According to my posts page, this post is officially my two hundredth blog post. It’s rather remarkable that I’ve gotten through two hundred of these given my inability to see nearly anything through as well as my mediocre writing skills. Initially, I intended to just mention this in an otherwise unrelated blog post, but decided this post might be a good chance to let anyone reading this know my history with gaming. How I was first introduced to games, the consoles I’ve owned, etc… I have a tendency to shy away from putting too much personal information about myself out there (I don’t even like putting out my birthday, but that’s also partially because I’m practically ancient), and I don’t think I’ve ever really discussed my history in gaming on here before. Hopefully, this won’t be too boring.
Being born in the very early 1980’s truly set me up to fully experience the rise of the gaming market after the Atari crash. Funny enough though, the first console I ever played was an Atari 5200. We didn’t have a ton of games, but we did have the staples of the system: Pac-Man, Space Invaders, Centipede, etc… It was my mom that introduced me to gaming via the Atari. She LOVED Space Invaders, and was ridiculously good at it. Thank God two player made wasn’t competitive (my mom continued playing games with us, especially Super Mario Brothers 3 and puzzle games such as Tetris, Dr. Mario, and Kirby’s Avalanche).
Now, nothing against the Atari, but it would be my trips to my cousin’s house that would truly spur my love of video games. My cousin owned an NES, as well as The Legend of Zelda, Marble Madness, and Captain Skyhawk. He also had the NES Advantage controller, which I hated (I’ve never been an arcade guy, I think I was too young and in too rural of an area for arcades). Every time I would visit his house, we’d spend most of the time exploring in Zelda or trying to advance in Captain Skyhawk. I would live vicariously through him until some point in the late 1980’s.
I actually still distinctly remember the day my parents surprised me and my brother with an NES, even if I don’t remember the year. I suspect it had to be either 1988 or 1989, but it could easily have been 1990 or 1991. Time seems to pass much more slowly when you’re young. We had been working in our garden the first half of the day and my mom said we’d have a surprise later, and suggested it would be a Happy Meal (just for the record, this would have also been a perfectly good surprise). Before going to McDonald’s, we had to stop at our local department store. Being me, I wasn’t paying much attention and failed to realize we were even in the electronics section until my dad pulled down the NES set and asked if that was the right one. I’m not sure I’ll ever be able to verbalize my excitement once I realized what was actually happening. To this day though, I can’t recall if got a Happy Meal or not. I was probably ready to just head home and play, food be damned. I didn’t know it at the time, but that day set me up for a lifelong hobby.
I gradually built a decent NES library thanks to saving up my allowance, doing chores, and visiting the pawn shop (the used games store of my day). I somehow managed to beat Metroid and Metal Gear, two things I’m not certain I could do today without spending hours on each. I discovered the Mega Man series when my other cousin let me borrow Mega Man 2 for about a month. My parents surprised me with Robowarrior out of the blue, a game that I still champion and play to this day. I found both fun and frustration with the Castlevania and Ninja Gaiden series. I’ve beaten the Castlevania games, the Ninja Gaiden games are still a source of shame though. I also experienced the amazement of taking Mario to the sky in Super Mario Brothers 3. Due to limited funds and not having the internet to look up games, I often found games that were probably very niche, though I didn’t know that at the time. Games like Milon’s Secret Castle and The Adventures of Dino Riki were some of my favorites.
As surprising as it is, I didn’t actually know that the Super Nintendo was a thing for a good while. I was perfectly happy with my NES. Still, at some point, it entered my consciousness with the obvious question being, how do I get one? Ladies and gentlemen, let me tell you about the magic of layaway. Seriously, if you’re unfamiliar with this, layaway meant the store would hold your item(s) while you paid it off. So, I saved my allowance ($5.00 a week), got to $50.00, and put a Super Nintendo on layaway. I found every chore I could, did odd jobs for family members, sold my NES games (that was a mistake I spent years rectifying), and dutifully paid the balance down week to week. Once again, though, it was my parents pulling a surprise on me. As usual, I made my payment at the layaway department, then my brother and I went to look at the toys. What we didn’t know is that my mom went back and paid off the Super Nintendo. When we got to the truck to go home, it was waiting for us. Once again, I can’t explain the revelation of playing Super Mario World and Super Mario Kart for the first time (the set I had on layaway included both).
Much like with the NES, I slowly built a library of games. Some you would expect, others that I find to be hidden gems. The obvious included Mega Man X, Super Castlevania IV, Secret of Mana, Final Fantasy III, and The Legend of Zelda: A Link to the Past (I actually traded my copy of Super Mario Kart to a friend for Zelda). The less obvious are games that I think have achieved cult status. These include Demon’s Crest, Secret of Evermore, and EVO: Search for Eden (are we understanding now where the inspiration for some of my Retrospection posts is coming from?). Oddly enough, it was a rental that would ultimately lead me to my all-time favorite game.
I was already familiar with Metroid from the NES, so it was only a matter of time before I rented Super Metroid (I’m fairly certain I had played Metroid II at this point, though I can’t be 100% sure). The open world, music, visuals…everything about Super Metroid appealed to me. I don’t remember at what point I finally bought the game, but I know I couldn’t get enough of it. To this day, I still play through it at least once a year. It just never gets old.
Speeding up a bit now, because I was most interested in looking back at the roots of why I love video games. I got the Nintendo 64 in much the same way as the Super Nintendo. Chores and saved money. It was during this era that I got a part-time job. Fun fact, with my first paycheck I bought Quest 64 for the Nintendo 64. I chose it over Banjo-Kazooie. I will defend Quest 64 as being quite good, but still. Banjo-Kazooie guys. I bought a PlayStation from a friend, my first non-Nintendo console. The Gamecube would follow, along with a PlayStation 2, then the Wii, Xbox 360, etc… You get the point.
Looking back, it’s a little surprising that I can still find video games as magical as I do. Not because I should be jaded or because I’m older or anything like that, but because they’ve been a part of my life for so long. You would think I’d get bored of replaying Super Metroid or Zelda 2 or Mega Man 3, yet I never do. Games still hold a spell over me. There’s still a magic there that I don’t find anywhere else. It’s a window back to my childhood, filled with a wonder that I think gets lost with age, and which I strive regularly to recapture. That’s why I still play games, both new and old. They’re both an old friend and a reminder of my youth. Memories of playing games with my mom and brother. Of finally beating Bowser in Super Mario Brothers 3 or Dr. Wily in Mega Man 2. Of taking a risk on the game in the “For Sale” box at the video rental place. They’re an escape from a world that’s gotten far too complicated. And I hope they always are.