As realistic as graphics are these days, it doesn’t seem unreasonable for games to bleed into our realities. I totally catch myself thinking “Wasn’t this stripper in GTA V?” all the time. (Not really. They didn’t have male strippers in GTA V.) But, even back in the 8-bit days of yore, I found games could make the trip from TV screen to waking life fairly easily. It isn’t the quality of the graphics, but the quality of the experience that triggers this effect. Games can be so completely immersive that their atmospheres (and their terrors) become inescapable. – Marie
In the mid-late 90s I lived with some friends in a converted bowling alley in Wellington, New Zealand. The building was about four floors high. We lived on the third floor. To get there, you could either take this rickety old freight elevator, that eventually broke down, or several flights of concrete stairs, usually half in the dark, because the lights didn’t always work.
Games aren’t just a momentary distraction. They help us through tough times, or bolster our confidence when the world has worn us down. The experiences we have in games, the memories we create, stick with us throughout our lives, whether we realize it or not. –Marie
I grew up playing video games. It all started with an Odyssey 4000. It had 8 variations of Pong – just monochrome lines and dots on the screen – and it was amazing. My brother and I always played against each other because back then it was all about high score. But, Atari 2600, NES, SNES and Genesis were my glory days of gaming. Each system brought a new world to me and my brother. We would spend endless hours trying to figure out every aspect of every game, finding secrets, bugs and hopefully getting to the end. When stores started renting games it was like a buffet for us. We had one goal: beat the game before it was due back! When sports games started getting better (mainly with SNES and Genesis) it became a nightly ritual to play Madden or some Baseball title. In our heads we knew who was leading between us and it was always a blast as he would stomp me and then eventually I would do the same back.
What’s your earliest memory of a video game? Where were you? Who were you with? Reader Dan Skelton shares a pretty remarkable story of his earliest memory of games. His came with a really convenient (well, not exactly “convenient”) annual reminder. –Marie
I remember sitting next to my mother on our typical 80s living room floor (more shades of brown and orange than should be legal in the color wheel), watching her play a perfect game of Pac-Man. Literally, a perfect game. My mom was in the zone and had everything maxed out – maxed score, screen full of fruit, and ghosts on hyperdrive. In the midst of this perfect game she starts to have strange sharp pains in her back. Nobody in the room would take over her game, so she had to abandon it because she realized the back pain were odd contractions. That’s when she went into labor with my younger brother. I was 4.
Super Metroid was a genre-defining smash hit of a game. The lessons, themes, and mechanics it presented on release 20 years ago are still influencing the industry today. Dozens of games pay homage to it, and it has spawned a long and healthy legacy.
I was 11 when Super Metroid hit shelves, and I played the hell out of it. Games of its caliber were rare back then, and while I would play anything I could get my hands on, I knew quality when I saw it. It’s a deeply immersive, dark little game, filled with a surprising sense of atmosphere and world building.
Things get tense rather quickly, and for a sprite-based sidescroller, the game creates a surprisingly strong sense of isolation and danger. It’s just you, in the armored boots of Samus Aran, against a planet of vicious foes and natural hazards.
I had a non-gamer colleague once tell me he believed only people without personalities play video games. He said they don’t know who they are, so they pretend to be other people. Their identities wink out the moment they turn off the game. While I do think games provide a tremendous opportunity to role-play, almost all the gamers I know have remarkably strong personal identities. If anything, games enrich these identities with experiences and opportunities that both mirror and surpass those offered by everyday life. Today’s storyteller shares how one game offered him not only an escape from a tough childhood, but the opportunity to find friendship and himself. – Marie
Growing up, video games had always been around and an integral part of my identity. A lot of my hobbies spawned from gaming. Through games I came to writing, anime, skateboarding, programming. Games even shaped my interest in music.
The reason why games were so prevalent in my life? It was an escape from a rough childhood. I was the youngest of three growing up in a household with an alcoholic parent. My siblings were old enough to always go out with friends when there was trouble at home, but I was six years behind them. So, I had to endure my father’s unpredictable temper and mood swings. Then, when I was 13, my mother finally left him, and I was stuck in the middle of the divorce. My parents went back and forth vying for custody, with me overhearing and knowing it was because whoever had me collected child support from the other. Growing up in that environment combined with feeling like the only worth I had to my parents was a child support payment, I had no self-esteem to speak of and just wanted not to exist. I also still had to deal with the consequences of my father’s alcoholism. He couldn’t keep a job; we moved a lot. At 15, I dropped out of high school when he moved us away from my friends. He didn’t even care, he was so wrapped up in the bottle.
So, I was unemployed and had been for a while. And, I had reached that stage of unemployment where you really begin to feel horrible about yourself. I was sending out dozens of résumés every week. I was applying to every job that I was remotely qualified for and nobody was calling. I wasn’t getting any interviews. And, I had reached that point where I was convinced I was just worthless, and there was clearly something wrong with me because otherwise somebody would have at least called, and I was never going to work again.
This is a very common state of mind for people who have been unemployed for a while. And, it was exacerbated by the fact that, hey, all my friends had jobs so they were all busy all day. And, I had nothing to do all day except sit in my house and fixate on how I didn’t have a job, and how nobody was calling me, and how I was clearly just terrible and was never going to work again. And so, I started playing Morrowind.
From a recent conversation with indie game developer and “games industry polymath” August Zinsser…
Question: How do you feel about the prediction that indie games are merely a “flash in the pan” and that the games industry at large cannot sustain this many indie developers?
Listen to this gamer story (4 min, 01 seconds):
Or, read the transcript:
I think there’s some truth to that, but I think it’s an oversimplification. It comes down to the price of art.The price of artistic media, I guess.
For me, it’s kind of like music. Way back in the day when music was, like, new, I guess, it didn’t really have any value because it was ahead of culture and modern economies and so forth. Now, I’m talking, you know, tribal music and drums and that kind of thing. And then once economies became sophisticated enough, you had things like, you know, the classical music era. And you had some composers there that could start to make a living off of that, but they were really like performers. But then, with the advent of recording, that was basically an explosion in the golden age of music. And you had the relatively small number of people who had enough talent and access to recording equipment to produce these records and the records became this thing of really high value. Really in the last 10 to 20 years, as the cost of producing those records went down, so many people could do it and it flooded the market and then music became this thing that most people can acquire people. And a subset, well, a subset of some people even believe it should be free. And, I guess I don’t know where I stand on whether music is intrinsically valuable or not, but the fact of the matter is the market says that because the cost of acquiring music is really, really low, the price, if you want to actually charge people for it, needs to be about the same. I mean, this is basic supply and demand.