Monday, 20 January 2014

Life In Binary

Hi folks

I couldn't really post yesterday as I had my daughter with me, and a nice time we had too.
Today I'm feeling OK and only a little anxious about one thing in particular, but that's nothing I can't handle and besides, it's more a 'healthy' anxious or what most people would call 'normal'.

Today I'm going to write about another subject that helps to keep my depression at bay and it may even turn some of you away, as it's often a boring subject for most people and reserved for 'geeks'. But I'd like you to stay and read if you can, you may learn something...

If you're thinking that I'm not really writing about my depression, I am. I'm writing about the escapes and strategies I use to help me to deal with it and I'm hoping readers will come away from my blog a little more informed. On that point, the post title refers to binary code. This is the system that is used in computing to decide whether something is turned on or off. '1' is on and '0' is off. Everything you see on your screen now is made up of 1's and 0's.

My love of computers and computer gaming started when I lived in Hull in the late 80's. I used to walk quite a few miles to a house of a friend and he had an Amiga 500 and later an Atari STe. We'd spend hours and hours playing games and I'd often sleep over and he'd always say when I woke up the morning I could turn it on and use it; so I did!
The two games I remember playing the most were Chuck Rock and Stunt Car Racer and a flight simulator I fail to remember the name of (but I often 'flew' an F-111 fighter-bomber, as I loved its versatility). Chuck Rock was a classic side-scrolling platform game, and you played as a cave man (in those days we could say 'caveman', these days it has to be 'cave person'...). 
Stunt car Racer was basically a driving game where you would drive around a wire-framed course, very similar to a roller coaster and you could do some stupendous things that you can only do in a computer game!

I think it was about this time that I had my good old Spectrum 256k, blasting my way through Ghosts and Goblins and then Ghouls and Ghosts; they were both really hard games but I wouldn't let them beat me. This one time (in band camp), Mum turned the electricity off so I had to stop playing to come and get my tea! I was so close to completing that level too!

The other game I became obsessed with was Treasure Island Dizzy. For me this was without doubt the best game I had on my 'Speccy'. You played a walking egg with little red shoes and hands and you had to complete puzzles and collect items to get onto the next stage of the screen. I loved it! Then there were other rock hard games like 'Manic Miner' and 'Jet Set Willy'; these were hard but all about timing. I had 'Bubble Bobble' (crap, now I've got the tune stuck in my head) but I don't think I ever killed that last boss!

I don't really remember much between my 'Speccy' years and up to the point I bought a Play Station 1. The only games I really played for that were Gran Turismo, Abe's Oddysee and Abe's Exodus. These latter two games were absolute buggers in terms of difficulty and I often had 8 hour sessions trying to get through them. I had a console for quite a few years, but I wanted more.

A friend I used to work with had a PC, this was in about, I think 1998-9. I used to go around to his house all the time (he was also a cyclist) and a gamer. He always had the fastest and most expensive he could buy and I was so envious of him. He showed me how it worked and eventually, after getting bored watching him play, he let me have a go. 
And the game I really cut my teeth on, was a game called 'Unreal Tournament'; basically, all out kill or be killed Deathmatch. I played in the DM - Morbias map; just an all out rocket and blood-fest. Naturally, I was hooked. You usually play with a time-limit, say 10 minutes and the player with the highest 'frags' or kills at the end of that, wins. I still play this game today and I still love it as much as the day I first played it, fourteen years ago! In fact, here's 'me' after kicking some arse yesterday:

Here's me yesterday, lying down on the job. Normally, I play at the hardest level, 'Godlike' but I've been a bit crap lately
Well, after playing at my mates so often, I took the plunge and in 1999, I bought a HP Pavilion that had a really good spec (at the time) and I paid £1,200, er, on finance. Simply so I could play Unreal Tournament at home.
But I also wanted to know how it worked. So I methodically stripped it and put it back together again.

Over the years there have been newer versions of this game, which I own and play, but none of them have that same playability of 'UT'99'; it's all fancy graphics and lower frame-rates (how many times the image is 'drawn' on screen; 30FPS (frames per second) is considered the lowest playable).

Yes it's a violent game, but it's a great distraction and you really have to concentrate and it sharpens your reflexes (this has been proved, also). There's strategic game modes too, such as Capture the Flag (capturing the flag from the enemy base and bringing it back to yours) or Domination (whichever team holds the most control points or the highest score at the end of the time limit, wins). I rarely play on-line against people, as there are too many cheats on servers these days, but I think it's fantastic that this fourteen year old game still has a thriving on-line community :)

I got into other games that require more thought and are slower paced, such as Role Playing Games and driving sims. I play the odd strategy now and again, as they really make you think as they are all about tactics. I also love good old adventure games, the old point-and-click style; most of you will remember The Curse of Monkey Island, a classic and funny adventure game. 

Some games I've played are so damn frightening, I have to stop playing them. You may laugh, but Amnesia for example, is quite possibly the most frightening game I've ever played (I really must finish it, but I'm too scared!) It makes my flesh crawl and also freaks me out, even after I've stopped playing it. I challenge anybody to play this game, home-alone, in the dark with headphones or surround sound, without crapping their pants! It is massively psychological.

Give me a kiiiiiiiss!

Brrr, even watching that creeps me out (make sure you have sound turned up)! But it's incredible what game developers can do these days.

But, every now and again, I have so many games installed on my PC, I don't know which one to play and get frustrated and bored. Or I get stuck and move on to something else. Other times I get so involved, I'm occasionally up until 3am (thankfully, I have an understanding wife).

And best of all, they are a distraction from my depression and anxiety, just like the cycling. But whereas the cycling stimulates the release of happy endorphins, gaming instead distracts me from any anxiety I may be suffering. But it doesn't always work, especially if my anxiety has already got a hold of me, then I struggle to do anything at all apart from panic. 
So if my wife is away, I spend hours and hours gaming. Absolutely, this isn't always good for your health, but I take breaks or do something else. Today for example, I've other things to do as well as hoping to get out on my bike later.

I may be almost thirty eight, but if you're thinking gaming is just for kids, you'd be wrong. In the UK alone, 51% are aged between 36 and 50. Worldwide, the average age is 37. Naturally, for younger kids/children the percentage is higher, but they are perhaps not at school yet or are still at school and have no 'real life' commitments like adults do.
I love gaming and will be playing games for as long as I remain interested and I can't see my interest waning any time soon, especially if it stimulates the parts of my mind that really need it.

And no, it doesn't want to make me go out on a killing spree with an axe or semi-automatic machine gun; that's reserved for America who are all too eager to point the finger of blame at gaming. Your gun laws are the problem...

So next time you think about saying gaming is for kids, maybe you should just stop yourself and maybe even have a go yourself, who knows you may even enjoy it!

I'm making some changes in my life for the better at the moment, and that is to follow my heart and head. So very soon, I'll be taking up study in web design and development. This area has always been of interest for me and there's nothing I like better than staring at lines of web code and again, like the hardware, figuring out how it works. Writing code and seeing your results is very satisfying. For example, here's a bit of what the page I am currently typing in looks like, in HTML (HyperText Markup Language):

Yes I know, very exciting....
So what I am looking at is hopefully a job where I can use these kind of skills, once I've learnt them and got some experience. I am just fascinated by it! And again, because using this stuff requires concentration, it will give me a focus on something other than my negative thoughts, depression and anxiety.

Right....oh, it's still raining. I guess the cycling will be delayed a little, but that's ok.

Thanks for reading.


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