Doing research on a game is no daunting task. Hell, it was never anything on a Herculaneum level. But, at one time finding information on a game wasn't doable with a quick trip to Google. There were no user-reviews, or gameplay footage one can easily conjure up within a matter of seconds. The decade was the 1990's. The internet was still in its infancy, and online publications had yet to take over print media as the dominant form of news distribution. Magazines like Game Informer, Tips & Tricks and Nintendo Power were some of the major media outlets which delivered us the latest news and tips within the world of gaming.
Some games were featured in television advertisements, but those relied more on marketing tactics to pique a consumers interest than to demonstrate how the game handled(with the exception of a few snippets of gameplay). Some news outlets even offered hot-lines where players could phone in to get hints and tips, for a small fee.
We didn't have easy access to the plethora of content the internet now provides, nor did we have the ability to simply download a demo and get a feel for the game from the comfort of our home. Whereas, borrowing a game from a friend or a trip to the video store was the alternative method.
Now by no means do I want to come across as the guy who wants to revert back to the time where things weren't as instantaneous. I'm happy that I no longer have to rely on the newest issue of whatever publication I was subscribed to, or taking a trip to the store in order to make a selection based upon what screenshots looked the most interesting on the back of the box(which I mostly did solely for games that didn't receive a lot of mainstream press at the time[Here's to you Spot Goes to Hollywood]). And of course, without the internet I wouldn't have a platform to get this message across.
But there was something special about the limitations a gamer once had to hearing the latest gaming gossip. Everyone wanted to sit next to the kid in class who had the Pokemon: Prima's strategy guide. But that same kid wasn't in everyone's class, and it wasn't until recess for some of the gaming circle to be able to meet up with him in the hopes he'd let us see what secrets lie within those pages. When word on the street broke out that there was a way to generate 99 of any item you wanted in Pokemon Red & Blue, we didn't have a tutorial video demonstrating the procedure. To those of us who were fortunate enough to have yet to use our one Masterball went nuts at the thought of being able to capture all three legendary birds with no little to no hassle. My initial reaction to the Missingno glitch was that I had to immediately get home from school and try it. Experiencing it hands-on for the first time was something that a tutorial video can't match.
When my inner circle of friends had yet to discover that Mario 64 contained hidden mini-courses and secret areas which were only achievable by performing certain functions(like hitting a particular wall during the slide level), or how there were alternative routes to take in Star Fox 64, my grade-school self expressed much enthusiasm with revealing the juicy gossip. Then there was the anticipatory feeling of coming home from school to find a fresh new copy of Tips & Tricks or Official Playstation Monthly in the mail. Some issues even included a demo disc, and an unwanted pile of America Online free trials. Knowing that I was going to be one of the first of my friends to experience Crash Bash before the full game released provided me with that smug satisfaction that can't be brought back today.
I now realize the lack of online activity put us into a position of self discovery, even when having to go out of our way to obtain knowledge. That early level in Gex: Enter the Gecko contained a hidden path that I took much pride in being the only one in my inner circle to know about. We would endlessly chat about what section of the map in Final Fantasy IX ensured the best shot at success for grinding levels quickly, or how knocking out Mike Tyson was actually doable, to which nobody in our elementary school could prove, until we met up one afternoon to see the new kid in the neighborhood perform such a feat(and no online streaming service was available for the world to see, which made us see it done in person).
The wonderful sense of achievement would have been diminished had all these findings at the time been revealed by watching a Twitch stream before the games release. The main source my friends and I had was based upon our findings alone. Hearing the opening of Klonoa's Windmill Song, and jumping right into the action just isn't the same when there's a disembodied voice narrating how the jump mechanic feels.
This isn't to say I don't appreciate the ability to communicate instantaneously. I'm subscribed to many gaming pundits and critics across the YouTube landscape, and once a week I'll be tuning into a stream from some of my favorite Twitch users. I am quite the user of Twitter, and spend many hours of my free time reading up on the latest buzz generated by the game community. But, in a time before comment sections and forums, we made do with word of mouth. These limitations helped me overcome my anxiety of people I had at the time, and resulted in many social opportunities and friendships, which I still cherish to this day.
For all of you who grew up in a time before or during the rise of digital media, what memories do you have with your first exposure to games? Let me know in the comments.