I have a memory of cutting down a young tree in a park with the saw blade on my Swiss Army knife. Stupid and heartless in retrospect. My stepdad told me not to let the park ranger see the big tuft of tree-head that I was dragging around. Until that moment, I had failed to see my actions as problematic.
We were living in Washington Park, in the city of Anacortes, in a van. I guess it was more like a small RV as it had a little bathroom/shower stall with reeking shag carpet and a table in the rear, but it didn't seem like much more than a very large van with an 8-track player.
I was 12 then, and I still don't fully understand what the grownups were thinking, but apparently, since abandoning our house, we were planning on moving to California. However, while still living in the van, my stepdad went missing one day and then we found out he had emptied my mom's bank account with a check he had forged in her name. We, or at least I, did not know he was an addict at the time. We never did go to California.
I was still going to school during our park period. People at school commented on how I smelled like a campfire.
Inside our campground vehicle, I had an SNES hooked up. I played Contra III: The Alien Wars by myself on the little table in the rear, seated on the wrap-around.
Before disappearing without notice from that campground (and back when we were still living in a house) my stepdad had purchased a SEGA Master System. Despite some messing around with Commodore 64 text adventures and a few Atari or NES games at friends' houses, this was my first real personal introduction to video games.
The YouTube videos of the Master System's austerely-titled THE NINJA can still heart-sock me with pangs of nostalgia.
"Get the scrotum! We gotta get the secret ninja scrotum!" My stepdad would say as we played, deliberately corrupting the word "scroll."
"We finally got the secret scrotum," I'd tell my mom, later, in the kitchen.
"Do you know what a scrotum is?" she said.
I had no clue what a scrotum was, I was just using the term my stepdad used for the scrolls. I looked back at my stepdad, who was cracking up, listening to us.
When the Genesis had come out, I was so excited I walked to the mom-and-pop game shop down the street and traded some of my used Master System games in for the Genesis game Last Battle, despite the fact that I did not yet own a Genesis.
"I thought maybe I could play it on the Master System," I told my stepdad. I was only a kid but I don't think I was actually that naive. I just wanted to possess a Genesis game, even if I couldn't play it.
Later, the SEGA CD; for which I only bought a couple games. I messed around with Wolfenstein 3D and other Id games on my computer, then with the electric neon onset of puberty, I gave up on gaming. So I never owned any of the intervening generations until I worked at a call center in my mid twenties, and bought a DS, then a PSP, to while away the time, playing, say, Mega Man Powered Up while someone inconceivably dim, trying to set up his email, kept asking "Right click or left click?" every single solitary time I told him to click on anything.
This was gameplay semi-enforced due to circumstance--I couldn't read a book while talking to someone, I couldn't browse the web because our computer actions were recorded while on a call. So, I could either focus solely on the technologically-stupefied voice on the other end of the line, or I could play games and walk him through the steps by rote, devoting only a fraction of my mind and emotions to the annoyance of my job.
Although I was inevitably fired, games had regained my interest. I got another job and bought a PS3.
I had missed the first year or so of the system, so I mostly got cheaper, older games. While economical, this somewhat stymied my broader cultural engagement with gaming.
It's really only within the past couple of years that I began to be involved in the larger discussions of games, and their place as a now officially-sanctionedmodern art form. I started reading reviews on blogs, not just looking at the rating and curated review snippets on Gamefly. I began reading about people's thoughts and feelings about a game, or games, or the aspects of life portrayed therein. I discovered podcasts. I found, and do find, gaming to be as good a prism as any through which to investigate and think about life and culture in an especially riveting way.
Ultimately, I found, we are doing what housewives do with book clubs, or what former generations did with art and poetry. We may swoon over the beautiful depiction of a sunset, a girl's locks of hair, floorboards, dust particles floating through light beams. And like those other devotees, we too are addicted to the sweet titillation of being scandalized. We love to cluck at those whose art steps out of line with our contemporaneously proposed morality. We also love to see progress. We wonder if certain portrayals are healthy or right for us to partake in. But the point is that we examine and appreciate these things so minutely because they intersect with, and are part and parcel of, the medium we are so passionate about. This is a good thing.
Though I'm praising the communal aspect of games, at first I was too shy to even use a microphone and speak with strangers when playing online. But now I do so without a second thought. I meet people on the greater web and then play a game with them or exchange correspondence. On blogs I post comments, rebut. I feel engaged with the village. I am provoked to consider myself and various other aspects of humanity and life through this hobby.
A friend and I realized we were having long conversations each week about the games we were playing (among other things) so we started the video game podcast Go For Rainbow! The show veered wildly off topic, and has become a soapbox for the frankly bizarre spiritual beliefs (e.g. demons, Zeus, extraterrestrial channeling sessions, etc.) of my co-host. But it's a cathartic and liberating experience, and that carries over to the rest of my life.
We receive emails, comments! I started a Twitter account for the first time several weeks ago! Twitter is amazing! You guys have been using this the whole time? It's amazing! The point here is that my life is richer now, because of gaming, even when I am not actually gaming. And the time spent with a good game, and how emotions and experiences are given to you in a way markedly different than other art forms is important. Something important is happening here. I try to stay as current as I can, playing as many current-year games without being silly or obsessive about it. Right now I'm lucky enough to be playing The Last of Us.
That's where I am now. My experiences as a kid were not this deep. At the age of 34, I can say that my love of video games has begun.