Of Steam and Trains and Portal 2 and Being Scared

So far I have managed to avoid buying much in the Steam Summer Sale.  I was out of the gate on day one with Portal 2, which was 75% off, and Harvest: Massive Encounter.  That pair added up to a total of $7.49.

Since then I have managed to restrain myself, even when games on my wish list made the front page deals.  In part because the deals were not sweet enough, but mostly because I am not sure when I would find the time to get involved with something as epic as Skyrim.

And the fact that there will always be another Steam sale in the future helps take the pressure off.

Still, I did break down when faced with a 90% off sale on Railworks 3: Train Simulator 2012.

As far as I can tell, it is essentially the train version of Microsoft Flight Simulator.  Literally.  The people that make it originally made Microsoft Train Simulator for Microsoft.  And then Microsoft decided that trains were perhaps a bit too niche and dropped it, so the software studio went off on their own path, which eventually lead to this.

I kicked in a couple of bucks for this primarily because of the huge long list of DLC that is available for it.  There is about $1,000 worth of DLC for this game on Steam.  Wait, no, it is all marked down 50% for the Steam Summer Sale.   So there is over $2,000 worth of DLC available for the game on Steam.

It isn’t that I don’t think trains are neat… I have the same little boy fascination with big machines that many men carry with them… but I really wanted to know what sort of direct-to-the-vein heroin this game is to be able to support that much DLC.

I guess I will find out.

Of course, one of the problems with Steam is then I have to wait a day for things to download through the soda straw sized pipe that is our DSL connection to the internet.  But it is literally the best speed I can get without buying into AT&T’s U-verse package or the Comcast version thereof.  Ah well, it is fine for day to day stuff, it is just when it comes time to download things measured in gigabytes that it feels slow.

And it probably cuts down on impulse buying.  There are few things on Steam I can buy and play “right now!”

Anyway, pending research into rail-based drug habits, Portal 2 has been a big win in my opinion.  I have now invested more time into it than I did in the original Portal, and I have not made it out of the main storyline yet.

Portal 2 carries on with your character from the original.

You got out, but you didn’t escape

You are back at Aperture Science Laboratories, but clearly some time has elapsed.  Things have changed.

I don’t remember so many… plants

But your goal is still the same, to get the hell out of the place.  I have to say I am very impressed by the game.  One of the recurring sensations I get is not knowing if I am going the right way, feeling like I might have taken a wrong turn, only to end up at what is clearly the next stage of the story.  Having that happen more than once in a game is pretty unique.

Of course, part of the reason I think it works well is that they do not over use it.  A lot of the time you are clearly guided to the next point of the story.  And at other times they throw in a bit of reverse psychology.

Obviously I need to go here

Clearly I will be falling down the elevator shaft at some point

Seeing as Portal 2 was so cheap, I offered to get a copy for my daughter.  She was, after all, the person who started talking about Portal back in May that got me to finally play my copy of the original game.  And she seems to know all about it in that osmosis way that kids just absorb information.

She declined.

Which, honestly, is unusual for her.

I pressed her on why, and she said the game was too scary.  I chuckled a bit and said that I didn’t think it was scary at all.  But she said it was creepy and scary and she wasn’t sure she wanted to play it, even when I pointed out that there is a co-op mode which would allow us to play together.

That last bit tempted her, but she still declined.

Which made me think about the game again.  It really isn’t scary to me.  It is more humorous, really.  But I am a jaded old man who has sat through more than my share of horror movies and the like.  It takes something unusual or unexpected to make my heart race or pump up my adrenaline in a game these days.

It used to be that a blinking red ship in my overview in EVE Online would make me start and drive up my pulse rate.  Now that seems pretty normal… so much so as to lead to casual stupidity.

But my daughter, at age 10, is susceptible to game created fear and anxiety.  She gets immersed in the game whether she wants to or not, which I envy to a certain extent.  It isn’t that I do not feel anything.  I certainly get that butterflies in my stomach vertigo sensation whenever I have to jump off something really high in Portal 2, or even sometimes when just looking down.  The game does a great job of feeling real in those moments.

But that is still not a major reaction.  And things that scare my daughter, like an enraged GladOS, just seem like humor layered over a physics puzzle.  I enjoy the puzzle.  I enjoy the humor.  But it is tough for me to take seriously.

