The rise of social gaming: Morning Star column 24/10/2015

A GROUP of young men are gathered around a screen. On it, a small spaceship piloted by a young anime-style girl is scrolling from left to right, skilfully avoiding a barrage of laser fire and enemy ships unleashing a quite staggering amount of weaponry.

The boss — a huge, flying battleship — hoves into view, takes heavy fire and explodes.

One of the watching gamers snorts with mock derision. “Huh. If I were a child soldier equipped with an infinite amount of firepower, I could defeat an entire army.”

Welcome to Kotaku Gamerdisco, a night of multiplayer video gaming and chiptune music in London’s once-fashionable Shoreditch.

If you’re not suffused in gaming culture — or even aware there was such a phenomenon — I may use some words and phrases that could be confusing.

But do bear with me. It’s a fun world.

According to Nicholas Thursgood, who co-hosts GamerDisco alongside David Lightfoot, the rationale behind the night which began in 2010 was a response to “the idea of playing games in public in a bar environment being totally alien to Britain.”

While there were still some arcades and retro bars, the average punter on the street wouldn’t know about them or might be put off, thinking it was too geeky.

“Over the last five years or so, the change in thinking towards video games as something to do socially has changed massively, though it annoys me when people say they are a ‘social gamer’ because they play online, alone locked in their flat somewhere,” he says.

“You’re not a social gamer until you can shake the hand of the man who thrashes you!”

The past five years has seen a sea change in how wider society views gaming. Despite the grim and heavily US-based online trolls who continue to give gamers a bad name with the likes of the Gamergate controversy, gaming is now mainstream, from the millions playing Candy Crush on their mobile phones to the rise of indie gaming platform Steam, bringing back the fun of arcade-style multiplayer social gaming to fans old and new.

In case you’ve spent a few paragraphs wondering what it is, chiptune is synthesised electronic music from vintage computer, video and arcade games, remixed and rejigged for a retro-obsessed twenty- and thirty-something generation.

Grime and dubstep were both scenes that took samples from video games and the chiptune sound, that satisfying 8-bit crunch suiting the genres perfectly. Electro and house are others heavily influenced by the sounds of the arcades.

To this soundtrack, gamers — overwhelmingly male, though with a rising trickle of female gamers arriving as the night went on — play the various multiplayer games, vintage and new, on systems set up around the basement on projectors and video screens.

If you dared, you could have taken on Super Nintendo Mario Kart World Record Holder Sami Cetin, who’s impossibly good at driving a monkey around a course strewn with bananas and other hazards. We don’t dare.

There were also tournaments highlighting upcoming Steam titles, giving people a chance to be declared world champion at games that had yet to be released.

We feel more brave at this, figuring that if the games were new no-one has an unfair advantage. The first game, SkyScrappers, is a race to the top of a falling skyscraper. My friend, infuriatingly, wins the final.

Next up is Tango Fiesta, a top-down shoot-’em-up game that brings back memories of 1980s adventures. I reach the final — and lose. Heavily.

“I’d like to thank my parents, and I’d like to thank Jesus,” snarks the winner in an impromptu victory speech.

But there are no losers here.

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