Hi, I'm Tess. I'm thirty and live in London. Dances with Squirrels is a blog for my collected stories and stuff.
My books are available on your friendly regional Amazon in paperback and e-book. Comedy fantasy, The Gatekeeper on the Docks is here and The Ghastly London Ghost Stories Omnibus is here.
If you'd like to follow me on Twitter, I'm @TessStenson
My earliest gaming memories are
not my own, not really. They're simply of watching my big brother play Charlie
and the Chocolate Factory on our ancient ZX Spectrum. Even when my family
got an 8086 IBM machine, I'd still just watch others play Boulderdash as
much as I'd experiment fumbling with the controls myself. That's all it was
back then, experimenting. Seeing what fit. I was a young naïve pre-gamer; I
didn't know that you would come along and shake me to my very foundations. You,
Shareware, you were my first true love.
seen you hanging out before of course; on those five and a quarter inch floppy
disks that my father sometimes brought home from work. I saw you there, amongst
the program listings. You looked ravishing, but you were out of my class back
then. I didn't really understand what you were about and what made you tick,
but I knew even then that there was something about you that was very special.
In truth, I'm not sure I could have treated you well at that time. You were
always so generous, giving large chunks of your games away for free and
encouraging people to share them with friends. You're trusting generous spirit
was a shining beacon, and you always let people know how to go about purchasing
the full games without pestering or nagging. If only everyone could have been
so thoughtful. Sure, I had some good times with a timed demo, but it would only
be a fleeting fling. With you, it would be something more serious.
Purple blobs hate men with moustaches, especially in Bio Menace.
remember the first time we truly met. It was a summer’s day shortly after I
left junior school. I was heading to high school in the new term; I was ready
to grow up. At my friend Gareth's house, we were introduced. You were in your
handsome Commander Keen: Invasion of the Vorticons form. The Marooned
on Mars shareware episode. Oh, what fun we had, the three of us. I knew
then that I'd met something wonderful that I wanted to know better. But you
were still out of my reach as I just didn't have the computer infrastructure to
take care of you in the way you needed. In the way you deserved. I had to
suffer getting calls from Gareth to tell me exciting anecdotes about how the
two of you went to new levels in Marooned on Mars, how he found the ice
levels at the Mars poles or the thrilling way in which the game ended. He went
on to get the full version of the game that boasted two more episodes; The
Earth Explodes and Keen Must Die! I'm ashamed to admit it, but I was
was so happy when my family got a 386 PC because it meant that I could finally
take you out myself. An office supply store in Gloucester stocked little heat
sealed plastic blister packs with a single shareware disk game on for just 99p.
A lovely little treat to get with my pocket money. The frustration of opening
those little packs made playing the game all the more rewarding. That one day I
myself was marooned outside that store whilst I waited for my ride mattered
not; I had a selection of exciting looking shareware games to experience when I
finally got home. My mind was swimming with anticipation and I'd forgotten that
I'd arranged to be picked up elsewhere. Never mind; I had you to look forward
to. The shareware episode of Commander Keen: Goodbye Galaxy will remain
very special to me. It was my first. The first computer game that I can truly
say I discovered by myself, with your help.
All hail the Poison Slug King.
agony of waiting for the program to install on our 386 was palpable. Watching
that blue screen with the white progress bar simply filled my imagination with
thoughts of the fun beyond it. The thrill of loading the game for the first
time and seeing the stylish title screen and enchanting menu, complete with a
miniature version of Pong to try. Oh yes, I was smitten immediately. The
game itself was everything I hoped it would be. Exploring the Border Village
level and coming across the underground room with a giant slug monument, I knew
that this was the beginning of a long relationship that would bring real joy to
my life. Eventually I bugged my father to order the full game for me after I poured
lustfully through the shareware catalogue on the game disk. Reading those
fanciful descriptions of these incredible sounding games filled me with awe. I
watched avidly as my father carefully typed in his credit card details onto the
Apogee online store and then passed control of the old 386 to me when the
mammoth sized two megabyte download croaked over the line and snuggled itself
into the deepest reaches of the computer's hard drive. Somehow I was surprised
when I loaded the game up and didn't see the message reminding you that it was
the shareware version of the game. Somehow I missed it, but the game was
wonderful. I owe that little slice of happiness to you, Shareware.
opened the flood gates and showed me so many different worlds. From the monster
bashing side scrolling of Bio Menace to the war torn streets of Traffic
Department 2192, you never let me down. You gave me my first taste of Doom
whilst babysitting the Hanson's kids down the road and you took me on a mind
warping journey in Xargon. It didn't matter to me that you propagated an
inaccurate image of rodents in Lemmings or that I was so overcome with
options that I never got around to trying Descent; you gave so much and
asked so little. I had such fun with you.
Xargon always felt like a higher class of game, you can tell by how serious it took its jumping.
helped me try new things. Remember how I installed an Ad-Lib soundcard just so
I could finally get some proper music in my game time? The theme tune to Wacky Wheels is still the best games theme tune in my mind. You got me interested
in computing and encouraged me to make it a worthwhile hobby. You even helped
me in developing my love of sci-fi and pushed me gently into looking closer at
storytelling techniques. You made me a savvier buyer with my pocket money. I'd
already seen the game that came to define so much of my early game playing time
in the local game shop; Format, on Westgate Street. I'd not seen it before or
heard my friends mention it before so I'd no idea if it was worth the price.
“Why not try it first”, you whispered sweetly. Yes, shareware Rise of the
Triad: The HUNT Begins. It was a marvel. And a marvel with a new trick; the
shareware episode was made up of unique levels not from the full game, a full
and riotously fun game all by itself. I had to share this wonder with my
friends. We all found ourselves playing ROTT. We all bought the full
game (I confess, in total I believe I've bought it thrice over the years). My
friend Dan and I even spent a long time making our own levels in the level
editor. All the while, you looked on, smiling at how happy you'd made us by
introducing us to this game.
Rotten good fun and ludicrous gibs in Rise of the Triad.
goodness, I can't help but feel like I'm engaging in an emotional affair and
cheating on my boyfriend. I'm sure he'd understand though. He knows you well
too and I’m sure he has his own stories about what the two of you got up to.
