At first, I wasn’t sure what to do for the 100th entry of The Memory Card. All I knew was I wanted to make it special. I have been doing this series for almost five years, and am still in shock that I have written this many entries. It is something I am unbelievably proud of, but it is also something I couldn't have done without all your wonderful support. I will never be able to thank you enough.
So what to do for the monumental #100? Do I talk about my favorite videogame moment of all time? (Well, I already did that.) Do I make a list and rank every moment from my least to most favorite? (As much as I love lists, that felt a little pointless.) And then it hit me: Why not talk about my most important, memorable, and personal videogame moment of all time? The first moment I fell in love with videogames.
Once it entered my mind, I knew that is what I had to do.
And instead of doing this alone, I wanted to get all of the editors of Destructoid involved. What better way to celebrate the 100th edition of The Memory Card than sharing a nostalgic look back with some of the most important people in my life?
Nothing is more special than that.
Back in the very early '80s, I used to play Dungeons & Dragons at my friend Lee’s house all the time. I wasn’t particularly good at it, but I adored it. I loved taking on the role of a thief, or a warrior, or a wizard, and enter these fantastical worlds with infinite power only a roll of a 20-sided die away.
My days and nights playing Dungeons & Dragons with Lee were some of the best memories of my life.
After weeks and months of leveling up my characters and mastering the fine art of lock-picking, Lee one day suggested we not play Dungeons & Dragons. He had something new to show me and led me to his utility room, a small linoleum-tiled addition off of his garage. Here, on this family’s Apple II computer, Lee booted up a little game called Wizardry.
As the game’s colorful title screen faded up, I had no idea my life was about to change.
In addition to my numerous trips to the arcade, I had experienced videogames before on the Atari and, my personal favorite, the Intellivision. I had known what videogames were and, frankly, liked the hell out of them.
But it wasn’t until I played Wizardry in Lee’s utility room that I truly fell head over heels in love.
Wizardry was exactly the kind of videogame I wanted. It was just like Dungeons & Dragons, but on a computer ... with graphics! Granted, the “graphics” only filled about 10% of the screen, but they were real graphics nonetheless. When I encountered an orc, skeleton, or treasure chest in the deep halls of a dark dungeon, I saw them on the screen.
Wizardry managed all of my character’s statistics and levels. No need for all the dice and books that accompanied a normal game of Dungeons & Dragons.
As I walked through the game’s mazes, I did so in a first-person perspective.
For the first time in my life, I was a thief. I was a warrior. I was a wizard.
I was in heaven.
And that was it. Once I played Wizardry I kept coming back to Lee’s house day after day to play some more. I was obsessed.
This obsession with Wizardry eventually led to my obsession with other classic computer games: King’s Quest, Space Quest, and all the other Sierra adventure games. And then once the original NES was released, my computer gaming obsession moved to consoles. Super Mario Bros. Excitebike. Metroid.
And then it was all over. From that day on videogames became my #1 favorite thing to do. Since then, I have played and owned almost every single videogame console and handheld ever released. Videogames became so much more to me than a simple hobby. They helped me deal with dramatic moments in my life, and became associated with some of my best memories.
I met one of my best friends in life playing Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles on the NES. My first date took place at a local arcade playing Pin*Bot and stuffing my face on nachos and RC Cola. When I first started college, one of the roughest experiences in my life was made easier by playing Final Fantasy VI.
Videogames made me who I am today. Videogames are my life.
And it all started with a simple game of Wizardry.
I've gravitated towards videogames for as long as I can remember, dating back to the early ‘80s when it seemed like everyone but my family could afford a home console. I remember going over to my friends' homes, eking out every moment I could with their Atari systems or the occasional ColecoVision.
But it wasn't until 1985 when Christmas brought me the first console I could call my own: the Nintendo Entertainment System. Nintendo was advertising the console on television by displaying a flurry of games during a commercial that threatened to give me a seizure. I remember one game in particular, Kung Fu, caught my eye. I'd played its arcade older brother Kung Fu Master often in a local video store. I needed this thing in my life; Master X would fall in my living room, and I would save Sylvia in the comfort of my own home.
I vaguely recall begging and pleading my parents for this mysterious new console, despite knowing full well (even at that young age) we couldn't really afford it. But something happened between the fall I had first seen that commercial and Christmas day, because the first package I opened was the massive Nintendo Entertainment System bundle. It came with R.O.B. and Gyromite, Duck Hunt and a light gun. And next to the bigger box was a smaller one, which after tearing off the wrapping I revealed to be Kung Fu. I don't think I've stopped obsessing about videogames since.
