Plus, you either know too few people there - so you stay huddled in a small group all night - or you know too many, so you don't get to speak to anyone in any sort of satisfying way. Plus, whoever the host is - the person you'd probably like to spend the most time with - will typically be too busy working their way around the room.
The one upside to a party is the buffet table, and - little tip here - if you've got a vegetarian or vegan partner, get them to pick up extra chicken drumsticks and picnic eggs and vol-au-vents and handfuls of raw meat and then get them to shovel it all into your mouth while you lick your lips and make disgusting throat--noises. Ugg-gg-guh-gluh. And then throw up on the host's mother's head. Once word gets around, you'll never again be invited to a party.
Don't get me wrong: I like a celebration. I'm not a nihilist or a sociopath, probably. I just don't get the traditional notion of parties (and don't get me started on dinner parties which, as a working class boy, seem designed to expose my ignorance of rugby clubs, investment funds, and school fees).
Whenever I have to attend a party these days, out of obligation or to keep certain family members happy, I typically arrive looking for an escape route, then spend most of my time letting my mouth focus on the smalltalk while my brain crunches data to calculate the earliest possible opportunity to leave without offending the hosts.
It wasn't always so, however. I mean, as a teenager everyone felt like parties were a sort of rite of passage, and I convinced myself that parties were a fine and fun thing to be a part of. Everyone else was going, and, well, back then, it was about inclusion, strength in numbers, not feeling like a social outcast.
Unfortunately, looking back I can't think of a single party that I enjoyed more than just hanging around in a park drinking cider, or staying at home playing on my Spectrum. The reality would never live up to the expectation, and I'd inevitably end up feeling like the least cool, least together, least attractive, most ridiculous, most awkward, person there.
I always preferred to see my mates in smaller groups, and the parties which have remained memorable are mostly down to the things which went wrong.
Like at Steven Fitzgerald's 18th, where a girl walked through a patio door and had to be taken to hospital. And then the police showed up, because some evil drugmen were selling bad stuff over the fence at the bottom of his garden.
Also, I'd taken a joke water pistol along, and it had a hidden switch which - when activated - squirted the person wielding it. I got a boy called Kieran real good with this, and though he was almost apoplectic with rage at the time, I hold no responsibility for the fact he was later hospitalised with a psychiatric condition.
In my experience, such entertaining parties were more the exception than the rule, and by the time I hit my 20s I'd have been good with never going to a party ever again. And then I became part of the 90s video game industry, and attending parties came with the territory.
I don't know what it's like these days - by all accounts, there doesn't seem to be as much money floating around for big press launches (or, at least, they can get more coverage, much more affordably, simply by buttering the flanks of a couple of big YouTubers) - but in the 1990s, games firms spent small fortunes on their launch events.
Typically, they were held at unique venues - a museum or boat, or an old stately home, or whatever - usually with a smattering of celebrity guests, and a bunch of brand new, or yet-to-be-released, games to play. And there were always freebies; the best parties were the ones where you went home with a t-shirt and some other tat. On a rare occasion they'd even give you a copy of whatever game the party was in honour of.
Frankly, for a games journalist it was rare to ever have the opportunity to feel important. We were at the absolute bottom of the pile when it came to respect; The Great Unwashed. No, worse than unwashed; we were The Soaked-in-a-Latrine-For-Six-Weeks..
Certainly during the 90s it was hard to think of another form of employment which garnered less esteem. Add into that "working for teletext" - the scrag end of UK media - and we were below even the games magazine journos. Saying you reviewed video games for Teletext was usually met with scorn, disgust, or bewilderment. It wasn't uncommon to be spat at.
I learned to quickly change the subject when people asked me what I did for a living.
This might be why, for much of my time on Digitiser, I embraced the whole party thing; just for that fleeting moment where I could feel a little bit special.
The party-going started before Digitiser had even made it to air. The Sonic the Hedgehog 2 launch at Hamley's in November 1992 has been documented elsewhere on this site. While there were a few low-grade celebs in attendance, I was more impressed at the number of games journalists I recognised.
Having grown up reading games mags, I was far more starstruck than Tim. Admittedly, he wasn't starstruck at all, as he had a far greater sense of the sheer meaninglessness of games journalism than I did. I wouldn't call any of them my heroes, but the names had a certain recognisable cachet to them.
Amusingly, I remember coming back from the toilet at the Sonic 2 party, and telling Tim that I'd had a wee next to Neil West, editor of Mega. Tim simply shrugged, as he often did at the things which most excited me. It's possible that - having already been a journalist for some years - he was inured to this sort of thing. Or, more likely, he was simply cooler than I was.
