The Games I Love

I love video games. When I was eight years old, my family got a Nintendo 64 for Christmas. It was a cold morning in North Carolina in our military base housing complex as my siblings and I ran down the stairs to the living room. We opened a number of gifts, until my brother Vincent found in his stocking a stuffed Mario plush. A knowing look appeared in his eye as we exchanged glances. Then, our mother pointed to the entertainment stand, where a ribbon held the doors of it closed.

“Open it!” She said with glee, as Steven, Vincent, and myself gathered around what we knew was within. The doors flew open, and there it sat: a shiny new Nintendo 64. It was the first game console we ever owned, but not the first we’d played. We’d known other kids who had Super Nintendo’s, or the NES. We’d played with the neighbor’s Sega Game Gear at the park behind our house, and watched Ren & Stimpy galivant across bizarre worlds on the Sega Genesis. But this wasn’t some other kid’s console. This was ours.

Our parents got it in a sweepstakes, and under the tree were two rented games from our military base movie store. We had them for seven days; they couldn’t afford to purchase the games for us. Vincent and I beat STAR WARS: Shadows of the Empire in a single night. Steven blew through the worlds of Mario 64 one after the other, with the grace of an Olympic athlete. It was the beginning of a life long love affair with gaming. After our seven days of bliss with our two games, they were returned to the video store, leaving us once more without the pleasures of 3D rendered environments on our old family television.

We went to visit our uncle David and aunt Peggy in the following weeks. As we drove to Arkansas, I sat in the back of our family van, recording notes of the level’s I’d already completed in Mario 64, so that when the time came I could pick up where I’d left off. I drew maps to stars in Bob-omb Battlefield. I wrote down the sequence for opening the chests in Jolly Roger Bay. Thinking about gaming was almost as fun as the gaming itself. And while I loved my aunt and uncle dearly, and cherished the times we got to spend together near the holidays, I couldn’t quite drag myself away from the thoughts of that smooth controller and its colorful buttons, waiting for me back home. My brother’s and I talked about our new obsession so much, our uncle decided to purchase us a copy of Mario 64 as a gift. I was overjoyed as he took us to the game counter at a local store and pointed out the cardboard cover art of Mario wearing a wing cap, flying over a green meadow.

It wasn’t long after that first gifted game that our collection grew. Games were all I asked for. Birthdays, holidays, any special occasion. If my parents were offering to get a gift, I wanted a new game. We frequently purchased used rentals from Blockbuster. Star Fox, Legend of Zelda: Ocarina of Time, Banjo-Kazooie, all were added to the horde as used copies. And I devoured each and every one of them. Star Fox offered a unique challenge in that it had a leader board which tracked your score each play through. My brothers quickly occupied every place on that board, yet try as I might I could never even get on at last place. That gnawed at me, an itch I couldn’t scratch, a yearning for gaming excellence that kept me going back to the title week after week, month after month.

My brothers took to the skill of gaming faster than I did. They were older by two and four years, and fine motor skills came to me haltingly as my hands and eyes battled one another for the mastery of it. Fighting titles like Super Smash Bros. taught me quick reflexes. Puzzle platformers taught me critical thinking. Every lesson was a pleasure, as I grew in years beside the stack of game cartridges.

It was around that same time when I was introduced to the internet. A friend of my father had access, and told us it could basically get you encyclopedic information on anything. So I asked for a guide to Star Fox. A week later, the man returned with not only a guide Star Fox, but a whole host of other Nintendo trivia and lore, including the now infamous rumor that you could unlock Luigi as a playable character in Super Mario 64. My brothers and I became caught in the frenzy of possibility; Luigi waiting for us to find him, to be the first people ever to unlock him in the world. We drifted back from our love of Star Fox to Super Mario 64, working every secret, every exploit we could. We scoured every world in the game, unlocking all 120 stars, searching even beyond the borders of levels through glitches and wall jumps. But to no avail. It was at least a year of fevered effort before we all silently agreed to call of the search for Luigi.

We moved west, and settled in Utah at Hill Air Force Base outside of Layton. All our other possessions were packed away for the trip, safely stored in giant shipping boxes by the professional movers the military always sent. Everything except for our Nintendo 64. That was carefully returned to its original box, and with two games tucked inside (Zelda: Ocarina of Time and Star Fox) which we played at every hotel and family members house along the journey from North Carolina to the Uinta Mountains. My devotion to gaming grew to fanatical levels in those days.

When we got to Utah, I made sure the Nintendo 64 was setup right away in the living room, ready to provide my escape from real life into the colorful worlds of video games. I threw myself again and again into the Lylat System of Star Fox, perfecting my skills in hopes of claiming a space on the leader board. There was one section of the game, a planet called Zoness, which was the final holdout for my brothers and myself which we had not yet fully completed. In the game, each world or zone had a certain point score which, when achieved, would award the player a medal. And there was a rumor passed through internet forums of the game that if a player was able to achieve all the medals, it would unlock a secret multiplayer mode. While my brothers had given up on the supposed secrets hidden in our games promised by strangers on the internet, I had a need; not only was Zoness the last world none of us had managed to gain the medal on, if I could complete that level with the winning point value, I’d finally be able to claim a spot on the leader board.

