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Rapture Gaming Festival 2018: Wholesome, Professional, Profound

I’ve been to my fair share of gaming festivals and events in the past, but this year’s Rapture will always hold a special place in my heart. The scale of the event may not compare to more widely known events such as EGX or Insomnia, but the passion and craftsmanship most certainly do. Rapture was built professionally with a high degree of care that not only made for an excellent and inclusive gaming festival in its own right, but a surprisingly profound experience.

In terms of overall offerings, Rapture more than satisfies expectations for everyone by making excellent use of the Cardiff University Students’ Union. For those interested in modern gaming and its trends, the Fortnite and PUBG zones offered a plentiful number of setups to sit down and enjoy a bit of Battle Royale goodness. They even featured their own dedicated servers, meaning that players at the event could all play against one another and compete in local competitions for the games. In the same area, gamers were able to get their fill of virtual reality gaming as well, with HTC Vives and PlayStation VR units available for all to try. Amongst the playable titles were a VR version of Minecraft and underwater VR experience The Blu.

For players who scorn at the very sight of modernity, you can wander into the nostalgia valley that is the retro zone. Just about every retro game imaginable lies here, from Super Mario Bros on the NES to Halo: Combat Evolved for Xbox. Whether you’re someone like me who grew up on these primitive joys, or someone new to gaming looking to venture on a journey through history, the retro zone is supremely charming. However, it did house perhaps the most jarring of all my experiences at Rapture; the Nintendo Wii is apparently now considered ‘retro’, having released twelve years ago. I must have aged about twenty years watching bemused children flailing the Wiimote about looking for some kind of touchscreen.

The Wii is retro now. Feeling old yet?

A more general zone occupied the Y Plas Nightclub of the Students’ Union, which offered a mishmash of gaming experiences. Tabletop games, both electronic and board-based, were available to all, whilst some of the more iconic retro games could be played on old-school arcade cabinets (Sonic The Hedgehog 2, anyone?). A handful of new titles were playable at the event too, including the critically acclaimed PS4 exclusive Marvel’s Spider-Man. Throughout the weekend, Y Plas’ stage was used to host a variety of events, ranging from giveaways to tournaments.

Speaking of tournaments, the competitive zone was a personal highlight of the event. No matter your poison, there’s something for anybody to compete in here. For combo nerds who know their frame data, Street Fighter V, Dragon Ball FighterZ, and Super Smash Bros. Melee had enterable tournaments. Others included Rocket League, FIFA, and Overwatch – but it was the Super Smash Bros. Melee tournament that struck me as my favourite event of the festival (and not just because of my infamous love for it).

For those not in the know, Super Smash Bros. is a long-standing Nintendo franchise in which beloved Nintendo characters (and a few guests) fight to knock each other off the stage, and the last one standing is the winner. In particular, Super Smash Bros Melee for the Nintendo GameCube ended up becoming a surprise competitive hit, with players discovering new techniques and competing internationally almost twenty years after its initial release. If anything is commendable about Rapture, it’s the sheer professionalism of the TOs and staff running the tournament, who had the impossible task of running a bracket consisting of everyone from professional European players to young kids who had never held a GameCube controller.

Prior to the tournament, I had the privilege of meeting a boy named William, who was playing Melee by himself. A pleasant and well-mannered young man, I was immediately charmed, and aspired to teach him everything I knew about the game. Confessedly, this knowledge was not particularly exhaustive – but in the end, teaching him how to use Marth’s forward-smash attack was all it took for William to swiftly – but respectfully – dispatch waves of tournament opponents before our eyes, some of whom were grown men familiar with the game. I cheered with all the joy of a proud mentor from the sidelines.

Seeing kids get to grips with some of the older stuff for the first time is pure magic

During William’s tournament journey, I had the opportunity to chat with his mother. A single parent, she’d come to Rapture with young William and his older brother, Robert. An autistic man in his late-twenties, Robert wore a fantastically enormous hat and a puffy blue jacket, fit with an enormous fox plushie and an A3 notepad of doodles from which he seemed surgically inseparable. I came to learn from his mother that events like Rapture were more than just a way to play new games or have a gander at old ones. For people like Robert, the world is not designed with their needs and realities in mind – but at Rapture, he was able to find a small corner of it which embraced his talents and idiosyncrasies. It was an environment wherein he could openly and adequately express himself and identify with something. And, for his mother, it was an invaluable opportunity to bond with her son and engage with his passions and aspirations.

After somehow mentoring William all the way to semi-finals of the tournament, I became his next opponent. Hitherto this point, I had let nobody win, not even the cutest of oblivious kids; a tournament is a proving ground, and it loses all meaning when you abandon the principles of competition. But with William’s mother and brother watching and cheering him on, and his earlier kindness in mind, well – it must have awakened some ungodly power in him whereby he was able to land Marth’s forward-smash on me a good thirty times in a row. My Falco, Marth, and Ganondorf perished alike to this frankly unpredictable strategy, and I was overjoyed by his surely merited success. If you’re reading this, well done, William!

My experience with William and his family came to typify my feelings about Rapture as a whole. Wander around Y Plas and you’ll see grandfathers and granddaughters laughing over games of Pong, where adults and their little ones alike can enjoy the beautiful passion we all share, or perhaps even develop an affinity for it. Watching people game together for the first time and get a taste of its unique culture was a humbling experience that reminded me of why I have so much affection for these communities and their events. As platitudinous as it must sound, these things bring all sorts together, forging friendships that otherwise may never have blossomed, and brewing passions that may have gone undiscovered. When such a wondrous experience is provided by some of the most professional and patient staff in the business, Rapture earns its reputation as undiluted fun for all at a reasonable price.