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Games That Rocked…Viv Egan’s World – #29: Age Of Empires II: The Age Of Kings

In Mac, PC, PS2 on March 26, 2013 at 1:16 am

Today’s post is by Viv Egan.

——–

Title: Age Of Empires II: The Age Of Kings

Format: PC, Mac, PS2

Released: 30th September, 1999

Age_ii_boxart

Hello nerds. My name is Vivienne. I’m not a comedian and I am a girl, both of which make me – so far – unique to this blog. What an honour. Since all the other guest bloggers on this site have pictures up, here’s me:

Viv

I’m also not a gamer… sorry about that.

But I am, and always have been, a nerd.

Here is a picture of me at year 8 Latin Camp. I am third from the left on the top row.

Latin_viv

Yes, you read that correctly. I spent a weekend hanging out with other nerds at a Latin camp. We dressed up in togas (I am also wearing my Nimbus 2000 t-shirt, just to seal the deal in case anyone was in any doubt of the extent of geekery we’re talking about right now), did a quiz about myths and watched Monty Python’s Life of Brian, and we laughed especially hard at the ROMANES EUNT DOMUS scene:

It’s funny because Latin is hard.

I promise this is leading somewhere.

I scraped through high school with a modicum of respect because I worked out quite quickly that you get through high school by keeping geekhood on the down-low. I mean, I wasn’t always successful (cf: Latin camp), but for a time I found a particular outlet to my brand of history-fuelled nerd-dom, and that was the video game Age of Empires II: The Age of Kings.

Storming_the_castle

My brothers were gamers, so I’ve always had a peripheral interest. We had a Super Nintendo (Donkey Kong Country 1 and 3 were my preferences, when I could wrest the controllers from my little brother); we also had what we believed to be one of the first Nintendo 64s in Australia, after my eldest brother brought one back from Japan in 1996, prior to its Australian release in March 1997. We had to put the games in a weird converter thing, and I think some of them might have been in Japanese, but there was a glorious summer where the whole family stayed inside with the new toy. I was a self-described assassin at GoldenEye (I always played Natalia on multiplayer); my mum* was boss at Mario Kart 64 (Battle Mode).

I’m straying, but that’s approximately the level of exposure to gaming I got during childhood, and I pretty much left it behind when I started going to my private, all-girls Catholic high school and realised – after discovering that no-one in my homeroom knew who Donkey Kong was during a game of celebrity heads – that I better learn a bit more about shaving my legs and reading magazines, and quickly. In addition, it was difficult to prise my younger brother from the N64 (he sometimes had to be reminded to go pee, so engrossed was he by the games), and so by the time the PS2 and PS3 came into our lives, I was well shot of gaming.

Formation

But back to Age of Empires. If you’ve never heard of it (which in the context of this blog is functioning as a rhetorical device, because I’m sure all the readers will have), it’s a game where you get to play god. You start out with an outpost in the middle of nowhere and a couple of villagers who need to forage and mine and build and farm and innovate and reproduce in order to grow from a few guys in loincloths (dubbed “villagerinos” by my brother and I**) to a huge, thriving city-state – producing grand edifices of culture, religion and technology like monasteries, armies and universities, learning skills and gaining an understanding of commerce and trade.

At this time, I was in my final few years of school and so had MY OWN PC ON MY DESK, and I used it to write up copious notes on my Latin translations (oh yeah, I was still doing Latin), and to blow off steam by playing Age of Empires.

Though AoE is primarily about empire-building and warfare, I was more interested in the culture and society of the villagerinos, assigning them particular roles for their entire lifetime (like miner, lumberjack or farmer) and telling them off if they were idle. There is a mode where you can complete tasks and missions, where you start with an already-viable settlement. But I wasn’t interested in that. I wanted to see my people grow from nothing and become powerful, much like the Roman Empire did once.

Bustling_town

I rarely set out to attack the other players. I played defensively, building massive citadels with layers of fortified walls, setting up trebuchets behind them, my enormous army amassed behind the gates, ready to charge should an enemy come knocking, all the while keeping a close eye on the research and development that would allow the civilisation to advance towards glory.

But in actual fact, my very favourite thing to do was to spend hours building up my civilisation and then just…leave it. For hours. Defenseless. A petri-dish of humankind, ripe for the taking by some unscrupulous rival emperor. I remember one Christmas Eve leaving them from six until about midnight while I went next door for a barbecue and a swim (we’re in Australia, remember). I returned to find my empire in tatters – fire everywhere, villagerinos killed, army decimated. MERRY CHRISTMAS.

Dessicated_village

Like the Roman Empire – corrupted by greed, resources stretched, influenced by Christianity and dealing with some seriously dubious leaders – my civilisations almost always crumbled. My people – from the defenceless villagerinos to the withered monks – were slain by enemy hoardes. They would even nick my sheep.

But unlike Rome – which left the western world hamstrung by turmoil, disease and a massive backward step in hygiene and intellectual achievement – my people were not consigned to centuries of dark ages filled with plague, feudalism and petty, ill-organised wars. Where it’s taking millennia to regain any kind of political, social, intellectual or economic ground on the site of that Empire (I mean have you SEEN Berlusconi?), in this empire – my empire – it all starts again with a blank slate in seconds.

History is long. But computer games are awesome.

Final_image

*Mum has no declared interest in computer games, but there is the occasional game that gets her totally addicted. She was virtually unstoppable at Tetris (playing on my brother’s Game Boy after his bedtime), and reached punishingly high levels of a strange skill-based game called Crystal Crazy that came pre-installed on our first Mac circa 1996. These days she plays a shitload of Words with Friends and Ruzzle; I haven’t told her about Angry Birds because I might never get to see or speak to her again.

** It’s convoluted, but AoE was introduced to us by a very religious next door neighbor, whom we referred to as Flanders, hence the Flanderisation here.

——–

Viv Egan is a writer, journalist and feminist. Follow her on Twitter and check out BINORACLE, LifeOverThere and TwoHandsFree!

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  1. […] grew up in a bit of a gaming family and enjoyed a thorough videogame education. SimTower, Age of Empires and World of Warcraft were favourites of mine as they all had wonderful elements of customisation, […]

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