The closest I'd ever gotten to a celebrity before the Sonic 2 party was Ben Elton, who I once saw waiting on the platform at Tottenham Court Road tube station. My mate and I pulled away in the train, and - because we thought it was funny - put our hands over our eyes, stuck our tongues out at him, and stared (if it's possible to stare with your eyes covered)..
It would take many more video game launch parties before the novelty wore off, though only about two before I started treating the other guests with a shocking lack of reverence. And only one to start stroking their backs, then pretending I hadn't.
Here are just a few cherry-picked highlights.
At our first European Computer Trade Show - held at the Business Design Centre in Islington - we'd been introduced to top TV star Violet Berlin (then one of the most visible figures in UK gaming) by the PR guy from Nintendo.
We assumed Violet had been hired to plug Nintendo's games, but in fact she'd simply asked him if she could stick around to meet us. It turned out that she was a Digitiser fan. Indeed, if there's one thing that Violet excels at - and one of the things I most love her for - it's being pushy to get what she wants. She would exercise this ability time and again to get us invited to things that we otherwise would've been overlooked for.
Because, you know... we were Digitiser.
This is how, unexpectedly, after traipsing through our first ECTS, Tim and I - trailing behind THE Violet Berlin - ended up making our way around various parties. The one everybody wanted to be at, and the one where we eventually ended up, was the US Gold bash. It was known that a very young Steve Coogan, fresh from his Alan Partridge debut on The Day Today, was doing a turn, and everybody there was terribly excited.
Unfortunately, Coogan's stand-up seemed mired in the 1970s. He ran through a set which included such cutting-edge impressions as Frank Spencer, Terry Wogan, and Jimmy Savile, and within minutes, as soon as we realised this wasn't intended to be ironic, he was being booed by the audience. I recall one particular Future Publishing journo heckling him with a shout of "Say something funny", which got more laughs than anything Coogan had to offer.
I failed to be amused by the heckles any more than I was the performer. Indeed, I more found it all a bit sad and awkward, and felt sorry for him. Mostly, though, I was shocked that the journalists in attendance weren't more in awe of the fact that they'd been invited in the first place. Didn't they realise how lucky they were?! There was a drunken laddishness to the whole affair which failed to sit well with me.
Sadly, it's fair to say that this take-it-for-granted attitude was something I'd see demonstrated again and again in my years writing about games. I'm proud that I never lost sight of my fortunate position, even when I was being treated with all the reverence of an old breadbin that somebody had wiped their arse on.
The following day - I think - we went along to the daytime launch of some Batman game or other, which was hosted by Bruno Brookes (DJs often helmed these things - Chris Evans did the CD32 launch; afterwards, we overheard him asking whether they had his free Amiga CD32 ready, because he wanted to leave).
It got off to a spectacular start, with a stuntman crashing through a sugar glass skylight, demonstrating little in the way of grace. For some reason, the stuntman was considerably more overweight than you might assume is ideal stuntman weight. Having dropped like a stone, I vividly recall his bare stomach hanging over his utility belt as he struggled to free himself from his harness, and adopt a suitably superheroic pose.
Later, Violet dragged us into conversation with Bruno - because she was better at stuff like that than Tim or I were - and I found myself telling him that he'd looked really good in the Batman costume. It was a bit of an out-of-body moment; as soon as the words left my mouth I couldn't fathom the cognitive process which had formed them. It was a terribly rude thing to say to somebody you'd just met, even if they were Bruno Brookes.
To be fair to him, Bruno proceeded to shake my hand, saying "I like your style!".
Afterwards, Violet - ashen-faced - was appalled that I'd called Bruno Brookes "fat". Which I hadn't. Not in those words anyway.
The following year, Tim, Adam and I were invited to Nintendo's huge Power of N launch, at The Ark in Hammersmith.
A strange, upside-down, top-heavy, building, The Ark had an air of mystery about it, and the interior turned out to be every bit as architecturally unconventional as the outside. Offices ran around a large, open atrium, while work stations - connected by narrow walkways - stuck out from the walls, defying gravity. It seemed to me as if it would've been a spectacular place to leap to your death, were you so inclined.
This would be a particularly exciting party because Rik Mayall was there - a stone's throw from the iconic bench featured in the Bottom opening titles. He was appearing in a series of typically anarchic adverts for Nintendo products at the time, and was holding court to a procession of the awed.
