It's 7am, an ungodly hour for anyone to be awake, let alone dressed and ready for school. But here I am, or should I say, my small 8 year old self, eating a bowl of fruit loops and discovering Pokemon for the first time. In that small moment between when Pikachu shocked Ash for maybe the fifth time that day and when my bus was beeping from outside in the real world, I knew that there was more to life than my simple private school was letting on to.
This isn't to say that I had never played a game before that day, but I certainly didn't play anything with the amount of ferver I gained after playing Pokemon Blue (because I'd heard Red was harder.) And because I was young, I trashed both of those games before I could finish them and hid behind PC games like Petz, and something resembling Oregon Trail with better graphics. I've got some pretty fond memories of listening to that AOL dial-up sound. Still, gaming was just something I did. It passed the time and made me forget that I had to share this planet with crazy people who wanted to send me to Hell for mixing up my Hebrew alphabet. Only during 1999 did I discover that gaming could go far beyond my handheld or the computer.
My dad brought home a Sega Genesis with Sega CD addon.
He handed me Sonic the Hedgehog 2 and let me go, and I felt the thrill come alive in my little frame. I wanted to grab and collect as many of those goddamn golden rings as hedgehog-ly possible, and not even Y2k was going to stop me! I played my heart out of Sonic right through the Millenium. Looking back on it now, I think that videogaming is a culture and a big part of my life. It's something I'm competitive about and an industry that I have to watch fail a little more every day. But back then it was just fun. It was the kind of fun only a kid could have. Eventually I would spend hours every Saturday beating my Uncle in a min-game for Pokemon Stadium 2 on the N64, and never getting past the first two levels of Super Mario Advance for the Game Boy Advance.
I'd get a Playstation 2 and a game called Okage: Shadow King and think that this was the premiere platform of gaming. I'd discover Final Fantasy X and hate the grid system, which would lead me to love the tactic/chessboard system for Final Fantasy XII. I'd get a Nintendo Gamecube and Animal Crossing and start out with a town named Hell and a boy named Devil, because I was a creepy kid. I would do all of these things and not quite realize the depth of my passion, because gaming was still just something I did.
I could love specific games because I loved specific stories, but it wasn't the gaming I was in love with. It was the story. The game was simply the medium by which I got to experience the story, and if the game didn't have a story then I didn't want the game. Of course, in my adult life, this has led me to be called a 'casual' by the gaming community.
It began to happen when I discovered Legend of Zelda: Ocarina of Time several years into my teens. I'd snagged the Collector's Edition for the Gamecube and realized I had never played a Zelda game. So I sat down with my best friend and we conquered temple, forest, dungeon, field and that blasted Floormaster. For years, I'd been gaming alone and now I wasn't. We solved puzzles like some crazy dynamic duo and I began to understand the power of gaming. Over the next few months, I surrounded myself with titles that are now near and dear to my heart: .hack, Psychonauts, Legend of Zelda: Windwaker, and even Twilight Princess.
Now, my passion rivals that of all my friends and I can beat anyone at a game of Strip Mario Party 6 GUI (Gaming Under Influence.) An Xbox 360 has joined my repertoire and my love for gaming is stronger than ever. I understand the industry and the love put into the games, as well as the struggle to get the game made. I've put lovingly long hours into 100% completion for games like Persona 3, Ni no Kuni, Skyrim, Dragon Age 2, Bayonetta, Portal and Portal 2. So while my gaming 'career' began with a Pokeball and some gold rings, I didn't begin to truly love it until I learned to play Epona's Song for the first time.
To me, gaming is a passion, a culture, a lifestyle. It's one of the most artistic mediums I can think of and I wouldn't be me today without it.