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Growing Up Gamer


For the four or five of you who remember, my last article was an overview of Ys Origins. In that article, I briefly mentioned an encounter back in the day with a game the US knows as Wanderers From Ys III.

Well, after writing the article I got sucked into the nostalgia trap and started poking around for more info on the series. During this all, it got me thinking back to what it was to be a gamer growing up and how things have changed so drastically over the years.

Games have always been a part of my life. Back in the late 80ís/early 90ís, my NES was my entire world. Thinking about how my friendís older brother would explain how to pronounce Japanese names after beating Section Z and Mega Man 2 still makes me grin. Funny that I ended up majoring in the language.

I owe a lot of it to my awesome parents, who may have never imagined raising a geek but certainly never balked at it. Heck, my fondest gaming memories are of watching my dad play Dragon Warrior (or even earlier Adventure on the Atari 2600) and playing Life Force (known as Salamander, a Gradius spinoff, to those less familiar) with my mom. She was my partner, which was good because she was the only one who was dextrous enough to enter the Konami code until I got older. Itís funny to see how that code has grown to mean so much to so many gamers, when to me all it reminds me of is my family.

It wasn't weird to fight a giant pharaoh head in a space fighter inside of a monster back then.

Back in those days, we didnít really question our games. They were fun or they werenít, simple as that. Little things, like the personalized letter packaged with StarTropics, were amazing to me (especially that upon opening it, the letter was addressed to Mike). The hidden watermark wasnít clever DRM... it was a holy shit moment that transcended the digital reality I spent most of my life in. Multiplayer wasnít a feature... all games had it. Sometimes, it just involved passing the controller around the room. Playing through Ninja Gaiden with a friend wasnít strange at all. To us, thatís what lives were for... a signal to let someone else take a shot.

The SNES was probably the biggest turning point in my life. When I think of the SNES, it marks the time that I went from just playing games to really thinking about them. When Final Fantasy VI (3 at the time) came out, I played it for a few hours and then dismissed it. To me, it was too confusing, too weird, compared to Final Fantasy IV (2 at the time).

It wasnít until a year or two later that I revisited it and discovered how wondrous it was, how complex characters and stories in a game could be. It wasnít about the good guys stopping the bad guys... it was about a lone soldier pulling his dead son out of his bed, about a thief who killed his partner and left his daughter after the death of his wife. It was about brothers coming to terms with the assassination of their father. It was about a general, disillusioned with the war her nation was fighting. It was about people. I think it was the first game that ever made me cry, not because it was sad, but because it ended. I never wanted to leave that world and the people who I'd come to think of as friends.

Iíd become more thoughtful, more rational. I sympathized more with the deeper elements of a story rather than just plowing from point A to point B.

How many operas do you know that have perverted octopi and tyrannosaurs?

Press Down To Crouch

Strangely, if you had to ask me what I missed most about those days, I likely would respond with Ďinstruction bookletsí. In those days, when there weren't lengthy tutorials or controllers with 40 buttons, you could take the time with a booklet. Make it an extension of the world you were entering. I had almost as much fun with them as I did with the games they came with. Tracing the Mega Man bookletsí pictures of the bosses, the misprint in the Blaster Master instruction booklet that saw the last boss being shown but the first boss being censored out, reading Metroidís entry about Samus and how Ďheí was the best bounty hunter alive (damn, was that ever an awesome reveal)... that stuff was fun. Heck, I still have the aforementioned Life Forceís booklet, scanned and copied onto printer paper and stapled into a booklet, that I accidentally kept after returning it to Dorothyís Fashion in Knoxville. Yes, I used to rent NES games from a fashion store.

Iíll never forget waiting so long for Chrono Triggerís release, bugging mom to take me to buy it and then the crushing disappointment when we went out to BW3ís to meet with dadís coworkers. I spent the entire time in the corner, reading the instruction booklet cover to cover, over and over.