I’m not jealous anymore; you’re just a wonderfully gregarious thing. Some may
call you promiscuous, Shareware, but we know better. People may misunderstand
your generous nature but you were an important part of my childhood, and for so
many others people’s childhoods. You may not be around as much as you once
were, having passed the torch to other forms of demo, but I still love you. You
made our personal computing machines great. Shareware, you're the best.
of the recent Rezzed games expo in Birmingham, I was lucky enough to
be granted an interview with one of the true stars of the computer
gaming world. From his humble beginning as an extra in art house
productions of Faust
and small part appearances in Blake
Stone: Aliens of Gold
to his high profile roles in big budget games such as Doom
Derek Cacodemon has built a reputation as the guy to go to for
demonic roles. For over twenty years now he has been involved in
gaming and appeared in several cult favourites. He is of course best
known for his work in Doom,
but his versatility and professionalism has landed him work
elsewhere. His trademark malevolent grin and screeching hiss has
endeared him to millions.
I met up with Derek in a traditional pub off of Victoria Street in
London. He was staying in a nearby hotel after flying into Heathrow
from L.A. Before he ventured up to Birmingham for the conference, he
agreed to meet with me for a rare interview. He wasn't hard to spot
in the corner of the quiet pub. He was gently sipping a gin and tonic
and watching the tennis from The Queens Club. His round red body
looked to be in fine shape, thanks to a professional personal trainer
back home and a weekly spa visit (to keep himself ready for the
rigours of work, as he would later mention). He wore specially made
spectacles over his one gigantic eye; I wanted to ask if that made it
a monocle technically, but managed to resist the temptation. He
speaks surprisingly softly but with the quiet authority of a
classically trained stage actor; a stark contrast to how most of us
would be familiar with hearing him. We chat amiably for a while
before his grin breaks out over his toothy mouth and he suggests we
get on with the “demon talk”.
Derek, thank you for meeting me.
A pleasure, thank you.
not often that you give interviews these day.
No, no. I prefer to let my work speak for itself.
You've been such an influential figure in the games industry for so
long now, people often forget that you didn't actually start in it.
Just how did you get into it?
You mean: “How did Id Software discover me”?
was quite fortuitous really. At the time I was working in theatre in
my home town of Seattle, that's in Washington State; I had never
really considered doing anything else, but times we difficult back
then and I had to take any job I could get. For the most part that
meant bit roles and back ground extras work in small independent
productions. Usually that meant appearing in productions of Faust
or operatic interpretations of Dante's
but the late 80's and early 90's was a strange time for Seattle. A
new form of rocking and rolling music was all the rage; grunge, I
believe they called it. Unless a production could be tied to that
latest pop sensation, the public just wasn't interested. So I found
myself involved in grunge-operas and trendy productions, I even
appeared in a post-modernist Die
that was entirely ill conceived. It was a difficult time to be a
classically trained actor. It just so happened that Id Software's
creative director Tom Hall was a fan of the production; Die
Fledermaus: Extreme Dudes.
He liked my style and thought that I would be perfect as an extra in
a game that they were making for a company called Gamer Edge.
Unfortunately, my appearance in the game... err... Catacomb
I believe, never panned out, but I remained in contact with Tom and
eventually he called me during the early development of Doom
to discuss a potential collaboration. The rest, as they say, is
a great deal of Tom Hall's early work on Doom
was kept after he left Id Software, were you worried that your part
in the game would be scrapped too?
No, I was quite confident that I built up a good rapport with the
rest of the team; we were on similar creative levels. They were
grateful to have a voice from outside of the gaming community to add
to the project, and I was pleased to be spreading out in my trade a
bit more. I got on immediately with the whole team. I spent hours
learning the technical parts of the industry from John Carmack, and
what can I say about John Romero except that he's a true gentleman
and a real hoot.
who's idea was it to create the Cacodemon character?
was very much a team effort. Based in Tom's initial concepts of an
adaptation of the classic Dungeons
Beholder monster, we all slowly added together the parts. I worked
quite a bit with Adrian Carmack to get the exact design down
perfectly. We decided that the character, whom we were referring to
as Mr Chuckles at the time, should have a brighter red skin than my
natural colour is, to infer an impression of the fiery pits from
which the character was written as coming from. Somehow Adrian found
out about my ability to produce glowing orbs from my mouth and
insisted that it be written in as a character trait; an offensive
weapon that the character would use against the player.
did you feel about that?
At first I was mortified about the request. Those glowing orbs I
shoot are simply a party trick, but the more I thought about it, the
more I saw how it would fit the character we were building. Even so,
I dreaded the inevitable call from my mother to tell me off for
spitting in public; even if it was in the name of art. So when the
time came for shooting my scenes, I was painted up in bright red
make-up, my horns were polished and I put on my toothiest grin to
suggest the psychological scarring that the character has had living
and working in Hell and I put my all into spitting up some
particularly malevolent looking glowing orbs.
what of the voice recording?
We recorded those at the same time. We all felt that the game would
benefit if we could shoot everything live. I'd met Charles
Space-Marine III [the actor who played the game's main character]
before, but this was our first time performing together. We'd had a
private read through or two of our lines before, but we'd decided
together that our performances would feel more believable if we
didn't rehearse together and we could react organically to each other
during filming. We felt that as the two senior actors in the cast, we
should try to show a good example to our cast-mates. The stage was
deathly silent as we performed our scenes together; everyone seemed
transfixed. During the scene in which our two characters first meet
[on Hurt Me Plenty difficulty, in the Deimos Anomaly level] I decided
to ad-lib a little and let out a tremendous screech as I first saw
the player. At that sound, Charles nearly jumped out of his skin. His
reaction was very genuine, I think he was a little nervous the rest
of the shoot. Once we'd finished, everyone stood to applaud us and we
knew that we'd made something special. Later, the decision was made
to change the character name to my own surname, something to which I
was of course flattered by.
Derek and Charles' iconic meeting scene in Doom.
of course, became a massive hit. How did you find the sudden fame?
It was remarkably strange. I had never had such exposure but despite
my embarrassment at being singled out for praise for my performance,
it was gratifying to get the recognition.
became an instant hit with your Cacodemon character, but it wasn't
your only appearance in a PC game at that time was it?