Thanks, mom. Thanks, dad. Look at what you've done.
Based on my earliest gaming memories, it's a wonder that I'm gaming today at all. Sure, I've played a lot of great games throughout the years, and many of those were played on the family NES, which began in my brother's room and eventually moved into our gigantic conversion van. Gaming every time I got in the car? Beautiful.
But before the NES, there was the Atari 2600 Jr., controlled with a stick and a button. Seems simple enough, right? This lower-cost version of the original 2600 was released in 1985, which would have put me at a whopping one-year-old. Could I play Atari games at one year old? Probably not, but I sure could watch them.
When it comes to actually playing videogames, my earliest memory is actually a mess of images that is jumbled and painful. There's the memory of River Raid, which consisted of me failing to grasp the significance of fuel pickups and wondering why my plane never went farther than a few feet.
How about Pitfall? Terrifying. The timing needed to get across pits, over scorpions, and generally do anything was something I lacked. I probably only saw two screens in that game. Ever.
Then there was Ghostbusters. I still don't understand what you're supposed to do in that game. There are ghosts, and a car, and you can drive around toward buildings that flash. For some reason, I could never get to the parts where you actually caught ghosts. I just drove around not knowing what to do. Whee.
Lastly, we had E.T. Yep, we really did. That's one of the first games I ever played. Heck, for all I know, it could be the very first game I ever played. Can you imagine what an atrocity that would be if it indeed were my very first gaming memory? Perhaps I'm better off not knowing.
Despite all of this, I eventually owned my own NES. And my own SNES and Genesis. And a PlayStation. And a PS2. And an Xbox 360, PS3, and Wii, and eventually many of those consoles from the past that I missed out on. Couple that with a bunch of PC-gaming binges and a pretty clear picture begins to form: videogames remained a huge part of my life even after these terrible early experiences. In what world this makes sense I cannot begin to guess, but the fact that I'm here writing this today for you makes me immensely thankful that the universe screws up on making sense sometimes.
My first gaming memory is sort of an embarrassing one. I was hanging out at my friend's house. He had a Game Boy, and I thought it was the coolest thing I'd ever seen. He had a few games. I remember seeing Super Mario Land and Snow Bros. Jr., but the game I was most interested in was Tetris.
As we all know, the Tetris cartridge has a picture of the Kremlin on it, and a game about castles looked more promising than one about Italian plumbers or retarded snowmen. After starting the game, seeing the Kremlin splash screen, and being presented with falling blocks, I assumed the game was about building castles. That's a fairly reasonable assumption for a five-year-old to make, right?
As you'd expect, I died repeatedly while attempting to build a Kremlin, because that's basically the opposite of how to play Tetris. I enjoyed myself regardless, and I kept playing. Possibly because Tetris has such awesome music, and possibly because I didn't want to play the stupid snowman game.
Anyway, here I am two decades later; still totally sucking at videogames, but loving them anyway.
While this isn't my first gaming memory, this is the first time I realized just how special and important games were to me. Super Mario World was an eye opener for me in that I never knew that games would be so full of life and wonder. There were so many levels and worlds to explore and each one felt different from the last. I have horrible memory, but thinking of Super Mario World reminds me of my parents’ room where I played it in picture perfect details.
I remember the bed, the TV, the balcony to the view of the beach in such vivid detail that it almost feels real. I played Super Mario World constantly, over and over again, and it never got old. It still doesn't get old when I replay the game to this day.
I love this series so much that I went and maxed out the score (999990) and got 999 lives on the Game Boy Advance version years later. It's dorky, but it was my way of showing how much I love the game. The next Mario game seriously needs to bring back the feather cape by the way. Feather cape > every other Mario suit power-up.
Trying to remember the first time I saw a videogames is like trying to remember the first time I saw the sun, or ate Raisin Bran. When you go that far back, to something that's been a major part of your life for all of your life, you can only guess if your memories are accurate or in chronological order.
I do have a vague recollection of a time when I was three or four years old and my family was in the process of moving across country, and we stayed with a the family of not-so-close friend of my mother's. They had an Atari 2600, with Combat and Adventure. I remember falling in love instantly with those two games, for their aesthetics and instruction manuals alone. Atari 2600 instruction manuals still have the greatest artwork in the history of the medium. I don't know if we'll ever see their equal in our lifetime.
