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I don’t remember exactly how I discovered Quake.
As a perpetually awkward preteen in 1999, with eyesight so poor I was legally blind, I watched movies and played Boggle, which came in a physical box, with my parents. I was not interested in computers.
Yet somehow, Quake, which had released a few years before, made its way into my hot little fingers. Playing it on the Dell PC stationed in my bedroom for the purpose of homework, I recognized in the dimly lit, medieval, maze-like world — where I was an unnamed protagonist fending off ghastly enemies — a captivating art form that nobody had told me about.
I was fascinated by this alternative and highly interactive activity, that of video games, which were curiously omitted from the vibrant daily conversations about painting, opera, music and film that took place in my idyllic, harbor-side household in Australia. Quake felt dirty to me. As a young person who didn’t venture off the beaten path and never felt quite as cultured as those around me, that was an exciting sensation.
The game, a portal into another world, also helped me forget that I was sweating profusely. If I remember correctly, my introduction to Quake happened around the time of my diagnosis of primary hyperhidrosis, a rare excessive sweating condition affecting much of my body, including my hands and feet. Hyperhidrosis in my hands meant that I could barely grip anything, so while playing Quake, or engaging in any activity where the use of my hands was necessary, I had a towel beside me that I would use to wipe myself down. Looking back, it was a laborious process.
But Quake gave me some distraction. Whether I was fighting off a monster, navigating my way through the dark passages, literally jumping in my chair following a fright from a sound effect, or simply staring at the fully realized environment and thinking to myself, “Somebody made this,” I was always having a good time. It was like watching a movie, but I was the main character.
As a child at primary school and high school, I was already uncomfortable. My soaring height and thick eyeglasses made me self-conscious, and having hyperhidrosis simply meant that I was always experiencing some level of discomfort. I would squirm in my damp clothes, shiver from cold feet under the hot sun and examine my shoes for signs they were going moldy. I distinctly remember a sweet student who approached me once and said, in a very straightforward manner: “Whenever I look at you, you’re always doing this.” And she demonstrated how I would flail my hands in the air, almost unconsciously, to dry them in the wind.
During one of my afterschool hyperhidrosis treatments, which included Botox injections and acupuncture, I would reluctantly place my hands and feet onto an iontophoresis machine that passed an electric current through my skin. Unable to move for the duration of the sessions, usually an hour long, I would think about Quake and what I could do to be a better player. I would think about the levels and imagine going through them. Somehow, it helped me come to terms with the reality of my situation: that it was possible this treatment may not be effective.
And thus it was during the Quake-era that I started to positively associate HH with video games in addition to the passive entertainment of TV and movies (all of which I could comfortably consume while I was sweating). While years later I would go on to have invasive surgery to sever the sweat glands in my hands, I still remember this early video game experience as one of the first times I actually used my hands, that would visibly drip, for something that was, for lack of a more sophisticated description, freaking awesome.
I would be remiss not to mention that in Quake, I also found agency and learned about goal-setting, focus and persistence. If something is hard, try again. Try it 18 times. It’s OK. If you fail, perhaps another strategy is required. Quake, as well as other games I played in childhood such as GoldenEye 007 on the Nintendo 64 I persuaded my darling mother to buy me, and more light-hearted experiences like Crash Bandicoot and Super Mario, introduced me to a vibrant and passionate community of fans, people who would stand in line on the first day of a game’s release to get their copy.
To be honest, I don’t remember if I beat Quake. But for reasons I’ve only come to understand as an adult, Quake was an early taste of something truly fun that I enjoyed and found on my own. I played it alone, and I thought about it alone. And while I never pursued shooter games beyond the obvious thrill of Grand Theft Auto and brief bouts of Uncharted, it did ignite a fire inside me: a lifelong hobby in video games.
Now, as a 35-year-old, I play a variety of games from open-world and action epics like Horizon Zero Dawn, The Witcher, God of War and Red Dead Redemption, to story-driven adventures like Detroit Become Human, Life is Strange and The Last of Us, to personal narratives such as Firewatch and Florence, to platformers like Limbo and Hollow Knight, to mobile puzzles like What the Golf? and Assemble With Care.
Quake might be the least mature of these titles, many of which have been decorated with awards and recognized for their advancements in technology and storytelling, but I have no doubt that if the series was discovered by a new player today, it would still provide the thrills and scares and challenges that I know so well.
As Quake turns 25 this month, I still think about the game and the joy it gave me as I continue sweating from my feet during almost every waking hour.
I do believe that video games can help people.
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