I was also in Blake
Stone: Aliens of Gold.
It was just a cameo really, but it was fun.
So how did that part come about then?
back in those days Id Software and Apogee had a close relationship,
both being Texan companies and having worked together on
Wolfenstein 3D and
series. In fact I believe Apogee were originally slated to be the
publishers for Doom,
but that never panned out. It just so happened that Scott Miller of
Apogee was visiting Id one day whilst I was there for a creative
meeting, we got chatting and got on well. With Doom
longer than anticipated, he suggested I keep my resume ticking over
with a guest appearance in one of their games. They were finishing up
work with JAM Productions on Blake
and were beginning to cast extras for the monsters, Scott said I'd
fit perfectly for one of them. He warned me that I'd have to have an
awful lot of make-up and prosthesis work to play the Pod Alien, but
he felt I was up to the task. It was a challenge that was hard to
Derek took on a very different look for Blake Stone: Aliens of Gold.
Suddenly finding yourself cast in two separate computer games must
have been a shock.
Oh absolutely. I must confess, at first I saw it as just a pay check,
but gradually began to find it to be almost my calling. It was
tremendously hard work to be in two on-going projects, but I was
young and full of vigour.
Was there any rivalry between Id and Apogee with their two shooter
games being released so close together?
a friendly rivalry, but one born out of a true respect for each
I think its fair to say, overshadowed Black
slightly, but there was no animosity that I could see. The boys of
JAM Productions were equally friendly. Sometimes forgetful of where
they've left source code and so on, but very friendly and a privilege
to work with. Of course I had a vested interest in both projects...
And of course your brief collaboration with Id Software and Apogee
introduced you to another of the stars of PC games.
Indeed, we became quite the friends, despite polar personalities.
Together with Jazz Jackrabbit and Dizzy the Egg, you got
yourselves quiet the reputation. The Computer Age Rat Pack, as the
tabloids dubbed you.
I'm afraid so.
Can you tell me what happened in Reno?
I'd really rather not...
I'm sure my readers would like to hear you version of events.
[Groans] Oh, okay then. Just to set the record straight. We were at a
casino for Duke Nukem's birthday. We were a little drunk, we'd had
far too much, I can admit that. Contrary to popular belief, there was
no cocaine use involved. I never touched the stuff. Well, anyway,
Dizzy was a little worse for wear and got into an altercation with
Duke. It was a regrettable situation that I wish I'd done more to
In the aftermath of the scandal, Codemasters dropped Dizzy from
their roster and Dopefish checked himself into rehab.
Sadly, yes. I love Dopey, but it was clear to all of us that he had a
serious drinking problem. I think Reno was just the straw that broke
the camel's back.
Do you see any of them any more?
see Dopey every so often. I'm glad to say he's cleaned up his act
considerably. I'm so pleased for him that he had such a good fan base
to pull him through the difficult times, and thanks to the incredible
performance he gave in Commander
Keen: Goodbye Galaxy
he had cameo appearances in a whole host of games to work on since.
Last I heard of Dizzy, he had retired from games and was selling used
cars in Brighton, England. As for Jazz, I'm afraid no one has heard
from him in years.
Dopefish achieved cult status with his performance in Commander Keen: Goodbye Galaxy.
Despite the scandals from your contemporaries, you were a big
games star, did you get many offers for work?
Quite a few, yes.
And yet, you didn't appear in many?
I didn't want to just take on roles for the sake of taking them on.
I'm a method actor, I like to get inside the head of my character. If
I take a role on, I'm committing to it as a serious figment of
myself. Multiple roles on the go at once can be stressful. For Blake
it was OK as that was just a small part, but for the kinds of roles I
was being offered, it would take a serious commitment in time to do.
Are there any roles you regret turning down?
Well, I suppose... Yes. There was one that with the benefit of
hindsight could have been a fantastic part to play. I was approached
by Looking Glass studios to play SHODAN in their game System
Seeing how well that character became ingrained in people's
imagination, I can only lament having passed on it. But Karen
[O'Goggles, who went on to play SHODAN] did a tremendous job, she
made the character her own. At the time however, System
have clashed in my schedule with Doom
were you not worried you would become type cast?
for a moment no. It may be my most famous role, but certainly not my
only one. I had a role as the security guard in a genetics lab in Tex
Murphy: Under a Killing Moon
and I was the body double for Glottis in Grim
also did the voice acting for Horny the Horned Reaper in Dungeon
the actor who was cast as him was great for the live action but his
accent was far too thick to be understandable to our westernised
ears, so I was bought in to provide the voice.
The Horned Reaper as he appeared in Dungeon Keeper II. Derek provided the voice work for the character in both games.
I was not aware of that.
been in more than you may think. But Doom
where my heart is.
went on to appear in Doom
as well as in the remakes for Playstation and N64.
Indeed. It was fun each time. I think the character had a wonderful
story arc through out.There was some wonder character design
for the N64 version in particular. I think that reinvigorated the
character somewhat. Its important to keep any recurring character
And the SNES version?
think it's fair to say the SNES version of Doom
was a mistake.
worked extensively with Id Software for the remainder of the 90's,
appearing in Quake
as monsters from other dimensions and as aliens, in the form of the
Strogg. You also collaborated with other studios in various forms,
but we didn't see Cacodemon on our screens again until Doom
The character had changed a fair amount in the intervening period.
It had yes. We were going for a different feel for the game. It had
been over a decade since the first game and we were revisiting the
same story but with a grittier atmosphere; the time was right to
update the character.
Derek took on a slightly different look for his character in Doom 3; not to everyone's approval.
The iconic red skin tone of the character was changed to grey.
Who's idea was that?
was mine. And not just because I didn't want to spend hours in
make-up every morning again. [Laughs] No, we felt that a more
mono-tonal colour pallet would fit the tone we were aiming for. A
base on Mars that is being attacked by the forces of hell; we thought
that it would be a good metaphor for the assault that faces each one
of us in our hearts as the world gets ever more crowded with soulless
advertising and crushing commercialism. The dulled colour represents
the blind acceptance of the eyesores we see everyday as they attack
us with garish displays and forceful promotions. The despair of
modern life, if you will. Changing the characters distinct colouring
would fit that theme perfectly. The reversal of expectations and the
desolation of the spirit against overwhelming agency was played upon
with the drained colour of Cacodemon in Doom
That wasn't the only change either, was it?