And then I did it; the perfect play through. I crushed every level, and I claimed the impossible medal of Zoness. I defeated Andros on the final planet of Venom. My heart swelled with my victory as the leader board came up, offering me a chance to place my initials among the others. But there was a complication. I had never input anything on that board. I didn’t know how to do it; in my ignorance of what to do, I pressed the A button on the controller, which ended the input process, solidifying the previously existing initials to that hallowed place on the board. I felt as if I’d plunged in icy water, the breath sucked out of my body, my skin reddening under the streaks of my tears as I shuddered in anger and deep sadness that my victory was lost, that no one would ever believe me that I’d done well enough to be on the board. My mother found me in a pool of tears on the living room floor; she couldn’t understand why it hurt so much. Neither could I.

As it turns out, the rumor of a secret multiplayer level in Star Fox was true. At first my brothers didn’t believe me, even refused to look as I pulled up the multiplayer maps, but after a period of insistence, they acquiesced. They had to scoop their jaws off the floor when they saw it: I had unlocked a new mode which allowed you to verse each other as members of team Star Fox, their tiny polygonal bodies running around with huge blasters, facing off against the Arwings and the Landmaster tank.

As the millennium rolled around, so did the advancement of gaming consoles. We got a Gamecube in 2002 near my birthday. There was a special offer for it; it came with two games: Metroid Prime and Legend of Zelda: Windwaker. It did not, however, come with a memory card. Which meant that every time we turned off the console, the progress we had made in the game was gone. Metroid Prime had such a hold on me that for several days I left the Gamecube running, completing levels in a single, drawn out go. The console practically glowed red under the heat of continued power by the time my parents buckled down and bought us a memory card. I remember plugging it in, and saving the game for the first time. When I turned it off that day, it was as if the console let out a sigh of relief, nestled on the threadbare heirloom Persian rug before the old oak armoire where the television lived. And then, come Christmas that same year, our parents chanced upon another giveaway which blessed us with an Xbox. This new generation of gaming introduced me to another of my now long time loves: FPS games, also known as the first person shooter.

Metroid Prime acted as my introduction to the world of FPS, though there were others that came later. The medium leaned heavily on hand eye coordination, instinct, depth perception, physics, you name it. The more you understood the rules of the environments, the better you could handle the challenges within them. As the legendary bounty hunter Samus Aran I stalked the corridors of abandoned facilities, uncovered hidden secrets, unlocked an arsenal of fantastic weaponry, and defeated hordes of otherworldly creatures. Next we got Time Splitters 3, a bizarre and wacky adventure across time and space with a surprising amount of tight combat and humorous storytelling. My brothers and I spent so much time in that particular game, enjoying the cooperative experience. That was something really special about FPS games: they often had cooperative modes where you could play together through the story, split screen and glorious as you sat with your comrade, waging war, slinging lead, leaving heaps of alien and zombie bodies in your wake.

When we got Halo: Combat Evolved it became my new obsession. Where Mario started my journey in video games, it appeared Master Chief would finish it for a time. I spent as often as I could fighting the alien zealots of the Covenant, the parasitic Flood, exploring every nook and cranny of the installation 04 Halo ring world. And when Halo 2 came out, I was ready for the challenge.

I remember when I took on the hardest difficulty in Halo 2, Legendary mode, that I started at about 11 am on a Saturday morning. We were living in Missouri at the time, my father having recently retired. It was summer, so I moved the Xbox to the basement where it would be cooler; but also, I wanted to have the system to myself if any family wanted to watch television. It was dim and damp, the only light coming in through the half windows and glass doors leading out into the covered parking area as I started the campaign. The first level was absolute chaos. My skills were at their peak. Yet it still took me over twelve hours of continuous play and repeat attempts to clear that first level. The enemies seemed to remember my moves better than I did, which forced me to have to vary my strategies from each attempt. ammunition was limited, and I was always vastly outnumbered. But when that final encounter was complete, with me standing over a pile of corpses, I had never felt more alive. From that point on, nothing else could compete with that feeling. I threw myself into the Halo 2 campaign on a daily basis. My acuity grew like a weed; I got to where I could hit a target with a grenade no matter where it was, even from kilometers away. Headshots were my only shots. But what gave me the greatest sense of true gaming prowess was when Steven admitted he was impressed with my aim. I had arrived.

