5 Sep 2013

Growing up Gaming

Video gaming has been part of my life since I was very, very young and still remains one of my interests to this day. I personally feel I lucked out in terms of the time period I grew up in, at least gaming-wise. I was just in the right age group when home video game consoles really started hitting the market, and have had the privilege to follow the developments of gaming from that period and onwards, and boy have things changed since I was a kid.

I can't say for sure exactly how old I was when I had very my first gaming experience, except that I was somewhere in the low single digits. My older sisters had an Amstrad, which operated with games stored on tape, a pretty foreign concept for today's gamers for sure. I remember sitting in front of the screen for more or less the whole half an hour it took for a simple game to load (sometimes I marvel at the fact that I was that patient when in today's technological world we get impatient and immediately start complaining whenever a program takes thirty seconds to load). The games themselves were obviously pretty simple; a couple of sports games, some old detective game, some puzzle games, plus Ghostbusters. Gameplay was simplistic and somewhat repetitive, graphics were just shades of green, and while I no longer have access to them, nor do I feel any particular urge to ever play any of them again - that was what first kindled my interest.

Not our Amstrad specifically, but this was how it looked like, cool huh?
Still in single digits, one of my sisters and I bought ourselves a Nintendo on sale (the NES). We started off with only the one game (Super Mario Bros), and for the longest time that was our only game. I will admit it right off the bat that this game is not likely to engage a gamer that wasn't part of this specific gaming generation. The gameplay is very simplistic, there's little variation, few options, and not overall much to discover.

What made it exciting for me as a kid was the combination of not having much to compare it to, and the attitude to make the best out of anything. Playing this game over and over again was made fun by the way we played it. We learnt secrets through accidentally bopping invisible bricks (more often than not resulting in us falling down some pit and dying), through testing every tube, through running above the ceiling whenever possible. We competed on how far we could make it through the game before we lost our first life (my record was level 6-3).

There are however games from my childhood that I do still find engaging and would most definitely recommend to anyone keen on trying out retro games, and the next game my sister and I bought is definitely one of them. Super Mario Bros 3 is still one of my very favourite Mario titles to date. It offered so many new exciting options in both character abilities as well as level design and variations. The game was larger, more engaging, filled to the brink with secrets, everything from hidden items to hidden areas. And while I still haven't managed to conquer world 8 in the game (my hat's off to those of you who have), I consider the progress I managed to get in the game both as a kid and as an adult to be something to be proud of.

For some reason I've had a tendency to skip every other generation of Nintendo consoles, which I think I will attribute to my family's attitude about money. The NES had been bought on sale to begin with, and I rarely got the chance to get a new game for that one as it was, so I just never owned the Super Nintendo, myself. It wasn't until I was 14, and working at my first ever job, that I finally got around to buying my second console; the Nintendo 64. This is the console which holds my fondest gaming memories. Firstly, it was the first console I bought myself, with my own hard earned money. Which made it an extremely proud moment when I finally got to walk out of a store, carrying that console.

Secondly, it was the console that introduced me to the concept of three dimensional gaming. Playing Super Mario 64 for the very first time was unlike any other gaming experience I've ever had. It was a mixture of confusion and glee. Suddenly movement within the game seemed like an endless stream of possibilities. Some moves were taught, others had to be discovered on our own through trial and error (the moment I realized you could actually reach high up destinations through jumping back and forth between two walls was monumentally big for me).

Thirdly, this console had a steady stream of high quality games from Legend of Zelda: Occarina of Time (which was my introduction to the Legend of Zelda series, one of my very favourite gaming franchises of all time) and Legend of Zelda: Majora's Mask to Super Mario 64, Banjo Kazooie and Donkey Kong 64 (I know a lot of Donkey Kong fans don't agree with me, but I personally enjoyed this title more than any of the other DK titles, both older and newer). Each of these games not only bring back plenty of fond gaming memories, but are also highly enjoyable for me to replay any day.

This is also the only older console of mine that I have chosen to keep. Some gamers are purists in terms of having to play games on their original console. That's not me, I prefer to preserve shelf space (plus I don't really see the point in risking paying money for a classic console that might die of old age the way my NES did), and I'm a huge fan of backwards compatibility and virtual console. But I still choose to keep this one around, because not only was this the first every big thing I bought myself with my own hard earned money, it's also the console that without a doubt has brought me the most joy. Even if all of my favourite games from it (most of which are actually available through console downloads or handheld expanded releases) end up being re-released with updated everything, I believe I will still hang onto this one.

I did get introduced to Sony's PlayStation, and for a couple of years in high school I did have one of my own. However, the PSone was the only incarnation I bothered to purchase, not because I didn't enjoy it, but because I didn't enjoy it as much as I did my other consoles and I opted to preserve shelf space. Don't get me wrong, there were some terriffic games to be found on it, like Tomb Raider I, II and (especially) III, which actually are my preferred versions of Tomb Raider (while I enjoy the updated looks and more varied character movements of newer titles, they just come off as a bit too gimmick-y to me). I also really enjoyed titles like Crash Bandicoot and Spyro, but like Tomb Raider they didn't stay Sony exclusives for long.

The console that secured my continued interest in modern gaming was the original X-box. My sole reason for wanting it was so that I could play the Buffy the Vampire Slayer game (what can I say, I'm a huge fan of the show), which would be exclusive for this console (while the sequel for some reason was released on several consoles). Then I got introduced to Fable, one of my other absolute (if not my very) favourite gaming franchises. I really think if it wasn't for this console, my interest for gaming would probably have declined.

I eventually upgraded to the X-box 360, so I'd be able to play more Fable, and some time after that I also acquired the Nintendo Wii so I could play more Zelda. Then I went and bought my first, and so far only handheld console; the 3DS, also because of Zelda, specifically the 3D-release of Ocarina of Time, which was everything I wanted it to be and then some. I absolutely love being able to play it on the go, and hope other titles get a similar treatment (like Majora's Mask).

I love the fact that I was allowed to grow up in the time when gaming changed the most as it taught me to appreciate the different nuances out there (while I appreciate nice graphics, it's not really the thing I focus on the most, and I can have just as much fun with side-scrolling or top-down gameplay as I do three dimensional). Not only that, but one of the benefits of going with the flow as gaming evolved, I quickly learned to master different gaming techniques as they were introduced. I didn't really realize how much of a challenge going from one to the other can be for some until I witnessed my siblings (who held their own back when we played side-scrolling games together) struggling to cope with the N64 control scheme. And while I always considered the simplistic side-scrolling Super Mario Bros to be a piece of cake, the completely abysmal gameplay of my flatmate (who's actually a decently skilled modern gamer) when I introduced him to it, has forced me to reconsider.

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