No. I decided to add in a little quirk of the character bouncing
around in the air slightly when shot, as though he is full of buoyant
gas. I've always believed that a hint of comedy at the right time can
substantially aid a performance. The juxtaposition of comedy next to
the horrors we were trying to invoke played well in putting the
player off and and making them think twice about the situation and
how it holds a mirror up to their own reality.
And the character's long range attacks were tweaked in post
production to update their visual effects?
Yes, they were.
Not everyone appreciated the updating of the character though.
Unfortunately no; it wasn't as run away success as with the original
design. It was a divisive revision, that's for sure. I stand by it
however. I still believe it was the right direction to take the
character in artistically. Personally, I think its my finest
performance. From a technical point of view at least.
Despite the updated character designs, some things remained constant. Derek and Charles worked well together, playing off of each other.
finishing up on the add-on pack, Doom
3: Resurrection of Evil,
you moved onto work with Raven Software for Quake
That would turn out to be your final game performance. Why?
It's rather simple really; I'd had a long career in the industry and
I felt that it was time to move on. I had always turned down film
roles in favour of game roles. I decided that I needed to challenge
myself to move into the unknown once more.
asked, however, would you consider a return to the role that made you
famous if there were to be another Doom
You were very quick to answer there, have you been asked back?
you disappointed to not be given a role in the Doom
movie, along side Karl Urban and Dwayne Johnson?
I was a little disappointed yes, but after I was told the storyline
and tone, it was clear that the Cacodemon wouldn't really fit into
the themes, so I cannot argue overly on it.
I see. So what are you working on at the moment?
going to be appearing in A
Midsummer's Night Dream
later in the year in L.A. And I'm working on a small picture set here
in London actually. A picture about a demon that works at Scotland
It sounds hilarious.
Its not supposed to.
Well then, good luck with it.
I think that is as good a place as any to end things. Mr
Cacodemon, thank you so much for your time, it's been an honour.
luck in future works and we hope to see your most famous character
return some day.
Cacodemon is appearing in A
Midsummer's Night Dream
from July 26th
to September 20th.
will be in selected cinemas in the Winter of 2014/15. We have
received no word on whether or not he is to return in Doom
which is rumoured to be in development for Bethesda Softworks.
Games communities are full of
complete and utter bastards. Video games players are a vile bunch of foul
mouthed nasty folk who are just looking for a reason to belittle you and
virtually spit at you. If you join a game server or a games forum and have the
audacity to not be a white guy, not have English as a first language or not be
a practising heterosexual then you are essentially painting a target upon your
digital avatar, asking for a constant barrage of bigoted hatred.
least that is the picture that is so often painted of the wider gaming
community scene. I don't think that it would be unfair to suggest that there
are people with that disgraceful mentality, but in my experience they are very
much in the minority. These days someone who is taking their first steps into
the community or taking a cursory glance at it could very well be forgiven for
going away with the impression that it is the more disruptive and rude members
that form the bulk of the community. Recent stories about the harassment and
aggression that has been levelled at people have highlighted some of the
problems with gaming and social media. High profile stories such as Anita
Sarkeesian's Tropes Vs Women series being attacked and its fund raising campaign sabotaged, or Robert Yang being threatened
after some people saw his Half-Life 2 mod Radiator series as
forcing them to be a gay character are a problem that has very rightly been written about, and most would see it
as being unacceptable behaviour. I am very glad that there are people out there
who take a stand and call people out on these stories. I think that it is
important for any community to self police and try to dispel the more
aggressive mentalities that can create an atmosphere of antagonism, disrespect
to others or even fear. No one ever has the right to treat anyone else in such
a manner, whether interacting through a filter of internet anonymity or face to
face. I do however believe that it is equally dangerous not to highlight the
positive impact that the gaming community can have. Despite there being some
vocal bullies and aggressively rude people, this is not the default behaviour
in the games industry. There are plenty of stories that show just how amazing
this community can be and how much of an impact it can have on people’s lives.
The same can of course be said for any other community, but in this article
I'll focus on the gaming communities and try to show how influential they can
be on someone's life (i.e. in this article; mine).
In Radiator, you're treated to a lovely date star gazing. then a therapy session.
games really do have a knack for bringing people together, in various different
ways. Whether through playing games with friends on a couch, playing online
with strangers, joining game clans for regular matches, massive LAN parties or
professional e-Sports tournaments (such as for Blizzard's StarcraftII),
there are many ways in which to get involved and interact with others. It's
really quite laughable at times how the stereotype of the basement dwelling
anaemic loner geek remains so pervasive in pop-culture. Games can act as a
wonderful way to socialise with friends (see Cara Ellison’s article for PC Gamer for a good
example of how). Video games can have a much wider impact. Projects such as Foldit show the potential
of the gaming community to have real world connotations. Foldit is a Folding@Home project that aims to processes and
understand massive amounts of data on protein folding structures by tapping
into the distributed computing resources of volunteers who run the program on
their home PC. Foldit took this idea and made a simple puzzle game out
of it as an interface for sorting the real world scientific problems with the
collective computing power of anyone who fancied having a go. Games can also
act as method for teaching players about subjects or issues that they may not
have otherwise had any contact with. Depression Quest is
a rather extraordinary example of this. Likewise, Anna Anthropy's game Dys4ia aimed to give players a glimpse of going through life as a transgender
person. Both games are deeply personal and at times difficult to play through,
but the honesty in each is at times shocking and very moving. Unfortunately it
does often seem that this aspect is ignored by the wider world in favour of the
more sensationalised stories. I'm not trying to play down or gloss over the
very real problems; they are still there and people more eloquent and better
qualified than me are writing about them (for example, John Walker's recent article about why Rock Paper Shotgun will continue to highlight the issues). I just want to give a positive counter to this and to show to those who may
not know much about the gaming community that it’s not all doom and gloom and
big burly sweaty men pretending to be space marines and shouting homophobic
slurs over voice chat.
