On September 20th, I turned 26 years old. That day isn’t necessarily important, and that age isn’t meaningful. But something hit me whilst I was thinking about it: on that day, I also celebrated 20 years of being a gamer. It’s been a part of the majority of my life, and I thought, “What has it all meant? What’s changed? Did it help me?” Well, those questions have answers. But we should start from the beginning. I think I remember where it all started…
I’ve been told the first time I ever played a game was with my mother. It was Super Mario World on the SNES, a game I still cherish and a console that remains my favourite to this day. However, I don’t recall those moments. The first true memory I have of playing a game – remembering the sounds, colours, the feel, the excitement – was a game far less talked about. It was Jet Moto on PlayStation; a game about racing hybrid jet-skis around streets and over water. I remember how remarkable it felt, knowing that the game would do exactly what I wanted it to do. My brother, age 10 by that point, was also an avid gamer. “What else can we do?”, I asked. “Anything, really.”, he said. An interactive book. That’s what games became for me. A story I didn’t just read, but controlled.
“I remember how remarkable it felt, that the game would do exactly what I wanted it to do.”
At that point in time, at six years old, I was more curious than I was a gamer. As many people probably know all too well, it’s hard to feel connected to games at an early age when you’re always player two. My mother, father or brother were usually at the helm, deciding what was played and how. Granted, that’s not bad or rude or anything like that. See, the passive nature of watching someone play a video game is hypnotic at such an early age. Even now, in my mid 20s, watching pro tournaments or speed runners is mind-blowing. I watched in awe as stories were told, the screen popped with colour, the sounds of engines, swords, guns, all erupting from the speakers. I went from a passive bystander of video games to a full-on believer because of one game: Super Metroid.
Aesthetically, video games had proved to be amazing. But, I had yet to feel any emotional or physical reactions to a game. Super Metroid, my favourite game of all time (and, in my opinion, one of the best ever made), changed that forever. Joy, fear, anger, hopelessness… all these emotions elicited from a game with no dialogue. Not to mention the sweat, the nervous twitches, and everything else that came with those epic boss battles. On top of showing me how video games could actually affect you, Super Metroid was the first game I ever played entirely by myself. Every gamer remembers that moment, that sense of accomplishment, that comes from completing a game on your own for the first time. It might not be your favourite game, but it is arguably the most important for you. Mine happens to be both.
Discovering what games can do for you is… surprising. It’s an art form, less so today than in my youth, that is misconstrued and belittled. When we were young kids growing up in the 90s, staying inside playing games wasn’t necessarily the “cool” thing to do, at least not for everybody. My friends liked it, just not as much as I did. The idea of playing four-player Goldeneye 64 sounded like a good plan to me any day of the week. The media, now and back then, usually spin the world of gaming as time wasting, uninteresting, even outright stupid or boring. Now, that’s pretty laughable seeing as how there are stadiums full of DOTA 2 or Call of Duty fans begging to differ. Then, people took it seriously. They didn’t want their kids melting their brains, or being inactive. Most of all, they feared that games actually made you prone to violence.
We all remember how, as the N64 and PlayStation began to revitalise home gaming, they become more mainstream. Sure, 90s gamers weren’t there for the advent of gaming, but it was great to be there for its surge into domination. With that, though, came negativity. Violent games became popular, with the likes of Grand Theft Auto, Mortal Kombat, and such. People started reaching for ideas that these games led to real-world violence. That they could turn healthy, level headed people into murderers. I’m not an expert, and I’m not trying to stand on my soapbox here, but I’ve never understood that. I’ve played violent video games my whole life, I’ve never felt affected. Relieved, is more like it. Games don’t birth violent natures in people, those things are inherent. If you are violent, you were so before you picked up a controller. Nowadays, that seems to be better understood.
“90s gamers weren’t there for the advent of gaming, but it was great to be there for its surge into domination”
As time went on, consoles and handhelds became more powerful. Bigger, more vibrant worlds were created. More grandiose stories could unfold, higher emotions could be felt. Over the next ten years of my life, I grew to understand exactly what games could do for people. I saw relationships formed over that simple bond, tears shed from heartbreak, and shouts of joy from sheer accomplishment. I mean, I’m pretty sure I cried when I got Banjo-Kazooie. The point is, video games are therapeutic for those of us how play them. They heal wounds, create friendships, and lead to some of the best memories of our entire lives. They aren’t poisonous, hurtful, or damaging to our mental states. And they’ve only gotten better at doing great things for us. They’ve matured and grown alongside all of us.
I never realised how much I truly respected what games can do until I was 16. That year, I was hospitalised for just under two months. Sparing the gritty details, I was unable to eat or drink anything, and was fed through an IV. I turned 16 in that hospital bed, and at that point, my parents were no longer allowed to stay overnight with me. I was distraught, tired, in pain and alone. That all changed when my mom visited one day with my Nintendo DS, along with two new games. As lame as it may sound, I didn’t spend nights alone anymore. That simple gesture by my mother allowed me to be happy, entertained, and intellectually stimulated. I wasn’t staring at the second hand on the clock anymore, because I had something to keep my attention. I was given a story, an adventure, and it felt wonderful.
I thought that gaming would never become something important to me, that it would simply remain a hobby. Now, at 26, I wish I could slap myself for thinking something so ridiculous. It’s been an amazing, inspiring journey growing up within the gaming world/community. Watching as 2D platformers step aside for 3D, 100hr+ campaign, open-world FPS RPGs. Just think of that. That’s a real thing now. I have lifelong friends, memories that I’ll never forget, because of video games. I matured alongside games, tossing aside hand-holding side-scrolling games for the punishment of Dark Souls. The games I play reflect where I am in life. I venture back to Yoshi’s Island, and Donkey Kong Country, but I stick to narrative-driven games now. One thing I tell people who don’t game is that just like with literature, everything is out there. Think of what you want to be… there’s a game for that.
“I have lifelong friends, memories that I’ll never forget, because of video games”
Video games are a special art form. They allow for passive enjoyment, like watching or discussing, but they also allow for complete interaction. And now, as (man… still don’t know how I feel about this) VR comes into play, complete and total immersion. Games can make you cry (The Last of Us, for me), turn pale (Alien Isolation), or rage your way to a broken controller (Dark Souls). We all have a game that makes of feel that one special feeling, every single time. We all have that game that we can, and will, play forever. All of us have that group of friends, who bond over a love of a Destiny raid, or another Borderlands adventure. And we all have that community, the same community – the gaming community. Across the world, in the same room, long time friends, or just meeting, we each share the same love.
Now, truly into adulthood, I’m seeing how games build on my happiness. My friends, family and I still creating wonderful memories together, because of a shared passion. My love of games even convinced my girlfriend, who has never played a video game before, to allow me to walk her through The Last of Us. And now, after that, she’s a phenom in Mario Party, with a savage dislike of Princess Peach. I’ll always cherish the times in my basement, playing SNES with my brother, because that’s where it all came from. I’ll continue to try and spread the joy of gaming here, and elsewhere. To remind everyone of its benefits, and also its power. It has helped me through some of the darkest parts of my life, and I know I’m not alone there. Sometimes, it’s just me and my controller… and that’s okay.