Today’s blog is the first in what I hope will be a long series of guest posts discussing games which have had a significant impact on the authors’ own life narrative. In this biographical piece, Katherine Owen describes how one series of games has helped her cope with – and grow through – her chronic injury.
For years there has been unceasing and usually negative media attention on video games and the perilous effects they are said to have upon impressionable young minds. Computer games certainly did affect my mind in a profound way, though with a different outcome than that which is commonly feared. One series in particular, a role-playing/adventure hybrid called Quest for Glory, changed my life for the better and convinced me that anyone can help to make the world a better place.
I first started gaming as a young child growing up in the 1980s. Adventure games were my bread and butter; I have always loved to read, and these were like a huge, interactive story for me to discover. My big brother and gaming companion, Michael, let me play alongside him when it was “his turn” on the computer: him typing at the keyboard and me sitting right beside him piping away with “suggestions” (probably closer akin to orders).
As well as gaming, my other major love was music. Showing a lot of potential from a young age, I started violin when I was three and took up the piano some years after that. Practice and self-discipline were part of my routine throughout my childhood. Computer games were certainly allowed, but only after I had finished my other tasks for the day and only if someone else, particularly a parent, didn’t require the computer.
So: gaming, music and the balancing of those two interests were all well-established parts of my life by the time Hero’s Quest (later Quest for Glory) arrived.
I clearly remember thinking that this was a new and different kind of game. It still had the same storytelling element that I had loved in previous adventure games, but it felt that much more personal. It was ME who was the aspiring hero; my journey to discover the land of Spielburg and the problems facing its denizens. And this time I needed to practise my skills (something with which I was intimately familiar through my musical studies), in order to better myself and thus successfully carry out my mission: HELPING PEOPLE.
I completed my first play-through with my brother. We chose to play a Thief, as that was a class of hero we’d never seen in a game before that point. As a thief, we also had enough skill points to develop every single ability; we could sneak around, pick locks, AND lob fireballs at marauding brigands!
Michael and I played through the game, enjoying a story that had a much more humorous bent than we had previously encountered. We helped the Baron, defeated Baba Yaga and became the undisputed hero of the whole of Spielburg. There was a party and everyone came (including some characters we barely knew and some I was fairly certain didn’t like us at all!).
That should have been the end of it, right? Beat the game, celebrate – what’s left?
Usually the answer would have been another game, a different story entirely – but not this time. There was an option to – wait for it – save your character for use in the next Hero’s Quest.
I remember feeling elated with what was, at that time, a novel concept for adventure gaming. Wow! There’s a sequel? I get to continue my adventures using the very same character, picking up right from where I left off? That’s fantastic! Okay – I’m going to play through again and make sure I master every single one of those skills, so that I’m as prepared as I possibly can be for Hero’s Quest 2 (which would by then have become Quest for Glory 2, thanks to Sierra’s failure to trademark the name).
Michael was sixteen or seventeen by then and getting busy with school, so I played the second Thief run-through by myself. I repeatedly climbed trees, threw and collected a multitude of daggers and cleaned the stables until I was fed up with both the stable-master AND the horse. I worked all my skills up to a rating of 100 before saving my game for a second time with a feeling of relief and accomplishment.
I will admit to taking a break after that. But as time passed, the game drew me back in for a third and fourth play-through. Not only to discover new and hilarious story details that I had previously missed – but for the chance to try unique elements of the game that could only be experienced by playing as a Fighter or Magic User.
And so the years rolled by and the rest of the Quest for Glory games were released. Their powerful combination of story, humour, re-playability and a mission that mattered was a winning formula that kept me coming back to the series year after year. The only thing that made me even happier was when they introduced the paladin class at the end of the second game, Trial by Fire. I finally felt that my heroic experience was complete.
My story so far is probably similar to many people’s experience of the Quest for Glory games, and it might have remained the extent of mine, but for a twist of fate.
After finishing high school, I decided to study violin performance at university. I had entertained the idea of undertaking a combined degree in music and computer science, but such a combination wasn’t available at the time. By age 21, my life looked good. My studies were going extremely well, I was an Honours Scholarship recipient and I looked set to graduate with flying colours from my undergraduate course.
Unfortunately, it was at this time that I was involved in a motor vehicle accident. A car crashed into the back of ours and I suffered a whiplash injury.
For the first few months, the injury was concerning, but not horribly alarming; my ability to play violin was compromised and I had to defer my graduation by six months. I worked with physiotherapists and rehabilitation providers, and undertook an extensive pain management course. While I wasn’t healing quickly, I was still fairly confident that things were going to get better. Sadly, they didn’t.