Dys4ia: A remarkable and honest game about transgender life.
have been interested in computer games for most of my life, but it was only
when I got my brain plugged into the internet in the late 90's that I
discovered the burgeoning community that was rapidly growing in presence. Prior
to that, my social gaming experience came from watching my big brother play
games, and then later playing some single player games myself and discovering
that my small group of friends at school also played the odd game on their
computers back home. I discovered that games didn't necessarily have to be a
solo experience, completely isolated from others, in your own little cocoon of
gameplay that is removed from the rest of the world to be gone and forgotten once
you emerge from your darkened gaming bunker blinking at the strength of the sun
that you had forgotten existed. Gaming, like any other hobby, could spill over
into the real world and become a shared experience with friends. My friends and
I found that they were a great source of discussion. We could talk about them,
tell stories about what we'd discovered and advise on best strategies. We
talked about other stuff too of course, but there was always something new from
the gaming world to dissect, analyse and debate on.
prolonged discussion about tactics against the Ordos faction in seminal
real-time strategy game Dune II is particularly memorable for me (a game
that also helped introduce me to the Dune books, which I adore and helped
inspire me to read more than I had done previously, and led the way to
exploring the films of David Lynch and Sting's space pants thanks to the 1984
film Dune). We'd have a discussion about the best way to combat the
Ordos mind-control gas firing tanks, test out the theoretical battle strategy
in the game when we were back home after school; then report back with our
findings to each other the next day. The stakes were high, those Ordos tanks
could devastate our armies; we needed a defence against them! Yes, other kids
called us nerds, but we had fun. There is a phenomenon in games called emergent
gameplay; where things happen in a game that hadn't been planned by the game's
developers and were created by the individual game players experimenting with
what they could do in the game world; how to mess with the rules. The classic
example of this is in Doom; players found that they could help even the
odds against the (kind of stupid) forces of Hell by tricking the monsters into
shooting into crowds of their demonic buddies and then turning on each other.
These tactics gradually spread around the gaming world as people discussed and
discovered the potential in each game. Perhaps this kind of communal strategy
planning was a similar thing; emergent socialising? Alright, that was a little
pretentious, but when I started playing games, I had no idea of the new avenues
of friendship that it would open up. I think I was hooked from that point on;
even if I never did figure out a foolproof way to avoid losing half my army to
those bloody Ordos tanks.
The mind controlling Ordos Deviator Tank. I hated these little sods. Blow them up with overwhelming tank power. It's the only way to be sure.
when I found similarly enthusiastic gaming circles buried deep in the depths of
the new internet frontier, I suddenly found myself with an even greater
opportunity to socialise and advance my growing hobby. At first I just loitered
in cyberspace (as we used to call it back then before the world realised just
how dumb it sounded) and lurked around without making myself known for fear of
being caught out as a newbie or missing key parts in my gaming knowledge (I
never had a Nintendo or Sega console, so missed most of the 8-bit era and the
likes). I spent a long time simply reading posts about games I already knew to
see if I could sniff out anything new that would help me in my heroic exploits,
and then I gradually experimented with those that were new to me. In time I
took a plunge and registered on my favoured forum and began to contribute
myself, and I was shocked to be welcomed so warmly and find that these folk
that I had never actually met in person (and only knew from their screen handle
and avatar) were actually pretty cool and friendly. It was an entirely alien
experience for a shy kid with few real life friends and lacking in confidence.
This new venture into the electronic world provided an incredible outlet.
forums had other sections to them; an off-topic or general stuff section.
Eventually I ventured out of my gaming discussion dwellings and began to
explore these mysterious other sections too. In them I found a treasure trove
of stories, articles and information about all sorts of topics that I wouldn't
have come across otherwise. Topics ranged from the best designs for future
space stations and generation ships to distant planets to the critical analysis
of American legal code, to feminist theory to in depth discussion about old
British kids show Knightmare. It was fascinating and just a little weird
at times. I loved it. I began to learn so much about other people’s countries,
cultures and lifestyle. As a result of joining these communities I was being
introduced to a broad range of topics that I simply had never come across
before in my regular life. Quite often the games community prides itself on its
technical prowess. Perhaps its unsurprising that a community so familiar with
electronics and computers breeds a core group of folk very knowledgeable about
science and technology. I was exposed via my favourite games forums to a whole
host of concepts and debates that were discussed in (sometimes painstaking)
depth by the more technical minded members of the community. Truly, engaging in
these forums in those early days of my gaming life helped broaden my horizons
It's actually the law that you must at all times have at least one version of Doom installed on your PC at any one time.
time went by, it became increasingly obvious that it would be necessary to
start shooting my new online friends, preferably in the head so that they don't
get back up. An entirely reasonable endeavour in the gaming world. In the real
world I often struggle to make real lasting relationships; in gaming circles I
knew (and liked) people all over the world, and who seemed to like me too.
Being invited into online games was a big boon to my self confidence. My game
of choice in those days of the late 90's and early 2000's was usually Team
Fortress Classic; playing team games of capture the flag. Players can
choose to play as one of nine classes of mercenary; I usually played a support
role. This usually meant running around like a mad medic healing my team mates
or defending our team's base with the fiery wrath of the pyro; all the while
chatting with people over team-chat and making bad jokes or trying to make
totem poles of players by jumping on top of each other.
I ventured off to university in Portsmouth, I spent most of my first year
trying in vain to make friends and get to know people. It wasn't a great start
to my university experience; I nearly packed it in and moved back home several
times. For most of that year, it was my friends in the online world who I
relied on to keep me somewhat sane. Slowly, painfully slowly, I started to make
friends with people in Portsmouth and moved into a house share with a few. Key
to our household cohesion was the Nintendo GameCube we had. We'd come home from
the pub late at night and embark on the serious business of Super Monkey
Ball marathons. House mates would also spend their time working their way
through Zelda and Resident Evil games as I sat in the lounge
doing some work (well, I usually had a text box open on my lap) offering help
and useful advice, or snarky remarks depending on what the circumstances
dictated. For the sake of balance, I should point out that they did likewise as
I slowly plodded through Metroid Prime (and I suppose I should state I
did do my course work too). Once or twice, a house mate attempted to network
our computers for Unreal Tournament matches. The networks never lasted
long before something broke and one of our computers was too underpowered to
really handle the game at anything approaching a playable frame rate (meaning
whoever used that computer invariably lost), but it was long enough to tell me
that I was rubbish at multiplayer games. That was irrelevant though; it was
Metroid Prime: Always good for a laugh (in that housemates find it hilarious to see you repeated die).
