Don’t Want To Be Your Monkey Wrench

My love of building things and creation as it were probably stems back to the Robin Hood Lego set I received one Christmas when I was but a small child. From that day my Lego creations grew and grew with only my imagination (and lack of flat pieces usually) to limit them, simple structures like houses soon turned into complex castles complete with a working drawbridge (I’m still really proud of that one). Along with the increase in complexity my tools grew, Lego turned into Meccano and from there on out the world was my spanner and monkey wrench.

During my teenage years all my creativity was pushed to one side, computer games was where it was all at for me and the most creative I could get was probably thinking up ludicrous goal celebrations during football training. All that time spent with the likes of Lego and Meccano were quickly forgotten and my hands soon became accustomed to the feel of a PlayStation controller.

As time grew on, my lust for gaming pleasure steadily increased and the likes of Lego were relegated to the loft. However, little did I know that deep down that desire for building things was still lurking in some dark recess within me, more than likely next to some other forgotten gem of information along the lines of “how to wear a tie properly – and not around your head Rambo style”.

Urban Run: Fire in the hole!
Urban Run: Fire in the hole!

These days I’m finding that the trend is now shifting back towards my early roots, but instead of colourful blocks that hurt excruciatingly when stepped on with bare feet, it’s game engines that satisfy my lust for creation with my PC acting as my canvas, while my monkey wrench is now my mouse.

A crash course in the Source engine (Half Life 2, Left 4 Dead2 but to name a couple) had me make a 2-3 minute single player map for Half Life 2 for a University assignment. Thanks to my wonderful knack of putting things off, I found myself cramming in approximately fifty hours of work time over a fortnight into this miniature level.

It’s the first thing I’ve created in Source, so naturally it will be one of those things where in a year’s time I look back upon it and think “Whoa, I’ve come a long way!” But, for a first attempt I’m relatively happy with how it looks, more so I’m happy with feeling like that little boy building Lego again.

DM-Labtech, an Unreal production

It is strange how things have all gone full circle if you will, how I’ve returned to an activity that I enjoyed doing around twenty years ago, albeit with upgraded tools and equipment.

It’s perhaps even stranger that during the festive holiday period instead of playing games till my eyes bleed like I’ve done in previous years, I’ve spent my spare time tinkering and bodging around with various game engines, coming up with concepts for my projects for 2010. For some, the coming year may be one of mega blockbuster games that expand the stories of Mass Effect, Bioshock and Starcraft, but for me it’s all about my creations.






3 responses to “Don’t Want To Be Your Monkey Wrench”

  1. Celeste avatar

    I like this piece, Ben. I connect with it on several levels. I was having a conversation with my sister over Christmas about the benefits vs harms of video and computer games. Her argument was that games are substituting authentic, natural activities via simulation. Just think of the number of Wii simulations, such as Wii Fit and Wii Sports, and now we even have a more visceral simulation of football than we’ve ever had before. She felt the disadvantages outweighed the advantages in that they encourage people to forgo real interactions and activities for artificial ones.

    But I’m not so sure about that. Aside from the fact that the videogame has transcended to many professional fields, such as the medical profession, it can also teach content as well as ‘how to learn’, if you will, via the hypothesise, test and adjust technique referred to as the scientific method. As for substituting real-life activities, how likely were you to really to ever pick up these building materials again if you hadn’t been offered them virtually?

  2. Ben avatar

    “As for substituting real-life activities, how likely were you to really to ever pick up these building materials again if you hadn’t been offered them virtually?”

    Chances are probably very slim I’d say. I’ve learnt a lot from building levels (or attempting to at least) especially in areas like Architecture, art and aesthetics (although that could come down an unhealthy appetite of DIY SOS – I like to think of it as the games).

    They can be great learning devices, more so in young people. Liam’s has his own selection of games that he plays, the amount of things he’s picked up over the time playing games is quite scary.

    For example, while teaching him colours one of the best tools I had was Forza 2 (he adores cars), the ability to change the colour of cars quickened the learning process.

    As daft as it sounds, I don’t think he could have learnt it quicker using a book, the whole interactive nature of it meant he picked it up relatively quickly, and more importantly in a fun manner.

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