The Games that Define Me: Part One

By Ryan Winslett in Infinite Ammo
Friday, April 27, 2012 at 10:00 am
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I like to think that every gamer's life is punctuated by a collection of benchmark games. These aren't necessarily your favorite games or what you would consider the "best" games, but rather the ones that truly stand out from the pack because of what they meant to you, your life and your involvement with this crazy little world of joysticks and pixels.


I'm talking about the games you really remember; the ones that helped you through the tough times, introduced you to a genre that would rule the next decade of your life or brought you closer to your friends and family. They're the games that made you think about this hobby in a whole new light. They made you feel something and question the world around you. Or maybe they were just really, really fun and devoured an ungodly amount of your free time.


I think knowing what games matter most to an individual and (more importantly) why, can help us understand one another a little bit better. If nothing else, it could make for some interesting conversation.


Following is the first in a two-part series highlighting the 10 games that helped define my life, both in the general sense and as a devotee of the industry. I'd be interested to hear yours, too. Feel free to list them in the comments section below.

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Metal Gear Solid

If any one game provided a watershed moment for my gaming life, it would have to be Metal Gear Solid. One day in Spanish class, a friend handed me a demo disc containing the first two sections of gameplay, saying I absolutely had to check it out.


I had been playing games for a long time at this point, but they hadn't really sunk their hooks in just yet. My first exposure to Hideo Kojima's world of "tactical espionage action" was all that it took to change that. Something clicked in my brain, leading me to play that amazing demo over and over again, pumping in more hours than I spend on some full-length titles.


I remember the first time I walked into my local Wal-Mart to discover that stark white game box with the shiny red lettering staring back at me, and how ecstatic I was to receive a copy of my very own for my birthday just a week later. I spent the next several months absolutely obsessed with the game. I played MGS more than a dozen times back to back, uncovering every secret and still going back for more.


If it wasn't for my adventures with Solid Snake, I'm not sure I would be the gamer I am today. I sometimes wonder what my life would have been like had I never taken that all-important trip to Shadow Moses. Would another game have had the same effect or would I eventually become disenchanted with the whole business, moving on to other interests?

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Super Bomberman 2

I'm lucky enough to have the coolest dad in the world. Even if he didn't always get what I was into, he was always there to encourage me to go after it. When it came to video games, he decided to pick up a controller for himself one day and see what the fuss was all about. As it turned out, video games became an interest both he and I could share. To this day, I have never met a better Super Mario Bros. player. He was also tops at Driver 2, Tiger Woods PGA Tour and Fisherman's Bait.


My dad was eager to turn any of our hobbies into something the entire family could participate in, and video games were no different. If it had multiplayer, he was ready to jump right in. They weren't all winners in his book, but one game he took a particular liking to was Super Bomberman 2 for the SNES. I told him some friends and I had been playing it in the mornings at school and so, of course, he tracked down a copy for the whole family to enjoy.


And man did we enjoy it. We only had two controllers, but the five of us (My dad, stepmom, brother, stepsister and I) had no problem working on a rotation; winner keeps going. We played marathons of Super Bomberman 2 lasting hours on end and, over the couple of years, it became our go-to activity when the weather was rough or the sun had gone down.


It was a blast, if you'll pardon the pun, and it provided me with memories that still bring a smile to my face all of these years later. Nobody argued or turned into a sore loser when we popped in Bomberman. We all just enjoyed each other's company and the experience of sharing something as a family.

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Mortal Kombat

Mortal Kombat earns a spot on this list for a couple of reasons. For starters, it showed me how video games can be the "wave of the future." As was the case with many of my earlier gaming experiences, my first exposure to Mortal Kombat was at a friend's house. My brother and I were herded into the living room to check out this new fighting game that had cranked our buddy's excitement meter up to 11.


Mortal Kombat absolutely floored me. After months of playing Super Street Fighter II, I was seeing what I felt for certain would be the graphical high point of our lifetime. I distinctly remember ranting about how realistic everything looked and that "there's no way games will ever look better than this."


Better looking games eventually hit the market, of course, and I think that's when I first realized that video games were a living, breathing entity; something that would grow, evolve and continue to wow me time and time again.


Secondly, Mortal Kombat was street-rat insane compared to the games I had been playing up until that point. The over the top violence and gore caught me off guard and, yeah, I ate it up with a boyish sadistic glee. Tame by today's standards, it was that first look at Mortal Kombat that made me realize what it has taken much of the world quite a while to catch up to: Video games aren't just for kids anymore.

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The Legend of Dragoon

The Legend of Dragoon's importance to me is pretty simple: It kicked off my love affair with RPGs. Nowadays, I seem to have an internal clock that won't let me stray far beyond the 20 hour mark in any game. Even if I adore what I'm playing, I get to a point where my mind seems to think "Well, that was fun, but I've seen enough." That time has stretched into the 40 hour range for some big RPGs I've sunk my teeth into this past decade but, eventually, my drive to keep playing just switches off.


Not so when I was younger. I loved RPGs and would happily spend more than 100 hours lost in my favorite fantasy worlds. I'm not sure that would have been the case had I never rented The Legend of Dragoon.


Painful confession time: I've never played Final Fantasy VII. Well, that's not exactly true. After the game's release, I heard quite a bit of buzz from my friends about "this amazing new RPG," so I decided to rent it one weekend and found myself bored to tears. I got less than two hours into the story before I packed up the discs and returned them. I know now that I simply didn't get it. The game was so far removed from what I had been playing (action/platformers) that I just couldn't wrap my brain around the experience I was supposed to be having.


A while later I spotted Dragoon on the shelf. I saw that it was another RPG, but that didn't stop me from renting it. I'll happily admit that it was the badass word "Dragoon" and the thought of controlling people with wings and dragon powers that hooked me. Dart and Co. looked so cool on the game's cover art; I just had to try it out for myself.


I don't know what happened in my life between the release of FFVII and Dragoon, but somehow this particular title absolutely clicked with me. I ended up renting it a couple of times and, once my birthday rolled around, my list featured exactly one item. Had it not been for LoD, I may have missed out completely on a genre that has brought me some of my favorite gaming experiences over the years.


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Crash Bandicoot Warped

Not every linchpin game has to be coupled with a life changing revelation. Sometimes, the most important games are simply the ones we had the most fun playing.


My brother had just left for college in 1999 and both of my parents worked crazy hours at different hospitals, which meant after school or during the weekends, I was often left to my own devices. It was about this time that I picked up Crash Bandicoot Warped for the PSX.


You know how some games feel like they were made especially for you? Well, that's how I felt about Warped. Everything from the wide variety of gameplay mechanics to the catchy soundtrack and goofy characters struck a chord with me. Each level also offered a nice selection of collectables to find and target times to beat, which means I could get a lot of mileage out of all that jumping, spinning, sliding and cruising around on motorcycles and sea-doos. In short, I couldn't get enough of it. I still return to it from time to time, and it's still just as good nearly 15 years later.


The way I remember some games is more like how I remember a friend than a piece of software. Crash Bandicoot Warped was one of my best buds at the turn of the century. It was always there when I needed it, ready and willing to kill a lonely afternoon or put a smile on my face.


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.


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