It’s January, the month for new beginnings! Or, in the case of this roundtable, a month for beginnings that may or may not be old.
This month, we’re taking a look at being a novice gamer, whatever that might mean to us as individuals. Maybe we were practically birthed with a controller in our hands, or maybe we’ve never picked up a controller at all. Maybe our childhood games were thinly veiled LARPs or TTRPGs, or maybe we’ve never rolled a die in our lives. Let’s find out.
We have a “My First Game” series. If you’ve written one, link to it here, or if you haven’t, share with us” what was your first game?
Melissa Brinks: One of my oldest articles for the site is a My First Game piece on Super Mario Bros./Duck Hunt! While this was truly my first game, or close enough to it that I can’t remember any other one, the games discussed in this Postgame episode are also key. And shoutout to the Supernatural tabletop RPG, which was the first game I ever GMed. It was not especially fun, but by god did I try to GM it.
Alenka Figa: I forgot that I had written a My First Game piece about Oregon Trail! It is still really wild to look back and consider why this was something we did in school! I don’t think Oregon Trail is particularly educational? Before I checked to see if I had indeed written that article, my memory shot way back to the era of brick cell phones. When my parents got their first phones they had Snake, and I remember playing that for way too long, until you could get the snake to fill the whole screen and had to eat its own tail. It was so satisfying to get to that point as a kid, but I definitely don’t have the temperament to play Snake, now. Or maybe I do, because I did cave and download a mobile game called Melon Maker and I’m already spending too much time on it.
Cress: When I was 5, we had the Super Nintendo at home with Super Mario World and Super Mario Kart. It definitely proved a challenge, beginning my hand-eye coordination for controllers. In Super Mario World the Special Zone levels with 80’s slang names like Tubular and Gnarly were a lot of fun. Mom would often help us out while playing it. I remember being scared of Bowser, stamping around in his Koopa Clown Car, so Mom had to beat him. As an adult I finally went back and finished the game all by myself!
Zainabb Hull: We were only able to afford a PlayStation 2 quite far into its lifecycle and, up to that point, I’d only played snippets of games on other people’s consoles. I think my first ever experience of playing a video game was trying to navigate Super Mario 64 at age six on a cousin’s N64—he was a few years older and really didn’t want to teach me how to play, and kept taking the controller away so he could play himself (this might have been my first introduction to gamer dudes too, I suppose). When I was a bit older, I used to play Fifa with my brother on a public PS2 at a Burger King near where we lived; the game discs were locked away and there never seemed to be a more enjoyable title available so we made the most of it by forgetting tactics and just trying to cause the most fouls.
When we did get our own console, it was primarily to play Grand Theft Auto: Vice City (look, we never really cared about age-appropriate media in my household). I learned that games can have storylines and missions, and used cheat codes to access locked areas earlier. Although I’ve moved away from the series in adulthood, I have fond memories of how free I felt to explore Vice City’s neon streets and open beaches—and the soundtrack is still a certified banger.
What’s something in gaming that you’re new to?
Melissa: Indie TTRPGs! I mean, I’m not that new anymore (the actual first TTRPG I had any success with was Dread, and that was when I was still in college, so… ages ago), but so much time is taken up by The Big Ones that I don’t have a lot left to dabble in indie games. But that’s why I’ve made playing one per month a resolution this year! Will I succeed? Uh, maybe.
Alenka: Sitting down and actually playing a game that is not just a visual novel. I really want to play Abby Howard’s horror games, Slay the Princess and Scarlet Hollow, but both sound more involved than games I typically actually play myself. However, I love horror, I love Howard’s art and these games look so creative and cool. I’m happy to watch my wife play them as I usually do, but I also think it would be really intense and fun to play them myself! I particularly love reading horror because it’s such a wild and singular experience to process all the fucked up stuff in your own brain, so I think I might really enjoy playing these games solo. We’ll see if I actually do it!
Cress: Does VR still count? I’ve only managed to play it when I’m with friends or at a PAX booth. The look of it is cool, but I don’t really get sucked into it. Playing the Rick and Morty game a few years back was funny: I immediately wanted to attack Morty (I don’t know why) and was sent to hell. It still hasn’t reached the .Hack experience I want out of the medium.
Zainabb: I’m the opposite to Alenka in that I haven’t played many visual novels but would like to play more… but I’m also keen to actually get round to Slay the Princess and Scarlet Hollow because I’m also a big horror fan! I played the first chapter of Scarlet Hollow a while back and have been itching for more since. I don’t always have the brain capacity for lots of reading but I enjoyed the other mechanics in Scarlet Hollow, so I think playing a title like that would be more sustainable for me.
What’s something in gaming that you want to expand your knowledge of?
Melissa: Aside from indie TTRPGs, I would really like to take a look at older CRPGs. I don’t know a lot about game genres, and I didn’t know that CRPGs were like… a distinct thing that I enjoy until embarrassingly recently. I want to play more of them!
Cress: My partner recently got a Steam Deck, so we’ve been downloading a lot of old PS1/PS2 titles. I want to learn more about all of the games I missed back then. A lot of gaming is at risk of becoming lost media, so please emulate anything you can!
Alenka: A wall I’ve been hitting with the Dungeons & Dragons for Teens program I run at work is helping my teens feel more comfortable role-playing. Role-playing is the most natural and fun part of the game for me, and it’s always hardest to teach things that come naturally to you. I need to learn how to teach it well so I can help them feel confident with that aspect of the game.
Zainabb: Alenka, you are such a good egg! I’m always interested in learning about folks making games and game-related content in the Global South and/or the diaspora. I want to keep learning about games that reflect cultures, thinking, and experiences outside of the western world. I want to play those games, listen to those actual plays, and support those game creators, especially creators of colour!
However long you’ve been playing games of any kind, what’s something that still makes you feel like a novice?
Melissa: Platforming in any game. I may as well have never played a game in my life. Stop making me jump on things, I don’t like it!!
Cress: Building character stats. I know there’s guides, I just wing it. Every time, I pick DEX/MAGIC builds, and every time I suffer.
Alenka: I have a whole list of D&D stuff that makes me feel like a forever baby: managing the surprised condition (it makes more sense in Pathfinder/3.5!!), how to use tools, damage for unarmed strikes for non-monks… the list is endless. Want to feel humble? Start DMing!
Zainabb: Any type of strategy. Please don’t ask me to think in my games. I’m just here to hit things with a stick (or spell), explore cool worlds, and pet cute critters.