When I was, oh, 10 years old or so, I woke up one Easter morning excited as ever to enjoy the holiday which my mom always made extra special for us kids. While Easter is sort of a religious holiday that’s become more about spring, pastels, and marshmallow birds, it’s not really associated with gifts. My mom, however, thought otherwise, and while we still did the usual coloring of Easter Eggs and lightly decorated the house to be festive and bunny-laden, the payoff on the day-of was never a disappointment.
We’d start the day hunting for eggs (usually plastic ones with candy inside mixed in with our eggs we dyed) and ultimately find these kick-ass baskets waiting for us: chocolate bunnies, Cadbury Creme Eggs, brownies, the works. In addition there would sometimes be a small present, maybe an action figure or something along those lines. One year I came downstairs and on top of the entertainment center in our living room was my basket, and what was inside it defied my imagination: a Super Nintendo Entertainment System.
The SNES had been out for about 4 years by that point and the world was about a year or two away from the Nintendo 64, but I had played the SNES a ton with my friends at their houses. My oldest friend Nick would often be playing RPGs which I would enjoy with him as an observer, making the experience no less fun for me even if I was merely observing (the current crop of kids that watch streams can relate). While Nick would be playing through Final Fantasy III/VI, The Legend of Zelda: A Link To The Past, Chrono Trigger, Secret of Mana, Illusion of Gaia, etc., I’d be poring through the game’s manuals, player guides, and/or an odd issue of Nintendo Power.
For years the only games we’d play together would be Secret of Mana or the odd rental (Turtles In Time, Streets of Rage, Double Dragon, Final Fight, etc), but it didn’t matter. We were spending time together with him immersed in the world of the game via the screen and me with the elaborately colorful maps, drawings, and lore provided in the aforementioned supplemental materials. The games would inspire us to create our own worlds with action figures, Legos, and in our general playing among our group of friends.
My parents, on the other hand, were never fans of me having my own video game system. It was obviously prohibitively expensive and, as an adult now, I can definitely see that they viewed it as totally unnecessary, so when I saw a SNES for me, just for me, in my living room on Easter morning I was totally blown away.
As I raced upstairs to hook it up to my little bedroom TV, my dad was less than enthusiastic about it, as he usually was about anything regarding video games, muttering, “We’re never going to see him again,” and other similar gripes which did wonders to dampen my excitement mere seconds into the experience. He stormed downstairs to stew like he usually did at such times, while my mom hopefully quietly was delighted to see how happy she made me as I fired up Super Mario World and began my journey into video games for the first time, years after all of my friends.
I never ended up owning many games. My mom bought me WWF Royal Rumble which I played the absolute daylights out of, and I procured a number of used/old games over the years from surplus or friends: MarioKart, Star Wars: Empire Strikes Back, Donkey Kong Country, NBA Live 96, and…I think that’s about it. At least that I can remember. Regardless of the few I had along with other ones I rented, I was still behind the times and totally fine with it. As my friends were reveling in Mario64, GoldenEye, Turok, and other badass games from the N64 era, I was totally content with playing my 900th hour of NBA Live or beating Link to the Past for the 8th time.
My dad would occasionally dole out reminders that he loathed the existence of this device in his house in one form or another. He’d call upstairs that if I wasn’t down in X minutes that he would personally see to it that my SNES would be backed over by his car, or simply come downstairs when I wouldn’t come to dinner right away and wordlessly unplug the console from the wall. Yeah, my dad was certainly a bit of a moody curmudgeon, and if anyone wonders why I’m a bit of a mercurial crabass sometimes, I blame genetics.
In high school I bought a very bad conditioned Game Boy from a classmate who was leaving town and a Sega Genesis from a hayseed who was selling all his wares for a major discount. The Genesis I had some familiarity with, as one of my uncles often played NHL titles, and a neighborhood kid would have us over to play Sonic The Hedgehog 2, so right away I played the absolute hell out of both of those games. I’d take the Blackhawks to the cup with my create-a-player (99 rated obviously), and a roster of Chris Chelios, Tony Amonte, Jeremy Roenick, among others. I don’t think I ever lost a game.
I still to this day have never beaten Sonic 2. Need to get on that.
As the years went on I would borrow the occasional older console just to play games I missed out on: an N64 to play Ocarina of Time; a GameCube to play Super Smash Bros Melee, Mario Party, LoZ: The Wind Waker & Twilight Princess. I was pretty much always behind the times but still an enthusiastic, if not late, participant in the world of video games.
That all changed in 2004, when after a summer of working my first slew of crappy jobs, I used my money to buy a Microsoft Xbox and play Madden 2004 until it was dust. My dad, a bit more tolerant of these ventures at this time, expressed at least mild curiosity in the game (he watched me play for about 3 minutes). The other thing I picked up around this time was Diablo II.
I had played the demo of D2 for a while, an irrationally long time, actually, but still most of my PC gaming efforts went to a copy of Madden 2002/03, NHL 2001, Backyard Baseball/Football (still damn fun games, by the by), GTA III (it barely ran), Driver, and Command & Conquer: Red Alert. All of these games were tremendous fun, even on my awful computer running Windows 98 and hanging on for dear life, I’d see the game glowing through in glorious low-texture on my CRT monitor. My cat would often sleep on top of the beastly monitor, which provided me with wonderful company as I played late into the night.
Dad asked me one bleary-eyed morning what I was doing on my computer all night, and I told him I was playing Diablo II and listening to Metallica. He wasn’t being mean about it at all, but was just curious what I found so appealing about that. Diablo II was a wonderful, wonderful grinding experience at the time, and it also had the appeal of being one of the longest-tenured games that was still viable years later – it meant that my friends and I for the first time could relate to still playing the game at present instead of the usual system of me playing the game years later while they had all moved on.
It wasn’t an addiction at all, but more of a … hmm, I guess a therapeutic exercise in a strange pleasure that can only be tapped in certain ways. The satisfaction of burning the midnight oil and playing a game long into the night, whether alone or with a group of friends, was something my dad I don’t think ever experienced. It’s addicting in a way that can’t be measured by piles of boxes or cans or looking at a credit card bill. There’s simply a content rush that I couldn’t really translate at the time.
Years have gone past, and while I no longer purchase gaming consoles, I have built two beefy computers that are relatively top of the line and procured way, way, way too many games on Steam that I have either barely played or never once fired up. These days I play games in waves. Day to day I play Rocket League & Hearthstone, or on occasion fire up Diablo III, Skyrim, Civ V, or even retread older RPGs I missed out on via emulators.
For all of that I don’t consider myself a “gamer,” per se, in that playing games is only a part of my life that I often battle with internally regarding my pleasure for them. Competitive and social gaming especially is lost on me, or brings out the worst of my personality. MMORPGs don’t pay off for me whatsoever, and after negative experiences with Call of Duty games, I no longer actively play first-person-shooters outside of my group of friends.
I dunno. I’ll spare you further rambling about my gaming experiences & current endeavors.
Basically I am not a gamer, but I do play games. How about that?