As one of my earliest comedy heroes, I couldn't resist the opportunity to stroke his back. Because that's what we did. It was our thing.
Also, for reasons that were entirely clear, there were treasure chests stationed at various points throughout the building, and guests could help themselves to the contents.
The main thing I remember them containing was - inexplicably - whoopee cushions, which we inflated and dropped over a balcony onto soon-to-be-tabloided Blue Peter presenter John Leslie. We also spent much of the night drunkenly colliding with a large polystyrene 'N', which became more and more battered the more we careened off it, feigning breathlessness and bewilderment.
Post-Tim leaving, and with Adam having moved onto other parts of Teletext, the parties lost some of their appeal. Usually I'd try to enlist a friend or family member to come along with me, but there were a few occasions where I attended solo. With only a handful of true acquaintances in the industry - and even with the lure of a free t-shirt - this was as depressing as it sounds. I soon started RSVP-ing with a No.
The launch of Sega's Dreamcast was one of the handful later-era parties I did attend. It offered a jarring assortment of guests - including a solitary Paula Yates (who carried an infant Peaches around with her all night), and Verne Troyer, whose presence I mostly remember because he ignored Violet Berlin when she greeted him by saying "Hello, Mini Me", as if he were a school friend of one of her children.
I also bumped into one journalist of my acquaintance, who was in a right mood, and made it quite clear to everyone that he already hated the Dreamcast.
He was there with a couple of colleagues from the magazine he worked on, one of whom offered me cocaine in the toilets; the one and only time in my life I have been offered one of the Big Drugs (if you don't include a TV industry party I attended some years later, hosted by a major production company, which included a room set aside for such activities - they even had a security guard on the door).
Naturally, I declined the bug-eyed sweater's offer, and reaffirmed my antipathy towards the majority of my industry peers.
ACROSS THE OCEAN
We were always happy to get a call from Ocean Software's PR guru Stephen "Hey!" Hey, who - it's fair to say - Tim and I had something of a man crush on. He was far and away our favourite PR person, and he always treated us well.
A little over a month before Tim was forcibly ejected from Teletext's offices, never to return, Stephen invited us - as part of a delegation of other games journalists - to Manchester to attend one of two now-legendary Oasis homecoming gigs at Maine Road. Ocean had rented a box for the occasion, and laid on a meal for us. There was no game to promote; Stephen simply thought it'd be a nice thing to do.
We weren't to know that it was the final time that Tim and I would take a joint leave of absence from the office, or that it'd be the first time that we'd be - as far as we knew - in a room with gaming icon Dave Perry (who in just a few short weeks would become instrumental in Tim's departure from Digi).
I don't know if our behaviour that afternoon contributed to what occurred later, but Violet, Tim and I were in a particularly giggly mood (he suggests, euphemistically). For the best part of two hours, we sat at the far end of the table to Dave, and spent the entire meal muttering and laughing among ourselves about the phrase "Feel the benefit". Yes, you had to be there, but at the time it was the funniest thing anybody had ever uttered.
On the drive home the next morning we reflected on how everyone else at the table must've hated us.
Some years later, in the less-fun, post-Tim, era, Ocean flew me out to Paris to showcase a bunch of its games at the Hard Rock Cafe. Among those in attendance was Charlie Brooker, who was, like Violet, something of a Digitiser fan.
Charlie was fast gaining a reputation in the industry as a brilliant and acerbic writer for PC Zone, and a talented cartoonist. I also got the sense that Charlie wasn't like other games journalists. He was, somehow, a little apart from the rest, and - aside from being a fan of his work - as somebody else who felt on the periphery of the industry, I was drawn to him. I regret us losing touch.
Charlie and I bailed early from the Hard Rock, and attempted to make our way back to the hotel. We became unfathomably lost - this being the days before Google Maps - and ended up asking for directions in what appeared to be, from the outside, an ordinary hotel. The interior was a terrifying, gothic movie-set of a place, like something out of a Hammer Horror film. I particularly remember the space being lit only by the flames of two massive candles.
Though possibly unrelated, in the cab to the airport the following morning, our driver collided with another car at Le-Pompt de Triomphe roundabout, but sped away before they could exchange insurance details.
Towards the end of my time at Digitiser, Hasbro Interactive held a full day of activities to mark the launch of their new PC board game range. The event took the form of real-life versions of various classic Hasbro products, which had sounded to me like potentially the best day ever.