I moved out on my own after finishing my degree and found myself caught up in
the gravity well of London, the online communities that I had joined became
more important to me once more. I was living alone in a massive city full of
people from all over the world. It’s surprising how lonely that can be when you
don’t know anyone. For a few years I struggled to make any headway in meeting
people and forming new friend circles with other human entities in The Big
Smoke (although I have to point out that I was on friendly terms with the
squirrels in Brompton Cemetery). I don't really know how to go about making new
connections amongst so many people. I had attempts at trying though, but found
myself feeling like something of an outsider trying to muscle in on other
people’s good times, or just not finding any common ground.
was a frustrating and at times lonely period of my life, there's no denying
that, but I did still have my good outlet for it in the form of the
geographically independent online gaming. Few things bring people together
quite like pretending to blow each other up, in a platonic relationship. For a
short time over the course of a game, it’s easy to find yourself making friends
with complete strangers on a public server and getting to know regulars. I'm
not a particularly competitive person, so I usually stuck to team or co-op
games. Left 4 Dead became a favourite for this, in which four survivors
of a catastrophic plague working together to escape to safety from the zombie
like infected. It’s surprising how quickly an implicit trust and sense of
camaraderie can develop between four complete strangers during a game of Left
4 Dead. I'll never forget the communal experience of the first play of the
pre-release demo. Everyone was new to the game and no one really knew exactly
what to expect. So as the screaming and laughter from my fellow survivors (soon
to be ex-survivors) erupted over team-chat as our carefully laid plans to deal
with The Witch fell apart, or we were all sent into confused panic as a Tank
charged into our ranks, we were all closer than we'd have ever thought
possible. When we all inevitably died we were sent back to the game lobby, full
of giddy laughter and buzzing about the wild exploits we'd had, it didn't take
long for one of the other players to simply suggest “try again?” We played
several more matches before we finally succeeded in surviving the level, and I
stayed in touch with one of those players for a long time after, playing the
full game with him after it was released.
If the chaos and confusion of Left 4 Dead has taught me anything, its that the Witch really doesn't like being set on fire then hit with an axe. Who knew?
few years ago, I was reading one of my favourite gaming blogs and saw that
there was a meet up of some of its readers in Earls Court; just fifteen minutes
walk away from me. “Hey, sounds interesting, and if it turns out to be a bit
poo then it’s hardly far to go to get back to my flat”, I thought. It was a
good night. In time, this turned into a regular social gathering at a pub in
Piccadilly. It’s one of the most welcoming groups I've ever come across and
nights of board games, drinking and shenanigans are great fun. Sometimes we
bake cookies and cake to bring along. Yeah, we party hard, man. At the risk of
sounding a little sad, those nights did become a real high point in my month
and something that really did mean a lot to me. I had little else in my social
life at that time and so this group of like-minded games fans became something
of a lifeline for me. Maybe it sounds silly or over the top, but I was pretty
damn low and depressed before tripping over this social group.
not just limited to those nights now, but that was a great starting point for
coming out of my shell more. I found myself being invited to other events (not
just game related stuff either) and meeting more and more people, something
that I struggled with quite a bit to work up the confidence to do on my own. I
like to think that I've made some lasting and genuine friends through the
various games communities I've come across. The gaming community has had a very
real and positive impact on my life, and I doubt that I'm the only one to feel
that way. Even though my interest in the actual games sometimes wanes, and I
don't play multiplayer games much these days, I still get an awful lot out of
being part of the community and it still plays a big part in my social life.
communities are full of great, friendly people who can be some of the nicest,
most interesting and creative people you could hope to meet. I think it’s time
that we allow ourselves to see that and not spend so much time focussing on the
negative aspects of it. The games, the people and the reporting around the
scene are doing a fantastic job in helping spread greater understanding on the
issues that still remain in the community, and they should be congratulated for
doing so. I think it’s time that the community got the credit it deserves for
how well it can bring together so many people from so many different places and
how it can influence their lives in a very real and productive way. My name is
Tess Stenson, I love the video game community and I've played games for most of
my life, and I think I've been made a better person because of it.
Thanks to Cara Ellison for her help and advice with this article.
If you liked this article, why not read some of my other work? As luck would have it, my second book, The Ghastly London Ghost Stories Omnibus, just happens to be on offer as a free download until the 25th of June. Get it here.
This short story takes place after The Gatekeeper on the Docks, and has some spoilers to it.
‘No. Not that bloody
game. It never goes at all well. It all starts “fuzzy duck” but you know as
well as I that it will degenerate into abuse and creative swearing.’ pleaded Nigel
to his friends.
‘But its tradition!’ countered Sophie with a look of
horror on her face. Their drinking games on bored nights in had developed a
tradition of starting with the old favourite of Fuzzy Duck. After a long day of “work” seeing to the odd spirit
that had passed away on their watch, the game provided an easy way to warm up
for a night of irresponsible drinking on the job. Sophie and Cosmic had been on
duty that day whilst Nigel slept in the back after a long shift the previous
night. How he had managed to sleep through Cosmic turning the bed part way up
into the wall, to make way for the portal to the After-worlds phasing into the
mortal realm, was a mystery to the two girls. He had made a few grunting noises
as he slumped down to the bottom of the bed that suggested that he was at least
partially aware of the manoeuvre, but otherwise he had remained blissfully
unaware to the spirit of a middle-aged lady being shepherded through. Over the
years that he had done the job by himself, before befriending any of his
current colleagues, he had developed a blind spot to disruption from the
portal. He had not quite managed to develop any resistance to disruption from
Mod crashing into the boat and talking loudly about his band mates’ continued
quest to get a demo tape made. He had been unloading a bag full of snacks and
drinks as Cosmic questioned the wisdom of using a dead format to make a demo on,
when Nigel appeared from his slumber; all groggy and with the whole of his left
side of his body numb. He nearly got a shock from Cosmic as he had stalked up
to her to cuddle but was pleasantly surprised that she had managed (for once)
to restrain herself from shocking anyone. After making a token effort to get a
debriefing on the day’s spiritual activity and a bit of petty squabbling over
what CD to put on they all settled down for their, now traditional, mid-week
‘Is that Reaper still out there?’ asked Cosmic, nervously
nodding towards the boat’s front door. Mod was making a lot of noise as he came
back in after spending some quality time with his pipe.
