I was born on Janurary 8, 1992. I spent most of my infancy sleeping. Children with Asperger Syndrome learn to speak at either a very early age, or a very late age. I spoke my first coherent sentence at the age of five... Oh wait. Videogames. Right.
In 1996 (I was 4, if you can't math), my dad came home from work one day with a really big (to me, it was big) box. My dad was a tech geek. He always needed the latest and greatest technology in the household. This new piece of tech in particular was called the 'Nintendo 64.' He plugged it in, plopped a controller in my older brother's hands, and turned it on. What followed was a sequence that would essentially determine the direction of my life:
"*coin sound* It's-a me! Mario!"
And when Mario's face flew right at me on the TV screen, I was blown away. From that point on, I just couldn't stop playing. Videogames became the perfect form of entertainment for me. Going outside? Pah! What's so fun about throwing a frisbee around and running down the same street every day? Doing ninja flips and throwing dragons around (I thought Bowser was a dragon. Shut up.)? That's where the real fun is. To me, videogames were (and still are) even better than reading. With books, your imagination is limited by the action the text dictates. With videogames, while there are things you need to do, you are given the freedom to make up any story you want. Every game I got was a treasure trove of stories just waiting to be told: Diddy Kong Racing, Star Fox 64, Banjo-Kazooie, Donkey Kong 64... I was in heaven.
Of course, I had a life to live, and when Kindergarten started, there was some adjusting that had to be done. And as a kid with Asperger Syndrome (something that I would be unaware of until 8th grade), one thing I have trouble doing is adapting to changes of routine. I would refuse to go to school, either because I didn't get my videogame time in, or Gulla Gulla Island wasn't on yet, which used to be the indicator that it was time to go. And it wasn't just me. My older brother had this problem too. So after some thinking, my parents set a rule:
You may only play videogames on weekends.
This infuriated me. I'd have to go through five days of hell school every week to be able to partake in my favorite hobby. For the first couple months I would sneak in a little bit of play time when mom and dad were outside, but I eventually got used to it. And that rule remained in effect until I graduated high school... in 2010. Afterward, I thanked my parents for setting that rule. Had they not done so, my grades would have suffered badly.
With videogames still being a niche hobby at the time, very few people around our area played them. And since that was all I was interested in, making friends was rather difficult. But I didn't care. Mario was all I needed. But when I heard that we had family in New York that had gamer children, I was ecstatic. When we drove up to Albany, I was thrilled to play some Mario Kart 64 with my cousins. But they didn't have an N64. Instead, they had this weird device called a 'Playstation.' When I went down to the basement, I saw my cousin Andrew playing this game called Final Fantasy VII, and decided to talk to me about it. After noticing how confused I got from watching the combat of the game, he decided to get into the airship and let me fly it around. With the awesome music and the feeling of exploration I got from my N64 games, I thought to myself "This is my kind of game." After seeing that I was comfortable with the flying, Andrew decided to go upstairs to get some juice. It was then that I saw this little red blob on the ground, and decided to fly towards it. If you've FFVII, you know exactly what I'm talking about. And apparently, Andrew had been playing for two hours before I arrived. He was not happy. But in the end, I was glad that I was exposed to a new video game system.
Videogames were a gateway to many things for me. One of those things was Japanese culture. During Kindergaten, I was in a phase where I loved the medieval theme: knights, dragons, you name it. That's how I became obsessed with The Legend of Zelda. But afterwards, I was in a ninja phase, mainly due to the film 3 Ninjas. One day, during our weekly trip to Blockbuster (RIP), my eye caught an N64 game titled Mystical Ninja: starring Goemon. As soon as I saw the word 'ninja,' I asked my parents to buy it. When I played it, I had the same problem as I did with Pokemon Blue: I didn't know how to get out of the first room. I was so used to doors with knobs. But as soon as I figured out how to get outside into the game world, that was the beginning of the greatest adventure I ever had in a videogame. Everything about Mystical Ninja was amazing: the characters, the dialog, the humor lost in translation, but most importantly, the music. I still stand by my opinion that this game has the greatest soundtrack ever. I still find myself humming some of its tunes every day. As I got older, I learned that while this game seemed different compared to other western games, it was par for the course in Japan. That was when I decided that Japanese culture is best culture.
Mystical Ninja was also the first videogame I beat. I was eight years old. When I saw the credits rolling, I asked my dad "Dad? What's with all these names?" He replied "Those are the people who made the game, Stephen." My mind was even more blown than when I first played Super Mario 64. Up until that point, I thought videogames grew from trees. As soon as my dad answered my question, I resolved that I would make videogames when I grew up. My parents constantly tried talking me out of it, but more on that later.
