Now for something completely different.
So far we’ve only talked about games that, in some form or another, I love. Today, we’ve got something different. Are you one of the countless folks who consider themselves fans of the 1998 FPS Unreal? Awesome! I’m really glad you do! I, on the other hand, absolutely hate it. The beauty, though, is that we can disagree about that and still get along, right?
All signs pointed to my becoming a megafan of Unreal. I had already played Unreal Tournament and thought it was the greatest multiplayer FPS I’d ever seen. I had — and have always had — a dumb, puppy-dog-like fondness for ’90s first-person shooters — Wolfenstein 3D, Blake Stone, Doom, Heretic, Dark Forces, Duke Nukem 3D, Quake, Turok. And the music and visuals of Unreal wowed me instantly. I was ready to love this game, except…
I still remember sitting back after an hour or so of playing it for the first time, and suddenly realizing: wow, this completely sucks and I hate it. Now, let me be clear; I have nothing against the developers, the fans, or the game itself, frankly. There’s nothing in me but respect for what the team set out to create and what, admittedly, is a final product that tons of people do in fact have real passion for. Unreal just wasn’t for me. That’s all.
Sometimes there are wonderful, beautiful things in the world that for whatever reason aren’t meant for you; and that’s okay. Unreal is one of the first games I can recall that had such a negative — and unexpected! — reaction from me. In the late ’90s I was discovering a sense of what I actually liked, and what I should seek out; developing a critical eye for the first time, and thinking in detail about what parts of games did and didn’t work for me. Everyone needs an Unreal in their life to show them that even within their preferred medium, there are things they won’t like.
Remember that episode of The Next Generation where Data drinks the mysterious green booze in Ten-Forward and discovers, to his elation, that he hates it? Unreal is my mysterious green booze. There’s something kind of delightful in finding a work of art that you know other people love, but can’t understand why; realizing how vastly tastes can differ. Hating something is powerful and profound — and not inherently negative, if you deal with it in a healthy way: if you say, “I really don’t like this thing,” and then move on with your life. That’s basically how my relationship with Unreal went, and I’m glad my early experiences with genuine distaste went so smoothly.
The internet is full of hate, and a lot of it’s left to fester. People hate this movie or that game, and refuse to let go of that hate. Communities build themselves up around hating something, and turn into echo chambers of negativity. I’m happy that this is not one of those places, and that I can generally put those feelings behind me.
You’ll find, later on in this retrospective, that this wasn’t always the case…