My History with Video-Games & Why I still Play Them Today

I use video games not only as a form of escapism from the explicit regularness of life, but for their potential to show me something new. Evidently, this does not happen as often as it did when I was a kid –  not because I’m some kind of omniscient god that knows everything, but because video games have changed.

Posted in Opinion
on Dec 18, 2018

Posted in Opinion by Marco Giuliani on December 18, 2018

I first dabbled with gaming sometime around the late 90’s, when my parents bought me an old NES. Mind you, the console itself wasn’t perfect – I lost count of the times I called a friend over to help me unjam the cassette.

It also had some rough areas where the dye was starting to become patchy, not to mention the ugly scratch than ran across the console. But, excluding the aesthetics, the console ran fine, and it introduced me to the frustration of never finding the princess due to gameplay considerations, and the dreaded Ninja Gaiden boss fights.

The struggle – and, by extension, the frustration that came with it – is what made video games so appealing at first. Even though you’re essentially maneuvering a string of pixels and code, video games offer a stronger sense of tangibility than physical media.

My first experience with a Playstation: 

A few years later (around 2003), my cousin from abroad sent me an original PlayStation. It looked slightly better than my NES unit, but there was a catch: the only game I had was a cheap FIFA World Cup ’98 knock-off, and it was in Japanese.

The game was buggy and infuriating, and it was only made worse by the fact that I didn’t know a squat of Japanese. But I still played it religiously, until a friend told me about that one store from my hometown that was still selling original PlayStation games. Mind you, PlayStation 2 was already out for three years, so my small hometown still having a dedicated store that sold these games was a true miracle on its own.

However, only when I got my hands on other games  – Syphon Filter 3, Spider-Man 2, and the furiously underrated gem Soul of the Samurai – had I realized the full potential of video games to (as cliché as this might sound) inspire and change people.

Soul of the Samurai, in particular, struck a chord with me. On the surface, Soul of the Samurai doesn’t look like much. But once you get around to playing it and reach the second act of the story when everything starts getting crazy (not in a David-Cage-Fahrenheit kind of way), you’ll thank the gods this game exists in all of its campy glory.

Syphon Filter 3 is another underrated gem that deserves more attention than it gets, not necessarily because it is a great game (it’s quite dreadful, to be honest), rather the influence the entire series has had on the whole gaming landscape. Before Splinter Cell, No One Lives Forever and the dozens other titles from the Tom Clancy Universe, all people had in terms of spy games was Syphon Filter, maybe Deus Ex if you stretch the definition. Plus, Syphon Filter kickstarted my love for Tom Clancy and spy thrillers in general, so there’s that.

But these are just two games amongst the many others that I’ve played – most of them utter trash. My personal history with the original PlayStation was marked by equal parts joy (when I beat a difficult game) and frustration, the latter because the memory card slot was busted and I had to time my gaming sessions around my day to day activities to avoid losing my progress if I had to go to school or do chores.

The Joys of PC Gaming:

When my console met its (not untimely) demise, I got my first desktop computer as a Christmas gift. Now, this PC was a true powerhouse, and it allowed me to join the ranks of the privileged, who had rigs powerful enough to run the newest games as soon as they hit the shelves.

And trust me, playing the original Far Cry on release was, and still is, a gaming achievement in and of itself. Click To Tweet

From that point forward, my life was split between playing the newest releases – which included modern classics such as Half-Life 2 and GTA 3 and Vice City – and catching up with the games that I’ve missed while I was wrestling with the ‘’polygonated’’ mess of the original PlayStation, with Deus Ex being of particular note.

Urban is chock full of humor and references –  not to mention the endearingly stereotypical New Yawk accents that are heard throughout the game, which I have to assume were the result of the studio not being able to hire professional actors due to budget constraints.  Apart from being one of the few (good) games that lets you play as a cop, it’s also amongst the select few that features a black woman as a protagonist.

But all of this happened during a time when friends with similar interests were hard to come by, so my gaming experiences up until that point can be described as being insular. High school was the period when I first made contact with the so-called ‘’gaming culture’’, with all of its positive and negative aspects. During the same period,  I discovered forums (remember those?) and the pleasure of playing multiplayer games with buddies.

My dearest memory is from when I used to play Call of Duty: Modern Warfare 2. A very close friend and I each had a pirated copy of the game because we were dirt poor, and asking our parents for money for a video game was out of the question.

Urban is chock full of humor and references –  not to mention the endearingly stereotypical New Yawk accents that are heard throughout the game, which I have to assume were the result of the studio not being able to hire professional actors due to budget constraints.  Apart from being one of the few (good) games that lets you play as a cop, it’s also amongst the select few that features a black woman as a protagonist.

But all of this happened during a time when friends with similar interests were hard to come by, so my gaming experiences up until that point can be described as being insular. High school was the period when I first made contact with the so-called ‘’gaming culture’’, with all of its positive and negative aspects. During the same period,  I discovered forums (remember those?) and the pleasure of playing multiplayer games with buddies.

My dearest memory is from when I used to play Call of Duty: Modern Warfare 2. A very close friend and I each had a pirated copy of the game because we were dirt poor, and asking our parents for money for a video game was out of the question.