When I was nine years old, I learned that not every game was all sunshine and rainbows. My brother had his best friend Walter come over to play games with us. When we went to the basement, Walter put an N64 cartridge out of his pocket and popped it into the system. The game was titled Conker's Bad Fur Day. What a game to start with, huh? It was just mesmerizing, the stuff this game had. Urination, vomit, projectile defecation, profanity, blood, gore. I wasn't even traumatized by it. I thought it was funny as hell. My dad disapproved, of course, but after talking to my brother and I about the difference between fantasy and reality, he was more accepting of M-rated games.
From the end of elementary school onward, I exposure to video games greatly increased. I discovered the internet, my dad won a Playstation 2 in a contest (at least, that's what he tells me), everything was just dandy. Then, in 7th grade, I overheard some classmates talking about this upcoming games called Halo 2, where, and get this, this'll blow your mind: You can play with other people... all over the world. This was something even my dad was amazed at (again, tech geek). So, that following Christmas, we got an Xbox, Dad hooked us up with Xbox Live, and we were ready to take on the world.
The online community was fantastic. There were no try-hards, no trolls, just people who wanted to have fun. And at the end of every match... Every. Single. Match... we would all say "Good game" to each other. None of us knew each other, but we were all friends. We were all a community...
What in the world happened?
Seriously, what happened? Were people beginning to take these games seriously? Were children who don't know better getting their hands on Xbox Live? Was it all these things and more? Why did something so beautiful have to turn to crap? Why?
I tried to deal with it. I really did. But there was one Halo 2 match that changed all that. It was on Coagulation. I was on the Blue team. I was team-killed in the first ten seconds. I was team killed the entire game. When I asked what the deal was, all I got was "Shut the fuck up, n*****." "Go die, you n*****."
N*****, n***** n*****... The entire game.
I'm white. You know why they called me 'n*****?' It was because I had the word 'black' in my Gamertag. But what was the full Gamertag? Black Dynamite? Black Weed-smoker? Black Dingaling?
Nope. It was "Black Sabbath1." Black Sabbath. The all-white heavy metal band.
I gave up online gaming right then and there. My brother still does it, but not me. I told myself it would only get worse. And judging by all the YouTube videos I see getting featured on gaming websites, I was right. To this day, the only multiplayer modes I put up with are local multiplayer and online co-op with people I know. And it's worked out pretty well so far.
As if that slap in the face by reality wasn't enough, it decided to kick me in the nuts in my junior year of high school. My older brother, Kevin, had graduated, and has now left for college. I depended on him to get anywhere socially, to get people to recognize me. When he left, I literally felt like I lost the most important thing in my life forever. I felt so lonely. And the fact people would now only talk to me to ask how my brother was doing didn't help. In high school, I was never my own person. I was 'Kevin's little brother.' I thought the silver lining in Kevin being in college would be that people would begin to see me for who I really am. I could not have been more mistaken.
So how did I deal with this? Videogames of course. But now, I wasn't playing them to see what new adventures await me. I was doing it to get away from reality. I hated it. I wanted it to go away. I wanted Kevin to come home. I wanted things to stay the way they were, because again, I have great difficulty adjusting to change. And this was just too much to handle. Videogames stopped being fun to play. They became time-wasters, making the wait for Kevin to come home at the end of each semester feel less unbearable.
I remember reading some quote online that read something along the lines of "The only thing worse than feeling lonely is enjoying it." Well that's exactly what happened. I got used to it. I began enjoying the solitude. I created my own silver lining to my dilemma. I told myself, "Look dude. Those guys you see every day in high school? After you graduate, you're gonna be commuting to university. You are never gonna see these assholes again." And it worked. I felt better, knowing what the future had in store for me.
I am beginning my fourth year in university, majoring in Computer Game Design (That's right, bitches! It's a thing now!). And I know exactly what I want to do. I want to make music for video games. I want to create a legacy like that of Grant Kirkhope, my idol in game music composition. I want people to use my music for Garry's Mod videos and have people comment on them like "Oh, you used music from [insert game title]. Awesome!" That is what I want to do. I have been writing music for a couple of years now, and all my peers who I have shown my stuff to have been greatly impressed. I cannot wait to do this as a profession.
Looking at pieces of my life individually, it may seem rough, but in the grand scheme of things, I'm thankful that it all happened the way they did. I may not be where I am now, were it not for all my life events.
Videogames are my past, present, and future. And I regret nothing.
Thanks for reading!