We got to play life-size table football, abseil down a climbing wall like Action Man, try to solve a Cluedo-like murder-mystery....
Once again, even having been in the industry for years, I remained appalled by how many of the journos I spoke to believed he entire event was beneath them. I just thought getting to play life-size table football was cool (which might be why I've never been cool), and was impressed by the effort Hasbro had gone to.
Most of the other journos were there simply for the free drinks, so it was something of a shame when Hasbro's PR manager arrived with a trolley full of alcohol, and spectacularly upended the entire thing in front of everybody.
I also took lunch with Hasbro's real Action Man - or, at least, the male model employed in that capacity - who revealed that he had auditioned for the role of James Bond in Goldeneye. By his telling, he'd made it to the last two hopefuls, but they went with Pierce Brosnan instead...
It's fair to say that he remains the stupidest person I've ever met.
At the start of February 2003 I was just weeks away from leaving Digitiser. I'd handed in my notice a couple of months earlier, giving my bosses time to find somebody to replace me.
They made the decision to retire Digitiser along with me, relaunching the page as Game Central, and had wisely accepted my recommendation of former Edge editor - and Digitiser columnist - Tony Mott. Tony was busy enlisting a bunch of Edge forum commentators (many of whom have gone on to have games industry careers) to help him shoulder the workload.
In short, I was feeling increasingly like yesterday's man, as far as the games industry went. Fortunately, my TV writing work had picked up; I'd estimated I would be earning enough over the next 12 months to cover my Dig income (which had been slashed in half a year or so before). It was still hard to say goodbye, though, to both regular, more or less guaranteed, work, and the thing I'd spent over 10 years writing. Of course there was a part of me that was having second thoughts, but Digitiser had long ceased to be a labour of love.
Teletext's meddling in the wake of 9/11 had stripped Digi of its Panel 4 columnists, temporarily removed it of the humour, and for as long as I worked there I would never feel entirely safe. I believed I knew how a teletext games magazine needed to be written, and I believed that they were wrong to interfere with it. I was, to be honest, a late-era Doctor Who Tom Baker. For as long as I did Digitiser I knew that I would never be able to avoid my sensibilities clashing with those of the people who employed me. I thought I knew best, and that they were over-sensitive, reactionary idiots.
But there was still time for one last party.
The Nokia N-Gage was - essentially - a smartphone, with email and internet access, but Nokia was pushing the gaming angle hard. Working from the basis that most Nokia owners were already enjoying the game Snake - which came stuffed onto their existing phones - they were hoping to somehow leverage this into becoming major players in the games industry.
They'd signed Tomb Raider and Sonic the Hedgehog to appear on the handset, and though the N-Gage wasn't due out until the autumn, they unveiled the device in the February with an expensive launch at The London Eye. Gavin - aka Mr Udders, Digi's chips and teats monkey - and I got to ride the wheel with a glass of champagne, before being ferried across the Thames to attend a more traditional launch event in some archetypical subterranean nightclub.
It was the type of thing I'd been to dozens of times before. Loud music, smoke machine, free drinks, and some woman dressed up as Lara Croft. The vast majority of the guests seemed to be enjoying themselves, but I felt utterly out of place. Digitiser had come a long way - we were no longer outsiders, from any practical perspective - but I felt like one more than ever.
Looking around, I saw familiar faces that I'd been seeing at games launches since I started at Teletext. I knew them by name, but had never spoken to them (and, indeed, never would), but there were fewer familiar faces than there had been. At 32, it was clear that I was one of the oldest people there. I - at that time anyway - knew then that I should probably find something else to do with my life, than spend the rest of it writing about video games.
It might've been my age, it might've been where my life was at, or it might've been my utter inability to get enthused about the Nokia N-Gage, but I felt like a lonely, middle-aged man, in a nightclub. Everyone around me seemed to be having fun, and I just saw the whole nonsense as futile. I didn't want to be that guy who had to be dragged off the dance floor, clutching his bottle of WKD and shouting "Just one more dance!"
In my time on Digitiser, I'd documented the rise and fall of Sega. I'd witnessed Atari and Commodore crumble, the birth of Sony as a gaming powerhouse, the launches of the Xbox and the 3DO. I'd watched gaming go from being something niche and nerdy, to becoming a massive global industry. And it had become clear during the decade that the Internet was the future of everything..
As much as I might've been tempted to regret my decision to hand in my notice to my Teletext paymasters, here was a stark message; the games industry had moved on.
It was time for me to do the same.