At the age of 26, I’ve been gaming for about 22 years. Why have I continued playing video games on an almost daily basis…nonstop? Why have any of us played video games for so long?
Just a quick note…this article is going to focus on “home” gaming…my gaming history with arcades would be an entire article on its own.
The Early Years
Born in 1984, one of my earliest memories was when I was about four years old, watching my brother playing Bop ‘n’ Wrestle on a Commodore 64. I knew what I was looking at was something special…this wasn’t just some wrestling show on TV; these were guys wrestling in a ring, and you controlled what they did. After my newfound discovery, I soon got my own NES and a little TV; from that point on, most of my time was spent gaming.
Luckily, my older brother had an NES for quite a while, and already had amassed quite a library of games. Because of this, I had a huge selection to choose from, so I got to play all the best stuff. After a while though, I had made it through (or at least as far as I could make it through) everything my brother already owned. Thus began a weekly tradition of going to our local video store (“Olney Video”) and renting a game. Because of this, I don’t really have too many games from that part of my life…but I still have the memory of playing them (and picking them up off the dusty, metal shelves in the video store.)
It was when I got a Game Boy, however, that my life truly turned. No longer was I stuck at home, sentenced to sit in front of my little 13″ TV for my gaming fun. Now, the fun went with me…everywhere. You know how you always make sure you have three things with you? (wallet, phone, keys) Well, back then, I didn’t care about anything so long as I had my Game Boy and a pocket to put it in. I never left the house without it, and the idea of calculating how much time I spent playing it is daunting indeed.
I’m not going to lie to you, Marge: the countless hours I spent gaming back in those days were done simply because I enjoyed it. I found it challenging, mentally satisfying, but above all else it was just plain fun. I played every possible game I could get my hands on, regardless of genre, developer, or publisher. I didn’t care about the Nintendo vs Sega debate…being restricted to one console or the other because of some misguided idea of loyalty was the dumbest thing I ever heard. Why did it matter if Sega or Nintendo released a game…didn’t it matter that it was a game?
Shortly after I had gotten my NES, I also got a computer. While I loved console games (something about mashing on a controller felt more “right” than using a keyboard, and in a couple of small ways it still does), the console games of the day couldn’t come close to matching computer games for their sheer size and complexity. This introduction into the world of computer games was like having my third eye squeegeed.
As previously said, my early gaming years happend primarily because I found it to be a fun way to spend an afternoon. However, with the advent of online services such as TEN, MPlayer, Dwango, and others, games started to become more of a competitive challange for me. I had been going to arcades for most of my life, but I usually played co-op games like The Simpsons game, or the X-Men game. Games like Street Fighter were generally played on my SNES, although I certainly went through my fair share of quarters on fighting games in arcades. Still, the online game services for PCs really kicked off multiplayer gaming for me. It went beyond just beating the other player, though…I wanted to become a better gamer, as the skills required to do so could translate into regular life. Increased reaction speed, the ability to quickly assess a situation and act accordingly, paying attention to multiple factors at the same time, staying calm even in the face of a quickly changing situation…all skills that I found useful as I was going through Middle School. I still did a lot of single-player gaming, but I primarily focused on playing games with other people.
The early part of the late-90′s, however, started changing this mentality. I still played competitive games online (for example, games like Myth) but games like Half-Life, the Fallout series, and more started pulling me into the story-based games. I had played games like Secret of Mana (still my fave game), Final Fantasy VI, the Zelda games, and other games where story was a major component, but I never actually realized just how major a component it was. A friend of mine and I were talking about the Fallout series, and he started talking about how you could use video games as a medium for telling a story in a certain way that books and movies just couldn’t duplicate. This single conversation suddenly changed my reason for playing games: stories that couldn’t be told any other way. It was around this time I refused to play any game that didn’t offer an absorbing storyline. It got to the point where I would even read (mostly horrible) fanfic for certain games, because I didn’t want to leave the game world behind…I didn’t want the story to end.
Then I found MMOs.