Most of my friends all through high school were my friends because we’d game together. We didn’t talk about sports, or girls, or anything except gaming. It was life. And it wasn’t always video games, but card games and table top role playing games too; I first played Dungeons and Dragons with that group of friends, huddled around a small table in Charlie’s semi-finished basement, the sounds of Wii Sports in the background as we made characters for edition 3.5. Playing table top games like D&D introduced me to the more nuanced enjoyments a game could provide. I loved the endless possibilities of it. You could do anything, have your character do anything, and the game would continue. D&D allows for the imagination to fully engage with the game, and I loved that. It intrigued me to no end. I had always loved telling stories growing up, and while video games gave a place where I could experience great stories, D&D became a place where I could tell them myself, using the tools provided by the books and miniatures. It was video gaming in analogue. It was self expression in a pure, fantastical setting. It was, and is still, thrilling.

With the introduction of table top gaming I started a new chapter of my obsession. I spent an entire summer reading the manuals, learning to lead sessions myself as a dungeon master. I developed my own worlds, my own home brew campaigns for my friends to play through, with original stories spanning across continents, fighting zombie apocalypses, facing eldritch horrors. It was around this time that I decided to save up and purchase my own gaming handheld: a Nintendo DS. I saved up quarters and dimes, until I had the two hundred and twenty dollars to get the device. It was sleek and black, and it was all mine. My brothers had graduated by this point, and were moving on with their lives, leaving me behind at home. I took solace in handheld gaming as I went into my junior year of high school, able to play it anytime, anywhere, even when my parents were wanting to watch a movie or a television show. I started asking for DS games for birthdays and holidays, collecting unique titles like Hotel Dusk, and the ever popular cottage core game Animal Crossing. I loved Animal Crossing more than I had expected to. I had been playing action packed adventure titles for so long, going to a game about making friends and drawing constellations in the night sky seemed on the surface like a bore, but I couldn’t have been more wrong. I spent the rest of my high school years playing that game, relaxing on the beach, collecting washed up coconuts and planting them along the shore. I still played other games, like Halo and Smash Brothers, but Animal Crossing became my capstone title for the years of my youth.

After I graduated, I decided to take on a volunteer job in Las Vegas, which would take me away from home for 2 years. I was excited to do it, but I couldn’t take any of my games with me. As I packed my games up in my room, I took Animal Crossing one last time and wrote myself a letter that would deliver to my mailbox in 2 years time. When I got to Vegas, I through myself into the work there, sweating in the Mojave heat seven days a week. I met a lot of great people, and found a new love in gaming: board games. I don’t know why, but my family never really played board games. We didn’t even own common games like Monopoly or Risk. When I wasn’t working, I was playing a plethora of the board games I’d missed out on as a kid. We even made our own board games; I made a Super Mario themed Risk expansion, complete with hand drawn worlds from all the classic Mario titles- Dry Dry Desert, Gusty Gulch, Bob-omb Battle Field. I wrote letters to my friends back home, and sent them a new board game/card game I discovered in Vegas called Munchkin. It was like Dungeons and Dragons, but sillier and simpler.

Those two years of volunteer work went by in a slow grind, until I finally returned home, suntanned and a hundred pounds leaner. I was happy to see my family, and my friends, but most of all, I was excited to read the letter I’d sent myself. After 2 years of work, I couldn’t remember the contents of the letter; but I knew it was something I’d given myself to boost my morale after that hard labor, to get me ready to move on with my life and take charge, like my brothers before me. I looked for my DS, but couldn’t find it. My mother had sold it, along with all the games; she thought I wouldn’t mind. I never found out what that letter said. It’s strange, to remember sending the letter but not what it said, and stranger still to know I’ll never know what was in it.

After that I searched the house for all the games we’d gotten growing up. The Nintendo 64 collection was still mostly intact, so I secretly collected it and took it with me to college. I wanted to preserve those memories, to ensure they didn’t get hocked at a garage sale. They may just seem like hunks of plastic and circuits to some, but to me, they are treasure.

I’ve continued my relationship with gaming as the years have gone by. I’ve spent thousands of hours in virtual worlds, with over five hundred hours in Skyrim and Breath of the Wild alone. It’s not that I prefer the virtual world, it’s that when I’m there I can do anything, be anyone, escape the mundanity of the everyday for a small moment.

Gaming gave me a window into other lives. I didn’t always fit in with people, and found making friends rather difficult. But gaming? That was always there fore me. I recall one day at school a girl I had a crush on came and talked to me for a little bit at the end of the school day, the day of the science fair. She invited me to hang out with her before the fair, which would begin in a few hours. I was nervous, but excited. I said I’d be there. I went home to drop off my books, and found that my older brother Steven was there already with a bunch of his friends, who had brought their Xbox’s, and televisions. They were setting up for a LAN (Local Area Network) party. And they invited me to play. I joined them, without a second thought. Sometimes I feel bad about standing her up, but I chose the thing I loved the most in the world that day, and I don’t regret it.

Published by AC Moore

My goal is to one day change the world in the same way Shakespeare did: by infusing the thoughts of the human race with such language and turn-of-phrase that they say them daily, and never even know it was I who wrote it.

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