‘It is yeah. Don’t know what the hell is wrong with it.
Just seems to be content enough, waiting.’ Mod peered outside once more to
check that the nightmarish construct was still waiting on the canal side. ‘Do
you think it wants a drink or something?’
‘I spent years barking up that tree mate.’ responded
Nigel. ‘Maybe our... err... friend
Cliffy just fancies keeping a close eye on us or something. Hmm, maybe we’ll
end up with a collection of Reapers out there?’ he mused and wrestled with a
new bottle, making opening it look like a hard job.
‘Uh-oh.’ grumbled Mod and sat heavily down on the couch
next to Sophie.
‘I’ve always wanted to have a troupe of them lined up and
dance the can-can.’
‘Err, why exactly?’ quizzed Sophie.
‘Because it would be funny... perhaps.’
‘Well obviously.’ said Cosmic.
‘Don’t pretend you wouldn’t get a kick out of it.’
‘Nigel darling, if you’re going to abuse it like that,
you’ll get your joke license revoked.’ she replied, with a little wink at Nigel.
‘Oh, I‘ve got one!’ The voice came from the phone (on
loud speaker mode) on the extended counter on one side of the fattened
narrow-boat interior. Charlie came across clearly enough but there was always
the impression that she was speaking from a very, very long way away. ‘Why not
have a game of “Just a minute”? Always good for a chuckle.’ They could hear her
turn away from the speaker on her end to tell someone, who had apparently asked
her something, to “shut up, important business”. A wry smile crept over Nigel’s
face at hearing it. Her game suggestion seemed to be going down well with the
‘Sounds good babes. Fancy doing the honours?’ asked
Cosmic, as Mod shook his head slightly.
‘Just not Bigfoot again please.’ he said loudly, towards
‘Come on, that was a legitimate subject.’ protested
‘Perhaps, but the game was scuppered when the person
playing Nicolas Parsons keeps interrupting and correcting everyone themselves.
Kind of defeats the point of being the chairperson of the game.’
‘So what’s the subject this time honey?’ asked Sophie.
‘How about theatre?’ suggested Charlie after a short
pause for thought. Nigel knew immediately that he was not going to do well in
this game. ‘Cos, you go first.’
‘Thank you so much babes.’ said Cosmic sarcastically.
‘Right-o. Sixty seconds. No repeats, drivelling off topic
or hesitation. Go!’
‘One great play is The
Tempest, by Shakespeare.’ started Cosmic.
‘Oi, that’s cheating! Talking so slowly.’ objected Mod.
‘Dude...’ countered Cosmic, eloquently.
‘I’ll allow it but Cos, just speak normally girl.’
Charlie adjudged. Cosmic winced, as though she had just stubbed a toe but
accepted the request. Charlie asked her to continue.
‘It’s obviously just a work of allegory on being run out
in cricket. As Caliban gets usurped by Prospero, it’s...’
‘Oh, err, repetition.’ said Nigel and offered an
apologetic smile to Cosmic ‘You said “it’s” twice.’ She narrowed her eyes and
peered at him, as though to say “I’ll get you yet”.
‘Yeah, sorry Cos, he’s right. Okay Nige, fifty one
seconds. Go dude, go.’
‘Err, I’ve never, err...’
‘Objection!’ yelled Mod triumphantly.
‘Not really much going for you there mate.’
‘Forty nine seconds Mod.’ said Charlie, again seeming to
be telling a colleague in the back ground to leave her alone on her end.
‘Theatre is where people who don’t like proper stories
about bent cops, alien invasions and road trip buddy comedies go to pretend
that they are sophisticated. No production will ever best the wonder of good
‘Objection.’ said Cosmic.
‘Why?’ protested Mod, astonished by the interruption.
‘Because it’s fucking stupid.’
‘Are you really saying that the dumb explosion-fests that
get regurgitated on cinema screens are the highest form of entertainment? What
about the good old Bard, or Gilbert and Sullivan?
‘Of course they are. They have explosions.’
‘Gilbert and Sullivan... Is that the one where it turns
out that everyone was a killer tomato?’ asked Sophie. Nigel was not sure if she
was being serious or not, it would be unlike Sophie not to have encyclopaedic
knowledge of anything even remotely close to science-fiction.
‘No, they did the Pirates
of Exmoor or something... H.M.S. Piña
Colada. Maybe. I forget.’ stuttered Cosmic.
‘Thirty eight seconds, Mod.’
‘... 3D art’s the pinnacle, err, shit.’ He stood up in
horror as he fumbled for words.
‘Deviation.’ stated Sophie, clapping her hands wildly
with excitement at finally getting a chance to play. Mod smiled warmly at her
as he sat down.
‘Thirty five seconds, gato.’ said Charlie cheerily.
Sophie took a deep breath and closed her eyes, talking rapidly.
‘I once wrote a play at school about this fish called
Zoë. She liked to eat meringues. How things in the sea do that, who knows?
Teacher wanted a production for our year’s end assembly. She may have been
humouring me. I misspelt fish in it...’
‘Multiple fish!’ interrupted Cosmic.
‘Oh nuts. Damn fish, always get me.’
‘Just out of interest, how did you misspell fish?’
‘I think I was using a “ph” instead of “f”. I think I
over-thought the word.’ She noticed Mod was about to say something so she cut
him off before he could. ‘Yeah, I can over-think stuff at times, smart arse.
Plus, I was eight.’
‘So the epic tale of Zoë the fish didn’t get its grand
opening?’ asked Nigel.
‘Nope. I think it was that cow Stephie Jenkins that got
to write a bit for our assembly.’ Sophie sounded like she had never quite got
over that. The others fell into an awkward silence, blissfully broken by
Charlie being interrupted once more on her side. They heard someone, presumably
standing over her at her desk, asking if it was alcohol she was drinking.
