the sites I hit every day in my rounds, and I remembered they’d put up a list (3 years old at this point, but still) of their Top 100 Best PC Games of All Time, so I hied myself thence to do The Tally.

The Tally, I’m sorry to report, is woeful. Of PC Gamer’s Top 100 (released before 2011, at least) I have played 33. Not finished, mind you — that number is in the single digits. But played, for more than an hour or so.

I’m not even going to talk about console games. The last (and only) console game I’ve played (that didn’t show up on PCs also) was and remains: Pong. Good Old Old Testament Pong, spawn of a vengeful god.

In Which I Set Myself A Challenge

‘So, self’ said I, ‘is it enough merely to woolgather about The Good Old Days and shame yourself publicly as the Softest of Softcore Gamers?

‘Well,’ I replied, looking around to make sure nobody could hear me ‘maybe. You also really need to go and try and fix some of those bugs over at MFC. And wash the dishes. And try and figure out Twitter a bit, now that you’ve revived the @mefightclub account. And do something with that Tumblr you just set up. And figure out what you’re going to use that new domain for. And take your wife out to lunch. And have a few tele-beers with the Bearman this Friday. And maybe actually do some of the gainful-employment-type-work that your day job demands. And get those new tires for the car. And….’

‘Nonsense, self’ was my confident reply. ‘You can do all that stuff, and An LOD Posting Self-Challenge too! Sleep is for the weak, and old bastards like you don’t need more than a few hours a night, anyway. DOOO EEEET!’

So, here I am, and here’s my plan. I’m going to go through PC Gamer’s (pre 2011) Top 100 Games, and I’m going to play them all, from Number 100 right on down. PLAY ALL THE GAMES! If it’s one of the 33 I’ve already played, I’m going to play it again. And I’m going to tell you about it, my friends, in hopefully-amusing ways.

Because I love a project, and why the hell not?

Edit: Hey, look, I’ve procrastinated so long they came out with a new list! I might go through that one instead, because: shiny new things are shiny and new.


stavros thewonderchicken has written 125 FGEC articles.

Founder and Chief Ornithological Officer of Wonderchicken Industries™. I run LevelsOfDetail, Gamefilter and MefightClub (the mothership), and do not-gaming internet things at and I love you all.

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3 thoughts on “Softcore Gamer

  1. Matt Brubeck says:

    Oh man, I have played only 9% of the PC Gamer top 100. In my defense, I am a late-comer to gaming, and would score higher on a list that included more indie games. But it would be great to expand my literacy to include more of the canonized classics.

  2. Hargrimm says:

    I’m at 52 of that top 100, including 17 of the top 20. I kinda expected to be higher, but I guess I never really made a concerted effort to play many games released before I started gaming in earnest, which would have been around 2000. Probably my biggest shame is never having played the original XCOM/UFO Defense despite loving strategy games and being really into the recent re-release.

    I wish you luck on this project, although I don’t envy the technical fun times you are going to have getting 20-year-old games to run!

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