I can’t quite pinpoint the exact moment I first sat down to play a video game. But I have a pretty good feeling that it was when I was quite young and it was with my dad, and we played Quake. Or maybe he was the one sat playing it, on a console so old that I can’t remember it, and I waddled over and sat watching him, engrossed by what was happening on screen and how my dad was doing that.
My dad and I spent a lot of time doing ridiculous things when I was a wee dot. I’d run away from his VHS collection because they were mostly horror movies and had some scary pictures on them – but I’d always go back for a peek. I think mostly I liked how my dad would act silly when I was scared. That’s probably why I liked watching my dad playing games, because he would be silly.
My next gaming memory is very vivid. I was in my childhood house, playing Tomb Raider IV. I couldn’t get Lara to jump onto the rope and swing. So I was absolutely raging at it, and my parents were laughing at me and telling me to calm down. They clearly didn’t understand how frustrating those mechanics were to a seven-year-old. To this day, I still get mad when things that should be executed easily in games are overly complicated or just plain badly done. Remember those jumps though? You had to line them up exactly. How did we do it?
Now, the next game I played was Final Fantasy VIII, and when I think of ‘the game of my childhood’ it is this game that pops into my head first. Oh my goodness, was I instantly obsessed with this game. When I would visit my dad on weekends I would watch him play this. I loved the beautiful sequences of summons – Shiva was my favourite. I wanted to be Shiva, I wanted the power of ice at my fingertips. I didn’t understand much of the story, but I loved the characters and the music. I would read and re-read the character biographies in the official Square guide for the game, and I would make up stories about being in Balamb Garden with the SeeD and fighting off monsters and sorceresses.
Nowadays, if I’m having a bit of a rough day, I like to throw on some of the music from Final Fantasy VIII. I get that calming wave of nostalgia, that longing to be back as my young self playing this fantasic game with my dad on a rainy Saturday afternoon (preferably with a tube of Smarties and a cup of squash, the drink of champs).
Final Fantasy VIII is a game that will stand the test of time for me, because of the sentimentality attached to it. My dad and I would play lots of other Final Fantasy games too (VII and a little of IX). Then something amazing happened. The Playstation 2. When Final Fantasy X came out for Playstation 2, there was only one thing my dad could get me for Christmas that year. A new console and a new game. I remember that all of my girl friends got make-up and clothes and I got Final Fantasy X and a Playstation 2 and I was as happy as a pig in shit.
This time around, I was playing the game and my dad was watching me. He wasn’t too big a fan of Final Fantasy X; he thought there were too many cutscenes and he missed the world map feature. His criticisms were valid, and I do agree with him, but I did love that game a lot. It gave me the same emotional ride and got me all attached to the characters again. Rikku is the best and I pretty much idolised her until I was 16. Yep, I idolised a collection of pixels…
Over time, gaming became less of what Dad and I did together. The arrival of the PlayStation 3 meant that we had to sit back as the new generation arrived. We would take trips on the weekend to a dingy little shop in a mini-mall in my town centre. The shop was dealing in trade-ins and we would try and buy a new (read – second hand) game every week. My favourite is still Ubisoft’s masterpiece, Beyond Good and Evil. We enjoyed the depth of the game, and really the pinaccle of our enjoyment in that game was taking pictures of all the creatures. I’m not surprised that my dad, an amateur photographer, loved that.
We couldn’t afford a PlayStation 3 when it came out; I didn’t actually grab one until I was 18. Eventually something called real life happened and I moved off to university, and before that it was studying for school exams and college exams, while my consoles gathered dust. I stopped gaming for a long time. I stopped keeping up with gaming news. It wasn’t until my second year of university I dusted them all off and started playing again. During my last visit to the UK, I grabbed my PlayStation 3 and my small collection of games and dropped the whole kit off for my Dad. Now he is constantly sending me messages of his latest achievements and I feel a flicker of the old experiences we had together in the words of those messages.
There is of course, more to my gaming childhood than gaming with my dad. After all, which true 90’s kid never played Spyro, Crash Bandicoot, Mario 64, and Pokemon? Not a cool one, that’s for sure. I remember losing hours and hours of my weekends playing Spyro and looking for every last gem on every level. Crash Team Racing is a major source of gaming rage for me even now; when I was a kid there was much less profanity involved, but still, it was real.
Kids of the 90’s loved their Gameboys. Remember that feeling of utter failure when toy day came around at school and some kid had the Gameboy printer and you didn’t? That kid got to print off pictures of his prize Pokemon and you couldn’t. That’s emotional trauma right there.
I loved the Pokemon craze. I played Blue before I played Red, and I remember picking Charmander. I loved my first Charmander more than anything, and I had just gotten it to evolve up to Charizard when my file corrupted. Curse you, technology! What is that about? Now we have our 3D Pokemon games, with day and night cycles, weather cycles, we are able to tiptoe through the grass on the upcoming Sapphire/Ruby reboots. So much has changed and been improved – but I still long for those early days of gaming when, yes, even terrible, awful graphics became a world of imagination without limits…
While at the time we felt that our gaming was unlimited; it wasn’t. We were very restricted on a lot of things: we couldn’t go to Google for our cheatcodes; we had to wait for the gaming magazines to publish their latest issue and hope we’d get the cheat codes in the back pages – or even better, in a little book! But these limitations created anticipation, and that added to the fun. We couldn’t watch Let’s Plays on YouTube; we played ourselves, with our siblings, parents, and school pals.
These days, us ladies are definitely more understood when it comes to our love for video games, but when I was younger, none of my girl friends played video games. I felt like a slight outcast, but also pretty cool because I could hold my own with the boys when they were chatting about the games they were playing. Whenever I was dealing with some childhood angst I had my trusty video games to go and escape to, I had my wild imagination to take me places, by pressing a button I could go somewhere else entirely – a world of colour where the good guy always wins and the unlikely underdog is the hero.
I can’t imagine my childhood without video games. They were such a huge part of what I enjoyed doing. Whether it was playing games with my dad, playing platformers obsessively, or raging at poor old Lara Croft, video games were my childhood, and I have no regrets. -TJ