I also remember seeing a Pac-Man arcade cabinet at a truck stop while we were on the road. I got up on a stool and pretended to play while I watched the demo. I knew I wasn't actually playing, but just the idea that I was -- the idea that I had the ability to control moving characters on screen, to tell their story, to decide their ultimate fate in real time, a story set against an constantly shifting, unpredictable set of obstacles -- had my imagination running wild. I may not have been playing the game in reality, but in my imagination, I was playing Pac-Man with a hard sense of passion, imagining the countless different moves that I might make, and how those creepy ghost monsters may react to my actions.
While my memory of the first time I saw a videogame may be a little foggy, my memory of the first videogame-focused publication I ever purchased is crystal clear, probably because I still have it on my bookshelf. It was called How to Win at Videogames, and I bought it at a book fair at my Elementary School. This magazine thin "book" detailed multiple different strategies for getting high scores in all the big games at the time, including Pac-Man, Donkey Kong, Defender, and many others. It also gave a sneak preview to Atari's upcoming super-powered home-console, code named "System X". That system would go on to be called the Atari 5200, and its eventual failure was a big part of why Atari had to eventually drop out of the home console market.
I would have never guessed that was possible.
In my mind, "System X" would undoubtedly go on to be the greatest leap forward in videogame history, ushering in a new age of splendor and glory for all members of the human race to bask in. We'd all have robot butlers serving us highly nutritious, man-made super-foods like Tang and dry ice cream while we played near arcade-perfect versions of Ms. Pac-Man on our System X's, and that was a good as life ever needed to get.
That was just the start of the ways that How to Win at Videogames inspired my imagination. I would stare at the hand-drawn "screen shots" of the games detailed therein for hours, imagining all the things I would do if I were the one playing the game.
If Donkey Kong threw a barrel at me, would I try to jump over it, or would I run the opposite way, hoping the barrel would fall down a ladder before it hit me? Would I go for the glory and try to grab the hammer so that I could kill all those evil barrels, or would I stay focused on getting to Pauline as fast as I can, before something unsavory happens between her and that giant ape?
These thoughts kept my mind occupied for hours. Those hours rolled into days, and those days rolled into months, months that led me to save the ten dollars a week that I earned at a babysitting job (babysitting a kid that was only two years younger than me, but that's another story) so that I may eventually buy my first game console: the Commodore 64.
The "computer" itself cost $250. That's 25 weeks of saving right there. Worse, in order to play any real games on it, I had to buy a disc drive, which cost another $250. There goes another 25 weeks of saving. Keep in mind that this was back in the early 80's, when comic books cost 25 cents. Saving $500 for a game console back then was considered impossible (if not stupid) by everyone I knew, but for me it was worth it.
This is why it's probably hard for me to relate to gamers today who don't want to spend $60 on games that are "only 10 hours long". I saved up for an entire year to buy a console whose killer apps were Tapper and Mail Order Monsters. In my era, it didn't matter if it was 10 hours long or 10 minutes long, or if it cost $6 or $60 dollars. As long as a game could capture your imagination, then it was worth it.
I regret that I can't recall my absolute first gaming memory, but that's only because I started gaming around the time I started forming complete sentences. Videogames weren't just a cornerstone of my pre-teen and adolescent years, they were a prime factor in my earliest development. In a way, my gaming love affair was triggered not by a single catalytic spark but by a variety of profound events.
I'm not gonna lie, my childhood was pretty incredible. During the latter half of the ‘80s, my dad played in the Japanese baseball league, so we got to live in Yokohama for a while. It was an amazing place filled with wonders that I still wistfully dream about today -- shaved ice vending machines, ballpark noodle cups, and awe-inspiring department store towers. Then, of course, there was the Nintendo Family Computer, better known as the Famicom. Kids out west had their fun with the NES, but you have to understand that Famicom gaming was something else entirely. Because Famicom cartridges came in a variety a shapes and colors instead of standardized gray paks, visiting the game store was like walking into a candy shop with a rainbow of hues painting the walls!
I first got my feet wet during play dates with my friends. I tore through the jungle of the Galuga archipelago in Contra and stomped on Koopa's army in Super Mario Bros. Of course, the game that opened my eyes the most was Rockman, starring this little blue robot kid who went around taking weapons from other robots and adding them to his arsenal. Something about that game -- the colors, the music, who knows? -- struck this chord in me and never stopped strumming. I became a Rockman nut for life! My only disappointment at the time was that I could never reach Guts Man's lair. It was those damnable moving platforms!