I had played plenty of games with other people, but a game where experiencing the story requires you to work with others? I got deep into it instantly. I had played a lot of MUDs by then, so I understood and had experience with the concept, but games like Meridian 59, Ultima Online, Everquest, and many others really drove the point home. I was just starting to come out of my shell in the late 90′s, and after my chatroom experiences from Middle School, I LOVED everything MMOs had to offer, pumping countless hours into them. I still attended LAN parties to play games competitively, but if I was by myself, I was playing an MMO. I’m not going to get into more details about this particular part of my gaming history, so let’s just leave it at this: I missed a huge number of games over a three year period…not to mention I lost a girlfriend, and also may or may not have skipped school sometimes to “smoke” some Evercrack.
With MMOs temporarily behind me, I concentrated on all the games I had missed. I was a bit behind the times in new games, but I quickly caught up. I once again lost an extended period of time with new games due to Diablo II (about a year and a half, to be exact)…but again, after that passed, I got all caught up. Caught up, that is, until World of Warcraft. I had a huge MMO relapse involving the closed and open betas for World of Warcraft, up until about a week before Burning Crusade hit…which was the last time I logged in. Since then, I’ve put a little bit of time into MMOs, but I’m pretty done at this point. Not even The Old Republic can respark my interest in an MMO.
After my gaming circle’s stint with World of Warcraft ended, a lot of the members from that circle started to become very cynical of new games. They didn’t care if the storyline was interesting, since they had already “played” these games. It was around this time that Brittnie moved in with me, so she and I spent a lot of time going through games from back in the day (Yoshi’s Island, Secret of Mana, Bubble Bobble, etc.) I also went through a period of going back through point-and-click adventure games I had played long ago (Robot City, Full Throttle, Myst, etc.)
Even though I’ve skipped over some fairly major events and periods in my gaming history, I think it’s time we answer the original question: Why do I still play video games? I have a few different reasons. Nostalgia is a big one…playing games, even games made for adults, rockets me back in time and makes me feel like a kid again. It reminds me of all the happy memories I have tied to gaming: trying to beat Kid Chameleon in my friend Brandon’s basement, playing a 3D platformer for the very first time with Super Mario 64, the first time I finished a game start-to-finish (Chip ‘n Dale Rescue Rangers on the NES…I was 6!), playing Tie Fighter with a friend (I flew, he was in charge of systems control), renting Rampage for the NES with my brother and playing it straight through start to finish (in addition to all the other gaming memories I have with him), the endless hours spent collecting materials from my mining operations in Star Wars: Galaxies while simultaneously grinding for Copper Ore in WoW while also playing Magic: The Gathering with my buddy Mike (MTG could be its completely own article, since I started playing when it first released back in 1993)…countless gaming memories.
I also still enjoy playing games because of their story. Games like Bioshock, Dragon Age, Mass Effect, Red Dead Redemption…modern games have made it really clear just how much further they can be used to explore storylines and experiences than possible with a book or movie. This is a subject we have gone over in detail before.
Even though Brittnie and I are generally into different types of games (except platformers, which we both love) we still make it a point to play together. Either we’ll both be playing something on our DSs (I’m currently going through Puzzle Quest 2 and Suikoden Tierkreis, while she is going through Wedding Dash after having just gotten over a serious Ninja Town addiction), or she’ll be playing something on the big screen while I game on my computer…we always make sure to set time aside for gaming together, even if we aren’t playing the same game. Sometimes though, a game comes along that we both absolutely love and go through together.
Also, since the recently released required system specs for Civilization V brought along the confirmation that her laptop is adequete to play it, she will be able to partake in our Civilization V LAN once the game is released. On a side note, it will be the first LAN we attend as husband and wife.
So yes, I still play video games for nostalgia: nothing brings up warm fuzzy memories quite like gaming. I still play video games for the challange: beating something like Ninja Gaiden Black on the hardest difficulty level is no small feat. I still play video games to increase real-world applicable skills: puzzle games help keep my mind sharp and in a constant “warmed up” state. I still play video games because they are a great way to spend time with my wife: we have a ton of great memories tied to video games, and making more of those memories together is awesome.
Above all, I still play video games for the same reason I started: because they’re fun.