For the Love of the Game

The video game, of course. For various reasons, I’m a little behind on my blogging this week. Therefore, I decided to pick a topic that nobody but me will care about. A topic that I can blather on about at great length, which will thus allow me to fill my word quota quickly and with a minimum of effort. And so, I’m going to talk about how much I love video games.

Man, I love video games. I love them a lot. A lot, a lot, a lot. Okay, I’m kidding, there is going to be more to this essay than that.

First, a little history. I started playing video games in the late 80s. I was probably 6 or 7 years old, and my cousins had just gotten an NES (Nintendo Entertainment System, for those of you not in the know). Strangely, I don’t actually remember playing it that much, if at all, but apparently my parents were smitten, because they went out and bought one for our family soon after. It came with two games, Super Mario Bros. and Duck Hunt. So unfortunately I can’t say that the first video game I ever played was something super cool or obscure or whatever. No, I started out with the same game that every kid who grew up in the 80s started out with.

I don’t know when video games made the jump from “hey, this is a neat distraction” to “I must devote my entire life to this pursuit” for me. It must not have taken too long, because I vividly remember being thoroughly obsessed with the NES and its vast library of games. Every Christmas and birthday added new games to our collection, and my brother and I hounded my dad constantly to take us to the video rental store so we could rent new games. I remember having a subscription to Nintendo Power and lusting over one screenshot of Super Mario Bros. 3 that was featured in an issue of that magazine well before the game came out.

Somewhat strangely, gaming went from being something that my whole family enjoyed to being something that only I still indulge in. By the time the Super NES came out in 1991, my dad no longer had any interest in playing. (Although I do have fond memories of him taking us to the arcade around this time. We would play the biggest, loudest, newest, flashiest game there, and he would be in the corner playing Galaga the whole time.) By 1997, I had a Sony Playstation and a Nintendo 64, and my brother and my mom had almost completely lost interest. By 2001, when my parents gave me a Nintendo Gamecube for Christmas, I was officially the only gamer in the house. (Although as a side note, I gave that Gamecube to my mom six years later, when my wife bought me a Wii, which also plays Gamecube games. I don’t think she’s played it yet, but she always tells me that she plans to.)

Of course, my love of video games has ebbed and flowed over the years. For a couple of years after I graduated from high school, I went through a bout of depression where I didn’t really want to do anything, including playing video games. I got a job about a year after I graduated, working as a clerk in a meat packing plant. Several months after I started working there, they hired a new girl. She was a bit odd, but we hit it off pretty well. (In a co-worker sense, not a romantic sense.) She wasn’t big into video games, but she LOVED Final Fantasy VIII. Why that particular one, I have no idea. FFVIII is one of the quirkier and least-loved entries in the Final Fantasy series, but perhaps it was the only one she’d played. In any case, her love for that game inspired me to play it again, even though I’d already beaten it once. That inspired me to really take up playing video games again, and my passion for this hobby has yet to peter out again to such a great extent.

Which isn’t to say that it hasn’t petered out at all. When I worked at this meat packing plant, I made fairly decent money. Plus I lived with my parents and had no bills. Therefore, I was able to amass a sizable library of video games. Also, I had no friends, no significant other, and no kids, so I had plenty of time to play video games as well. Once I got married, all this changed. I had no money to buy games, and no time to play them. (This is, of course, an exaggeration.) When the Xbox 360 came out in 2005, I was well into another lull.

The main problem was money. In 2005, the video game industry was beginning a shift to a new generation, where old consoles were being replaced with new ones. The exciting thing about these shifts is that new consoles bring new possibilities – better graphics, better sound, bigger and more complex games, entirely new types of games, etc. However, the bad thing about these shifts is that new consoles are expensive. The Xbox 360 cost $400 at launch, and the Playstation 3 cost $600 when it came out a year later. Even the Wii, which is considerably underpowered compared to the other two, but has the hook of motion control, cost $250 – a sizable sum to someone with a limited income.

Essentially, I despaired of ever being able to afford these consoles. I ended up selling my Xbox, because I felt like it wasn’t worth keeping if I couldn’t have its successor. I finally fixed my sights on the Wii, which promised to revolutionize video gaming with its new motion controls (a promise it has not fulfilled, I might add), mostly because it was by far the cheapest. However, money is difficult but not impossible to come by, and consoles get cheaper over time. I now own every current generation console, and I am determined not to repeat my mistakes (i.e., I’m not going to sell a console just because its successor is too expensive and I’m too OCD to have one and not the other.) My love for video games may grow and diminish over time, but after more than 20 years of playing, I highly doubt it will ever disappear entirely.

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