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April 22, 2012 / jwaxo

General Chaos (Skills)

Video games make me forget there’s a name for the flamethrower beyond “pyro.”

Near the end of our Sega Genesis’ lifetime it was increasingly harder for me to get anyone to play games with me. My brother, three years my senior, was almost into his teens and so had a much bigger interest in things like “girls” and “hanging out” instead of the classic, all-encompassing word that I stuck with: “playing.” Yes, it was harder and harder to convince my brother to play with me. He had cooler friends who went to his middle school, was into skateboarding and music, and was even going on dates!

Disgusting.

During what felt like our ultimate schism, I went through a stage of going to the store on my own, renting games like in the days of yore. It was here that I felt a freedom I had never felt before: the ability to pick out what I wanted to play. No longer would I be stomped on for suggesting something inane or silly-looking, so I found the dumbest-looking games I could and wasted all of my allowance on such classics as DynamiteHeady. I went through a good four or five titles on my own this way, testing the waters with things my brother wouldn’t have dreamt letting me rent.

Of course, it’s far cheaper to rent things between two people.

I’m fairly certain the last game that I ever rented was General Chaos. I picked it up just for the name, which sounded both like a neat war game and sparked my fermenting love of idiotic puns. All I could tell about it was on the cover, but it showed a pinkish-red soldier with a crewcut screaming at a general in a blue uniform. They both looked silly and cartoony, and I was immediately sold.

I took it home and plugged it in.

To my dismay, there was no story mode to really speak of, and it was quite the difficult game. The extensive tutorial ran over how to play pretty well, but I still had a lot of trouble getting the hang of it.

The game consisted of small battles waged between teams of five. The five could be picked from a pool of different soldier classes: Gunner, who used assault rifles, Scorcher, who used flamethrowers, Chucker, who used grenades, etc. As the player, you could only directly control one soldier at a time, swapping around the battlefield to add the strength of your human intelligence and reactions, while the rest of the soldiers used the poor AI given them.

This kind of setup works somewhat for a campaign, going between different battlefields in a series of escalating fights, but it was mostly setup for one thing: player-against-player combat. There was just one problem, with my brother taking a leave-of-absence from our usual positions on the couch: I had no one to play it against.

It took me a day to actually figure out how the game worked, with no manual, and to actually get to the point that I was somewhat comfortable with it to be bored of purely-computer battles. Then, with the clock ticking on my return, I had to find someone to play with. My sister was out, my brother continuing to insist he didn’t like games (history would prove this short-lived, by the way), my dad busy with adult things.

Alternate solutions were attempted.

With tear-filled eyes, I turned to the last resort. To the person I had never seen even attempt to play a console game before, who had only, in my experience, pecked away at Solitaire. She had a save file on Captain Comic II, but I had never seen her play it, and it was a great mystery as to how she had progressed so far in the game.

But my puppy dog eyes sold her.

We started off slowly, both of us on the same team so I could walk her through how to play. To my immediate consternation, she couldn’t seem to remember the most basic things: how to fire, what to do when in a close-combat situation, how to switch between characters. As we continued to play I started paring down what I expected her to do: not to change classes at first, then not to survive close fights, then not to complete anything related to the game. As we both got more and more frustrated, I realized that there was no way we would be doing this for long, and the possibility of us having an even-handed versus fight was right out.

“I’m sorry,” my mom finally said, letting the controller drop. “I just don’t know how you can keep track of so many things at once, while remembering what to do with the paddle.”

For whatever reason, this resounded within me. It was such a strange concept to me: forget how I manage to do those things. How do you manage to not? Once I got over my initial disappointment in my mom, I realized that there was nothing to be disappointed in. I considered all of those things that she did that I just could not get a handle on: folding clothes neatly, remembering peoples’ names, writing legibly. There were a ton of things that I had no idea how to do that tons of other people seemed to do inherently well. Video games was just one of those things, and I needed to keep that in mind.

It’s still something that manages to blow my mind, I guess.

I mean, it’s pretty simple, really.

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