Music to Grow By

Itís probably not surprising that game music was my genre of choice growing up. It still is, in many respects. Looking back, itís not hard to see why other people thought I was nuts listening to chip tunes, but they were lacking context. When I listened to the Final Fantasy 6 ending, I wasnít just listening to tinny midi music, I was flying away from Kefkaís Tower alongside Terra and Edgar and Mog. I was dashing off into the wilderness to seek adventure. I was descending into Brinstar in the hunt for a dangerous space pirate.

If this makes you want to run out and kick ass, youíre on the level.

Itís strange the stuff that sticks with you too. Sure, I could probably hum everything that came out of Squaresoft in the 90ís (who couldnít?) but others had their place. Take the opening to Lagoon, for instance. Not a particularly well known title (or even all that good) but for some reason, this intro sequence is just perfect to me. The timing, the music, the visuals... I wanted to know more. Also, Thor was the first time Iíd ever seen a character or person with heterochromia, and it made him stick in my memory for a long time. That, and I also thought he was a girl at first.

Thereís no way this music is anything but awesome.

Itís also at this exact moment that I realize how much of an Ys clone this game was. Huh.

Next Gen!

Things changed a lot in the mid to late 90ís. My family started getting into computers, starting with a 386, and I remember both being amazed at how I could run Duke Nukem 3D (without sound though, since the computer didnít have a sound card) and being sad that Iíd never possess a machine that could run the awesomeness that was Quake.

I had my wisdom teeth out sometime in middle school and while recovering, my parents rented me a Playstation along with Warhawk and Twisted Metal. Soon after I discovered Final Fantasy Tactics, Symphony of the Night and Resident Evil. It was around this time that I went from appreciating games to being critical of them. I demanded more and sought out rarer, more unusual titles rather than playing them at will. I discovered modding on the PC side of things, starting with Archmage and Airquake for Quake 1 (SPOILER: I eventually got a computer that could run it).

We shall decide with our weapons whose hair is more luscious.

Games started to become less of an experience and more of a hobby. I no longer lost myself in them wholesale. I still loved them fiercely, but the moments where I was so in these worlds that I forgot to breathe had become few and far between. I saw potential in them, not only in what they were but what they could become. After the Playstation, my hobby only became more and more tempered.

Looking Ahead

More than anything, I love how the hobby that has defined my world has finally become so popular. Sure, I bitch and moan at times about Farmville ruining games or EAís terrible business practices, but seeing so many people who arenít gaming geeks who didnít grow up with Toe Jam or Dr. Light playing video games makes me happy. Maybe itís validation, maybe itís just joy knowing others are finally discovering something amazing Iíd always lived with, but I canít help but love it.

Which is why Iím not scared about the future of gaming. For every Dead Space or Bioshock that blends more towards the mainstream, for every cookie-cutter modern war shooter that hits the market, for every Capcom cancellation or Konami cash grab, I see a sea of indie games that arenít afraid to push the envelope or try something crazy, unpopular or downright insane. I see creators like Suda 51, Peter Molyneux, Keiji Inafune, Edmund McMillen and Tommy Refenes, Itagaki and Warren Spector who actually care about what they make, even if their audience doesnít always care back.

It turns out that eyes can have orgasms too.

I also see a new generation of gamers with new expectations and demands. Maybe we wonít always see eye to eye, but I can safely say that Iím excited to see what games Iíll be playing with my grandchildren.

Oh, and as for my mom? She's still my favorite partner. That's her on the right.

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About Returner Mikeone of us since 6:25 PM on 01.24.2013

I'm a gamer who's lived in Indiana, Colorado, Hawaii and Japan (having majored in Japanese at Indiana University). Beyond the electronic, I'm a fan of of scuba, fencing, movies, anime and creative writing.

I love all kinds of games, from indie, to foreign, to high profile and experimental. I grew up with the NES, SNES and Genesis, and was always a nut for a good RPG.

I'm currently working on a writing focused interactive fiction with a team online, and assisted in map design and writing for Killing Floor when it was a mod.

I'm hoping to bring an interesting voice to the community and I ask for your feedback, your criticism and your support.