So now when I play Portal 2, I have to take off my headset and turn on my speakers so my daughter can stand behind my office chair and watch me play.  She is fascinated with the game, but still anxious enough that she wants to be able to run away, or at least hide behind me if things get scary. (Though she has not done either to this point… she just wants the option.)

We basically have our own version of co-op.  And it really is co-op, since she often tells me where I should go or gives me things to try, and she is very proud of herself when she figures out the puzzle before I do.

But she still doesn’t want her own copy.  Instead she is asking for Minecraft, because she got to play with it at a friends house.

And so the world turns.

9 thoughts on “Of Steam and Trains and Portal 2 and Being Scared

  1. Tesh

    Mmm… Minecraft. My 6 year old loves it. She’s almost better at building stuff in Creative mode than I am. It’s been good for her brain and hand-eye coordination.

    …but it has its share of scary stuff if you play in Survival mode. Blasted Creepers.


  2. UFTimmy

    Both of my kids, now 4 and 7, play MineCraft, and have for over a year. It’s a great game.

    I even drift back to it from time to time, trying out new features or new mods.

    I was just talking to a friend this morning saying it’s one of those rare games where you get way more than your money’s worth.


  3. mbp

    Boys of all ages love their train sets. I bought it during the last sale and I have only drive a single train on a single route since then. Nevertheless … trains.

    It isn’t really a game, more of a collectible hobby and there is a huge community.


  4. bhagpuss

    I’m with your daughter. Not on Portal/Portal2, which I’ve never played, but on being wary of volunteering for any entertainment that might scare me.

    I never liked it much even in my teens but nowadays I would go out of my way to avoid it. Anything that ups my pulse rate is something I would prefer to avoid, really. I need to think about my blood pressure, for one thing. And that sensation of adrenaline pumping through your body that everyone craves? I always, always hated that. That exists to tell you something very bad is happening that you need to Deal With Right Now. Why would I want to trick my emergency systems into triggering a false alarm?


  5. Wilhelm Arcturus Post author

    I don’t know. If Bhagpuss had spent some of his youth scaring himself on purpose, he would have less things to worry about potentially raising his blood pressure, having dealt with some lower threshold “deal with it now” situations.

    And you could raise the same “why bother?” question about roller coasters or certain sports. Heck, take that out to the logical conclusion, and I should avoid sporting events lest I become enthusiastic and feel an adrenaline rush if the team I favor wins.

    Whoo hoo.

    In the end I think Portal is a pretty low threshold for “scary” and that my daughter is being a bit of a wimp. But she’s young, so I won’t push the point, but frankly the big GladOS threat is that she is going to sarcasm you to death.


  6. Tesh

    Roller coasters don’t scare me. At all. I love them because they are one of the ways I can get the sensation of flying. If anything, they are far more relaxing for me than waiting in line for them.

    …I think games are similar, really. I mean, I’m sure there are those who fear the roller coaster breaking catastrophically, but it’s almost as if that’s fearing the potential rather than the immediate. Absolutely, a breaking roller coaster would be Bad News, but the things are often overprotective precisely to avoid that. (Though some do work hard to sell the illusion of danger.)

    In Portal, it’s certainly possible to fear the malicious AI pulling out some eeeevil plot or threat to Chell, but Chell is pretty much immune to physics, and even immortal, in a sense. GladOS is antagonistic, but not really a threat to either Chell or the player. She’s an annoyance at most. It’s a fine song and dance she does, well presented by Valve, but functionally, in the actual gameplay, she’s fluff.

    It’s easy to fear the unknown, perhaps. One’s own imagination tends to be a very scary place if allowed to be. …tangentially, I think this is why horror “entertainment” works best when the authors trick the audience into wallowing in their own fears, rather than explicitly showing them scary stuff. I suspect most fear of GladOS falls in the “she’s hinting at scary stuff” category rather than “she’s doing scary stuff”.


  7. Wilhelm Arcturus Post author

    @Tesh – But roller coasters do raise your heart rate and do push some adrenaline into your system, even if they are not scary at the intellectual level. (As opposed to the line, which just raises your blood pressure and your level of despair at the state of mankind.)

    Bhagpuss seemed to be objecting to anything that deliberately generated either of those two responses, which struck me as silly, unlikely, and boring. And I speak as somebody who loves a good rut in which to live my life.


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