There was some initial improvement to the soft tissue damage, but I was left with unresolved, chronic neck pain. Undesirable under any circumstance, it was definitely not the sort of injury that a violinist can shrug off. Most people would understand the severity of a hand injury to an instrumental musician, but playing the violin also requires the heavy and repetitive use of one’s neck, shoulders and arms. When you have a cervical spine injury, this becomes extremely painful.
It might be tempting at this point to shrug and say “No pain, no gain,” an adage that is often applied to the pursuit of excellence. It’s also worth noting that most musicians, like sportspeople, suffer injuries during the period of their working life. It’s normal and expected and had happened to me before.
This particular injury was not like that. This was a much more insidious condition that caused constant pain, unremitting at times, which was always aggravated after playing the violin. I managed the pain as best I could, but struggled to accommodate its new and unwelcome presence in my life. One of the philosophies of pain management that I was taught is to not give up on your activities and life-goals, and to keep finding things to keep you positive and motivated, but this was unbelievably hard at times. I kept playing the violin and went back to university, but I really struggled with the “positive and motivated” part.
It was at that point that I remembered something that had always filled that niche for me, and I decided that it was time for another replay of Quest for Glory. Immediately, I ran into some technical issues with running the games on newer operating systems, and so went searching on the internet to find a solution. This led me to a QfG-affiliated website called “How to be a Hero”. I started browsing, and took an amusing test to determine which class of hero I was. The result came back as “Paladin”.
I soon discovered the site was much more than a personality test. It was a community of like-minded people, many who were fans of QfG, and some who had just been drawn there because of the atmosphere. I still have close friends that I met through that community, some eight years down the track. It also allowed me to meet the creators of the Quest for Glory series, Lori and Corey Cole; to let them know how great an influence the games had had on my young life, and to thank them.
I completed quite a lot of writing during this period. Some of it was collaborative work, roleplaying and co-writing with others; some of it was pieces of reflection about the role of individual heroism, even at the smallest scale. This work helped me to strengthen and reaffirm my beliefs about striving to be a force for Good in the world.
The discovery of “How to be a Hero” could not have come at a better time. My life had suffered a major setback with the injury; I was dealing with chronic pain, a performing career in jeopardy and a marriage ending – all within a short space of time.
But, for perhaps the first time in my life, I started valuing myself as a person. Not because of my appearance, my talents – or even what I’d accomplished during my studies – but because of who I was inside and what I believed in. I strived to help others, and took small-but-consistent actions to try and improve my corner of the world.
Trying to make the world a better place, in the smallest and most humble of ways, is what gets me up in the morning. It’s what has kept me going through all my struggles with pain. Most of my energies are now poured into teaching, where I try to encourage young people to become not only better musicians, but better people – through kindness, empathy and positive actions.
I owe the Quest for Glory series a personal debt of gratitude for constantly being a force for Good in my life and inspiring me to help others. It has been over nine years since my accident, and I still struggle with pain on a daily basis. The sad fact is that it’s more severe now than it has ever been – I have to take strong painkillers just to function. So many times I have been tempted to give up – give up violin, give up working … even give up on my life.
It is the calling of aspiring to be a hero that keeps me here. So many people reach the end of their lives with regret for opportunities that they missed. If I died tomorrow, I can promise you that I would have none of those regrets. I see each day as an opportunity to leave the world a better place, even if that is as simple as deliberately brightening another person’s day. Kindness and personal heroism can be practised, much like practising an instrument: I say this with absolute confidence, having spent years of my life practising both!
Twenty-three years after the release of their first game, the creators of Quest for Glory have teamed up with a fantastic creative team and to run a Kickstarter (crowd-funding) project to try to secure funds to launch a new series of games called Hero-U (short for Hero University). I have used a portion of my accident compensation to make a significant pledge to the campaign, both as a way of acknowledging the original games’ positive impact on my life, and to hopefully pass on that inspiring experience to a new generation of young gamers (and also to keep it alive for us older gamers – I can’t wait to play!). The world could always use more heroes.
So whenever the media talks about video games as though they’re the worst thing for morals since … that other thing that was bad for morals, I just think of Quest for Glory – and how it inspired me to live my life in a better way.
With fifty-seven hours to go, the Coles still need to raise another $78,000 in order to meet their minimum funding target for Hero-U, which needs to happen if they are to receive their money. If you’re interested in pledging, you can follow this link.
UPDATE: The Coles’ Kickstarter was ultimately successful, scraping past its target in the final few hours. If you’re still interested in contributing to Hero-U, you can pledge via Paypal on the game’s official site.