I finally got my own Famicom on my fourth birthday. Rather than fire up the machine right then and there, my friends and I decided to head outside to play a little ball. Before we could set up, I tripped on the sidewalk and scraped my body in all manner of places. My friends helped me back inside, and my mom applied so many Band-Aids that I was stiff from all the adhesive tape. Then she wiped away my tears and told me to go play videogames. It was as though fate had intervened, warning me about the dangers of the outside world while beckoning me towards to soft glow of the television screen!
There are so many other memories that are now rushing back, some which I've shared previously, but if I reminisced any more, I'd probably reduce myself to a weeping lump. I think I'm gonna pore through my old game-related, preschool doodles now!
To my best recollection, this is how it went down:
My first time was a rather peculiar place to encounter electronics. It was a Pong machine near a beach. I can't recall where I was. My best guess is Varadero back in Cuba, or maybe Miami Beach here in the States in a vending machine/bathroom open structure with water fountains. I must have been five or six years old. Despite the simple lines and dots on the screen there was a pack of adults huddled around it screaming and laughing as they competed against each other. I remember my dad explaining it to me and throwing a fit because I wanted to try it. I don't remember anything else about that day except the angle of the arcade cabinet relative to me. We were leaving and there it was. I had missed the opportunity to spend the day with it. I'm sure I whined about it all the way home.
Apparently, I was a handful as kid. Luckily, I was able to channel that tenacity into something productive as an adult.
It wasn't until much later that my cousin got an Atari 2600 with Laser Blast, Pitfall, Frogger, and Defender that I got to play and I absolutely loved it. I had to have one. When people asked me what I wanted for holidays or birthday I was a little shit: "Cash for my Atari!!!". I was able to get the base system later that year. My first Atari game was Kangaroo and I played the absolute fuck out of it. I believe I bought E.T. next. I loved that it had randomized puzzles, an abstract clue system, and a defined start and end. I had no idea it was a shit game. That's the beauty of being poor.
My early collection included Missile Attack, Astroblast (so much fun with a paddle in hard mode!), Atlantis, Yar's Revenge, and Berserk. I was obsessed with that little red Atari product catalog and treasured all of my instruction manuals. My gaming rig was the shared family entertainment system -- a 15" black and white hand-me-down television. To me the games looked just like they did on those gorgeous illustrated covers. That was my world.
Then, I got into robots.
I pretty much abandoned videogames when my family moved to a different apartment complex and I met a kid named Ozzy, who some thirty years later would become Destructoid's second employee (he wrote as Kuri in 2006). He lived in an adjacent small apartment just like ours and was also from a low income family, but his family had come to America a few years before ours. In my eyes he was loaded. He had a bike and crisp 13" color TV in his room. But never mind that. Ozzy had some eight shelves of Transformers -- yep, the first series, metal die-cast originals. I didn't care that the Nintendo was just released. In the ‘80s was anything cooler than a boom box? Yeah -- a motherfucking boom box that turned into a giant robot that breakdanced. My first Transformer was Blaster.
When Christmas rolled around videogames were the last thing on my mind. I bought Skyfire from Ozzy for $20 and I had asked for SixShot as my "big gift", a reasonably priced new Transformer that turned into six (arguably seven) different things. Ozzy could ask for more expensive things and was given the option between Fortress Maximus -- a robot that transformed into a giant robot city -- or a Nintendo. Naturally, I campaigned heavily for it despite how cool R.O.B. looked. I was skeptical, having bought big plastic toy robots that did nothing but suck batteries. Ozzy, however, was the wiser. He noted that Hasbro had been putting less and less iron and detail into the toys, and the Headmaster series was pretty much the pinnacle of his disgust.
That Christmas we must have played Capcom's 1942 until our eyes bled. Robot club was dead. The Monster Squad was put on hold until Halloween. Shortly after that we formed the Nintendo Power Club. Today you know it as Destructoid.
Now it’s your turn. We just shared some of our first gaming memories, but we would love to hear from you. Let us know what your first, most important gaming memories are. Do you have a favorite game you remember playing over and over again? Is there a life moment that was made all the more memorable because of a certain videogame?
I am not going to lie: Reading all these videogame memories from the other Destructoid editors brought a tear (okay, tears) to my eye. Each one is truly beautiful and made me realize just how important videogames are in all of our lives.
And I am sure they are just as important to you as well.
Share your stories below. We would love to listen.
Writing the Memory Card for the last five years has been one of the greatest pleasures of my life. Being able to share and discuss some of my favorite videogame moments is one of the highlights of my time writing for this site.
Thank you to everyone for all the support over these last five seasons.
It means so much to me.
Man, I am getting pretty emotional just thinking about all of this.
See what videogames do to me?
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