‘Don’t be thick. Just apple juice... of course.’ She
responded, her voice faint as she spoke away from the phone. After a moment
waiting for the interrupter to leave, she returned to speaking to her friends
in the living world. ‘Guys, you are remembering to drink after each successful
objection right? The chair demands it.’
‘Still making sure I wreck my liver, from, eh?’ taunted
Nigel, only to be met by Charlie feigning indignation at the suggestion.
‘Twenty two seconds Cos. You were saying about The Tempest or something.’
‘Well, the island represents the stumps...’ began Cosmic.
‘Objection. No one cares.’ said Mod with a grin and
chugged down the last few drops from his drink before grabbing another.
‘Fuck off!’ shouted Cosmic. ‘It’s a valid line of
interpretation to the play.’
‘Is it really my dear, is it really?’
‘Interpretation is half the point of these kind of plays,
‘I’m sure that The Bard had cricket in mind when he was
writing...’ suggested Nigel.
‘Was Cricket even around back then?’ asked Sophie.
‘Who the fuck cares?’ replied Mod, pointedly not looking
to Cosmic, who was trying to send all the psychic bad vibes she could muster
over to his brain. ‘I really should warn you Nigel mate, once the cricket
season starts, don’t expect to see much of your girl.’
‘I think you are in very real danger of get a bit of a
shock here.’ warned Nigel, deadpan, and smiled at Cosmic before sitting back
into his chair to enjoy the show. Mod just grinned more.
‘She’s just still never forgiven me for bowling her out
when we last played.’ he said.
‘Pah! Your bowling action is off; unlawful.’ muttered
‘He got me out too. I think.’ said Sophie.
‘We were on the same team.’ Mod replied.
‘Ha, exactly!’ said Cosmic, with just a little hint of
smugness edging into her mocking voice. ‘You ran her out, your own team mate.
Usurped her wicket. Just as Prospero nicked Caliban’s place on the island. See,
I had a point.’
‘I’ve not read it.’ said Mod. ‘Have you?’ She chose not
‘Can I continue now please?’ she said loudly, towards the
phone on the counter.
‘Yeah, go on then. Objection denied. Nineteen seconds
left.’ said Charlie.
‘Repetition.’ said Mod, gleefully interrupting Cosmic’s
flow once more. She sighed and dropped her head.
‘Oh you git.’
‘I’m afraid he’s right.’ said Charlie, not making a very
good job of hiding her amusement at Mod winding her oldest friend up. Cosmic
just made an “Awww” noise in disappointment. ‘Eighteen seconds dude.’
‘Theatre is dumb.’ he stated. He began to focus on
stuffing his pipe instead of talking. The others all looked at each other;
surprised that he was not blessing them with any more of his insights into the
world of theatre.
‘That’s it, honey?’ asked Sophie. He looked up from his
pipe and nodded earnestly at her.
‘Sorry babe, couldn’t think of anything else to say. So I
spoke from the heart.’
‘So I take it we won’t be visiting the theatres when we
have our holiday to Copenhagen?’
‘No subtle hints there then.’
‘So I may have missed something through the mists of telecommunications
but did someone challenge Mod there?’ asked Charlie, her voice made somewhat
tinny over the phone as the connection crackled.
‘No, but I think Mod has retired hurt from the game.’
Nigel told her.
‘Sophie challenged, sort of.’ said Mod. He popped his
pipe in his mouth and stood up to go outside with it. Sophie looked
disappointed that he was quitting the game and leaving her side in favour of
his tobaccoey friend but was happy to get another chance to play.
‘Fair enough.’ said Charlie. They could hear the sound of
her typing something on her computer at her desk. Nigel worked on the
assumption that she was pretending to be working; for the benefit of a
wandering supervisor perhaps. Then he heard her mutter “fucking technology”
under her breath; giving him the impression that maybe she was actually
focusing on something on her end. ‘Oh cock. Err, sorry guys, but I think I’ve
reset the timer... yes. I’ve reset the timer.’
‘But it’s my go! How long have I got?’
‘Sorry! Not sure how I did that. I was just sending
George a reply to a message he just sent. Oh fuck. I think I just sent a lewd
message to the boss.’
‘So, if the times up, and I was the last one talking
during the time...’ Mod cautiously said from the front door ‘... then I win.’
Cosmic groaned. Sophie stood up to go give Mod a congratulatory kiss, even
though she somehow managed to make it seem sarcastic.
‘Damn. I had an, err, a really good bit to use about Starlight Express being infinity cooler
if done on uni-cycles.’ said Nigel regretfully. ‘Or my idea for a musical based
on the history of the canals.’
‘Maybe next time darling.’ Cosmic told him.
‘Damn. Boss is coming. And looks either angry or horny.
Either way, this won’t be fun. Better run guys. Talk to you another time.’ said
Charlie hurriedly and a split second later hung up the phone. Sophie went
outside to keep Mod company whilst he smoked but popped her head back into the
boat a second later.
‘Hey guys? This Reaper is still here. He’s a little scary
looking.’ she said and gave a worried glance over to the canal side.
‘Uh-oh. That’s ominous.’ said Cosmic and followed Sophie
to see the Reaper.
‘That is a little odd.’ said Nigel and scratched his head
in confusion. A malevolent grin crossed Cosmic’s face as she took a look outside.
‘A little bit of target practice maybe?’ she asked. Nigel
looked around his boat; his eyes fell upon the coffee table and the paperwork
for the last spirit they had hosted earlier in the day. The stack of paper was
currently being used as a plate for a bag of crumbly crisps that Mod had opened.
His heart sank at the sight of it. He had to sign off on every spirit they had.
The Reaper would remain outside until he filled in the paperwork and handed it
over but he knew that taking too long would only ensure that he would get
increasingly irate calls from the Deliveries department and maybe a call from a
Hunter team. He groaned and wiped the crisps off the paperwork and sat down to
get on with it. The department would just have to accept the fact that there
was prawn cocktail flavouring in the creases and the odd splat of hummus.
The Gatekeeper on the Docks is a comedy fantasy about music, apathy, conspiracy and death. Its available as an e-book for just 99p here, or $1.50 here and other regional Amazon sites. Available in print format too.