A Story by Gary Baptist

It should never be ignored.


You are in a dark dungeon. You see: Will Scarlet. Much. Locked Grating. Prisoners.

WHAT NOW? talk to will


WHAT NOW? examine grating



In the 1980s, at the age of twelve, that question, that WHAT NOW question, was the most important thing on my mind. Over the preceding year it became impossible to ignore and my eagerness to answer it never faltered. Then one day it all stopped. And answering that question one last time, lead to the discovery of a passion.

Two weeks before the Christmas of 1986 I went snooping. I didn’t always snoop I hasten to add, but this year was different. I had already targeted several known places with no luck, but after some persistence the mission was accomplished. I had found it. My Computer. Cleverly disguised as a carrier bag in my parents attempt to fool prying eyes. I promised to love them both forever.

Admittedly I wasn’t expecting them to buy one for me. Not after the episode in a local department store. On this day my dad, a technological Neanderthal, aired his concerns.

‘I’m not paying good money for that,’ he said, ‘it’s tiny! Can’t you get bigger ones?’ I’m sure I felt embarrassed. I could see the genuine astonishment on his face. ‘I thought these things were going to change the world?’ he continued.  He wandered off to interrogate a salesmen on ‘bigger computers.’ Exactly what size would have been more acceptable to him remains unknown, but unsatisfied with the results of the conversation, I was taken from the store without a purchase.  Luckily something did change his mind and on the lead up to Christmas I watched the falling grains of sand in a two week hourglass.

I have often wondered whether my road to discovering passion was fate or just a coincidence. Out of all the computer games my parents could have bought me for Christmas they happened, in what I assumed was a random selection, to choose the ones that they did. But that simple act, however it was done, proved to be their most influential decision. Because when I sat down on that first evening to work out how to escape the dungeon, I was addicted and it changed my childhood forever. 

This was interactive fiction; textual based computer games that triggered my fascination as I took part in the telling of a story. These games fed directly into my imagination and challenged me on so many levels. Once I had escaped the dungeon, I had to escape the guards. When I had swum to my freedom, I had to seek out the master. Once I had heard his wisdom, I did his bidding. Then bit by bit, when excitement had manifested to frustration and this eventually lead to success, when all my abilities had come together and I got it right, I was rewarded by unlocking the secrets of the world in which I played.  

I used to receive £2 in pocket money a week which I started spending on new games (yes games were only £2 then). Every Sunday we would visit my Grandma and we used to walk that six mile journey to her home. We’d always make a stop at a newsagent en-route in order to buy some sweets for after lunch. On one of those days I discovered they sold games and from that point on I consistently bought them. So week by week my collection grew, and grew, until one day my dad put a stop to it.  I had managed to save £6, maybe I did chores like washing the car or something, and when Sunday came around it was eagerly exchanged for three games.

‘Why the hell do you need three games?’ You could always tell when my dad was angry because he’d develop a deep scowl and his voice increased by decibels. ‘You spent all of that money on games? This has become ridiculous. From now on you’re buying no more. You have more than enough to keep you occupied.’ 

More than enough! I didn’t think so. I had completed most of them and the others were either rubbish or too hard. I fought back with various attempts at childish negotiation and reasoning, but his decision was final. At this point I found tantrums a good way to demonstrate my feelings.

I set about putting together plans to cease this madness but with my pocket money stopped ‘until further notice’ it was useless. After going through the equivalent of digital cold turkey I asked myself: WHAT NOW? And then it hit me. In those moments of total devastation and amidst the feeling of resentment and anger, and as if someone had flipped a switch, I realised, I can write my own.

I was bursting with ideas. Hundreds of them. Having spent so much time locked in the imagination of others I had formulated so many of my own. At school I found myself scribbling them down in the corner of my notebooks; something one teacher picked up on during her marking. 

‘Who am I to discourage you from recording random ideas. But please do not do this in your exercise book,’ she wrote. So I started writing them on my hands which naturally continued up my arms. I couldn’t do this on the days I had P.E. though. Then once I got home, if the ideas had survived the day, I’d scribble them down. Not sure why I just didn’t get a notebook; maybe it’s because I hadn’t taken a creative writing course then. My notes consisted of room descriptions, puzzles, characters, horrible ways to die, anything that helped me put together a world of my own.

I’m making no claim to quality here, which I don’t remember coming into consideration. In fact if I recall I had more half finished games, or beginnings of games than I had completed ones. But it didn’t matter. That feeling, that feeling of an idea hatching in the mind then leaping to freedom onto the keyboard was just so invigorating. When I think about it now I realise that it was a genuine passion which drummed up feelings that other boys must have had about football or cars. All I wanted to do was to create these games. And nothing else mattered.

Suzanne Michel. How could I ever forget her? The attractive girl that broke the spell. I was in the middle of explaining one of my ideas to two friends.

‘Wow aren’t you interesting,’ she cut in. My two friends laughed and I felt a fool. Maybe she was right or maybe she wasn’t. But that little comment thrust onto me the awareness of the stigma attached to games. The geekyness; the uncoolness; the lack of attraction. She had switched the signpost.

Over the rest of my teenage years I would make many attempts to write games but that conscious thought that I was being sad became a blocker. I was too aware of other teenage aspects of life: girls, socialising, vanity. Even now to this day that feeling lives within me. Although I did continue with other areas of IT, this was justified because it was school work, then college, then university. Before I knew it I was prepared for the ‘serious side’ of IT and the passion of games was buried. Yes I say buried because I’ve learnt that true passion never truly goes. It always remains with you throughout your life. I’ve also learnt that other people always think they know what is best for you. Your parents are concerned about your future prospects, teachers want you to take their subjects and pass their exams and companies need you to do their work. But none really understand what you want. Those closest to me could see no future in games; that they were not a serious prospect; child’s play. And I listened. God damn it I listened.

But it is plain to see now that the idea would have paid off. The games industry is bigger than the film industry and the world hungers more and more for interactive entertainment. If I had had the strength to stand against all those people I would have continued with my passion and developed my skills to a professional level. I would not look back now and wonder….

It is hard not to feel a sense of bitterness when you realise you’ve lost something important. Particularly when you believe that other people played a part in its loss. But it is best to move on and do something about it. So why don't I move out of the IT industry I've found myself in? Pack in my job and get another doing what I really want to do? Ashamedly the answer to that question is easy - it pays too well.

© 2010 Gary Baptist

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Added on January 25, 2010
Last Updated on January 25, 2010