Pac-Man was fun at the bowling alley and a visit to my buddy's house down the road was always good for a round of Pitfall on the Atari, but this was my first experience with Nintendo's wonder machine and, by god, I was falling in love with it.
What followed is a series of events I'm willing to bet many 30-year-old gamers can easily relate to. My family eventually got into gaming, even though the slow drip of content would be considered quite humble by today's standards. But I think that's what made playing those games so special.
It seems like some members of the modern generation take gaming for granted because it has always been a part of their lives. All of the recent advances (better consoles, mobile gaming, social gaming) have improved the hobby, but I also feel like that kind of access has come with a cost.
Gather round, children. Grandpappy Winslett is going to reminisce about the good 'ole days.
My brother and I begged our parents for a Nintendo after that family visit to South Carolina. We even wrote to Santa about it, certain he would be able to help us out. But Christmas came and went and I was still living in a household without a game console.
We kept at it, though, and all that effort finally paid off 12 months later when my brother and I discovered a Nintendo (complete with Super Mario Bros./Duck Hunt and the Zapper!) nestled under the tree the following Christmas.
We spent the next year guiding Mario through the Mushroom kingdom and trying to shoot that damn dog whenever he laughed at us for missing the duck. We played that single cartridge over and over, never once stopping to think about what other titles might be sitting on the shelf at Wal-Mart, just waiting to be played.
When the next Christmas season rolled around, our folks asked if we might want another game from the big guy in the red suit. I think we actually put "A new Nintendo game," on our list, not caring (or knowing, really) what our options were.
That year we received The Legend of Zelda: The Adventure of Link (just look at how that golden cartridge shines!) and spent the next year lost in Hyrule. Not understanding how the game worked and living in a world without the internet, we were especially awful at this one. But that didn't stop us from exploring the same starting areas over and over again, occasionally figuring out how to progress just a little bit further.
|Games are everywhere now|
This trend continued for the next several years with me and my brother receiving a single game (or one each, if Santa was feeling especially generous) every Christmas. Eventually games became something we could ask for when our birthdays rolled around, too. But our library remained small, which meant each of those games got played to the fullest. We practically invented blowing into the cartridge and wedging a second game inside the console just to get the things to work after so many hours of use.
That was pretty much the way things went until I graduated from high school. Gaming was becoming a bigger part of the culture by then and there were certainly more (and cheaper) ways to get your mitts on a game, but we always lived in small towns where the best way to snag a copy of Resident Evil was to trade with a friend in math class.
When I got to college I discovered the wonders of the "used" market and, these days, I make enough to indulge my gaming habits pretty frequently (too frequently, if we're being honest).
But I can't tell you how many times I've sat down to discuss gaming with friends and colleagues only to have the conversation turn to, "man, I wish I played games like I did when I was growing up."
The example I like to bring up most frequently is how I played Metal Gear Solid more than a dozen times (literally) before moving on to the next game. Kojima-san's PSX masterpiece is great and all, but part of the reason I spent so much time with the game is because I didn't get The Legend of Dragoon until 10 months had ticked past.
But I never really felt like I was missing out on all the new games that were coming out. I got to know MGS better than I knew any movie or book. I lived in its world, knew its characters and memorized its stories (though even as a grown man I still wouldn't be able to make sense out of half of what was going on in that particular series). It was the same story with games like Super Mario World, BurgerTime and Driver. I only had so many options, and so I dove into each one headfirst and lingered there.
These days, games are everywhere. Several factors have added up to make this a gaming society and, while I think it's great to see something I love so much finally become a legitimate part of my world, I have to feel a little sad for these kids who seem to have everything.
I work with a lot of kids in my day job and hear about their monstrous game collections and which game they'll be getting for doing well in school this month (A good report card meant not being grounded in our household). They rush through a title and move on to the next, eager to consume all 16 big sequels that came out this holiday season alone.
Nowadays, I'm guilty of this sin, too. In an effort to keep up with everything (and also because I'm greedy), I find myself moving from one game to the next, stopping far too infrequently to actually consider the experience I just had. The stack of games I'd like to play again someday grows rapidly while most new discs only spin in my system for a few days before being thrown back into their box to make way for whatever new hotness came out this Tuesday.
Cost is a big factor, and I'm not just talking about the used market. Digital marketplaces, $1 mobile games and frequent sealed-copy discounts means you no longer have to save up buckets of cash to keep on playing.
Familiarity is another aspect. My parents didn't know about video games until we pestered them enough. Today's youth are being raised by gamers, so they're being indoctrinated as soon as they're able to hold a controller and understand that pressing the red button makes the character jump.
In truth, I feel kind of silly whining about too much of a good thing. Believe me; I know how ridiculous it sounds. "Boo hoo, there are too many awesome games to play."
Still, I can't help but feel just a little bit sorry for the kids who have 30 titles lining their shelf by the time they reach the third grade, never knowing what it's like to wrap yourself in a single game and not come out again for months and months. While they get to play everything under the sun, I just hope they're taking the time to actually appreciate one or two of those games along the way.
It's something I need to get back to myself. Maybe instead of getting a new game this Christmas, I'll fire up Super Mario Bros. instead.
Infinite Ammo is a weekly column by Ryan Winslett about video games, the industry that make them and the people who play them. He can be stalked via his blog at staticechoes.com and followed on twitter @RyanWinslett.