I'm a trained violinist, not that I've scraped the old strings properly for well over a decade now. Gave that up when I got a job at B&Q and bought myself a PC and Dark Age of Camelot, whoops. But learning violin instilled in me a kind of fervour for rigorous repetition. I would play passages of music over and over, memorising sets of finger patterns until they added up to a whole piece. I would drill and drill and want to smash the violin to pieces, but mostly I would prevail, and the eventual performance felt good.
That desire to hone a process over and over bled into other things, like games. Perhaps it's why I like MMOs and their finger-dance of hotkey pressing. God knows you do the same thing a lot. It's why I'm invincible at Quake 3 map DM17, because it's the only map I ever play, over and over again, and it's why I love Guitar Hero, all those finger patterns put to music. And it's why one summer many moons ago I fell in love with the Die Hard Trilogy on PlayStation 1.
I didn't own a PlayStation 1 but borrowed one from my brother's mate Ben. Thanks Ben! It came to our house in a tatty old Sainsbury's carrier like a toy long forgotten, and it came with a bag of other games I can't remember because I didn't really care. As soon as I clack-clack-clacked that Logic Predator (probably) light gun in Die Hard 2: Die Harder, I was rapt, a teenager possessed.
It was an on-rails shooter a bit like Time Crisis if you need a reference. You aimed at baddies while trying to avoid innocents, and died if you mismanaged ammo or simply didn't kill fast enough. And I died a lot: it was rock hard. I tried cheating; I tried stuffing the nose of the light gun right up against my tiny CRT TV, but it didn't help. I knew that to beat it I would have to learn it - I would need to memorise the patterns. And I had to beat it.
So I got the ironing board out and set the console up about a foot or two away from the ledge where the TV was, and stood behind that, my shooting range. And I drilled: I rehearsed that airport full of terrorists over and over, baking in exaggerated heat of a conservatory in summer, holding our family's washing machine hostage in the process.
Quite how I deciphered those ropey graphics on such a tiny screen, and in such bright light, I don't know, but slowly, fighting the temptation to smash that gun, I made progress. I memorised the enemy's choreography and my own, so that with each waltzing swoosh of the camera I was able to have my sights trained on spaces where I knew enemies would appear. I mean, I'm not Rain Man, but through drills and repetition I gradually began to prevail, and soon I heard that glorious cry of "Yippe Ki-Yay" - level cleared.
I had my performance, the culmination of a lot of sweaty hard work. No one saw it, no one was impressed by it, but I finished that game (Die Hard 2). And it felt good.
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