Disclaimer. We are not condoning piracy practices in any shape or form. Up until 2012 or 2013, video games were pretty hard to come by in Romania as we didn’t have many dedicated stores and were (and still are) quite expensive. So, in lack of a better alternative, people resorted to piracy.

Fun fact: the pirated versions were not mere CDs that people burned in an afternoon with the highest speed setting in Nero. The pirates went out of their way to make the copies look presentable, with booklets and covers. Some of them even featured original artworks by the pirates themselves printed on the CD’s themselves. Weirdly enough, this practice spawned a black market inside the black market, wherein the CDs with the coolest artworks were either traded or sold at double prices.

Both versions of the game (original and pirate) had that dreaded matchmaking system instead of dedicated servers, so what we basically did to ensure that we joined the same session is hit ‘’Find game’’ at the same time and hope for the best. By the way, we coordinated our efforts by actually calling each other – this was before Facebook even had a chat function if you can believe that, and smartphones were the stuff of rich people and science fiction films.

By the way, this isn’t just me going down the memory lane for the sake of doing it. All of the things described up until now have had a major impact during my formative years, and serve as some of the reasons why I still play video games to this day.

I can’t think of any entertainment product, whether book, film or TV show, that has as big of a potential to form tastes and trigger one’s interest in a different area as video games. Similar to an author or a tastemaker, even the worst video game can (most of the times unintentionally) bring something new to the table due to the sheer scale of some titles and all the work and effort that goes into creating them. Ask an avid gamer about any of their hobbies and interests outside of gaming, and chances are they were the result of playing a video game.

We use video games not only as a form of escapism from the *explicit* regularness of life, but for their potential to show us something new. Click To Tweet

So why do I play video games?

So there’s your answer – I use video games not only as a form of escapism from the *explicit* regularness of life, but for their potential to show me something new. Evidently, this does not happen as often as it did when I was a kid –  not because I’m some kind of omniscient god that knows everything, but because video games have changed. But the prospect of experiencing even a tinge of that sense of wonder and discovery is worth it.

Don’t get me wrong, I’m not saying new games are bad – god knows I’ve put hundreds of hours into Witcher 3 and Rainbow Six: Siege. From a technological and mechanical standpoint, new games are objectively better. But in terms of blending gameplay with story and atmosphere, I feel like older games, especially RPG’s, did it better because of era-specific technological limitations. Due to the fact that the developers were much more limited in this respect, they were forced to work with what little they had, and do in in a creative way.

There is no better example in this sense than the original Deus Ex. On the surface, this game has no reason to be good. The graphics were mediocre even for the time, the combat system is klunky at best, and the voice acting – done mostly by people inside the studio due to budget limitations – is ridiculously bad and over the top.

But once you get around to actually playing it, things start making sense. In my (and many other’s) opinion, it is one of the few games that offers player freedom in the truest sense of the word. It’s a long game with numerous and diverse environments chock-full of secrets and side-quests. The game takes you from the sleazy and dirty Manhattan Island, to Hong Kong and the catacombs of Paris, with the occasional intermediary level in laboratories and Illuminati facilities (yes, you read that right). Add a great story that is basically an amalgam of the craziest conspiracy stories ever hatched, well-written characters, interesting tid-bits of lore spread throughout the game and an undeniably cyberpunk aesthetic, and you have the recipe of a true classic.

As for the gameplay and level design, the ‘’levels’’ themselves are better described as hubs that can be explored and tackled according to the player’s wish. Let’s say you needed to infiltrate a building. You can:

  • Pick the lock of the front door and enter undetected,
  • Look for a side door,
  • Blow the door and enter guns-blazing,
  • Enter through a hidden vent.

Of course, these buildings usually had guards, and you had to always find a way to deal with them. You could:

  • Murder everybody in your way, either noisily or stealthily,
  • Stun the guards and keep them alive (an approach which occasionally garner some extra rewards for the player),
  • Hack a turret or a robot to take care of the guards,
  • Memorize their patrol routes and avoid them altogether.

This level of freedom and player agency was unheard of at the time and still hasn’t been surpassed as of the writing of this article. However, some games have come really close to nailing it – one of them being its direct sequel, Human Revolution – , and its game design philosphy has inspired dozens of future games. This is why everybody should remember the oldies, not because they were necessarily better, but because their core mechanics can be used as a basis for future classics.

Naturally, my love for gaming in general and RPG’s in particular also triggered a passion for collectibles. If games are the way to immerse yourself into a fictional universe and interact with it, collectibles are a way to immortalize them into the physical realm.

More often than not I am met with the question: ‘’Why do you play video games? I don’t know, I’d rather do something more productive with my time’’.

If you’ve played games for long enough and you dare making a passing reference to your hobby in a public setting, you’ve probably heard this mantra recited at least twice a month. If you’re lucky, the worst thing that could happen is getting a scornful look. If it’s one of those days, the utility and productivity of your hobby may get questioned.

However, tons of research has shown that playing video games is far from the harmful habit portrayed in the media. Studies have demonstrated that video games help decision-making, improve vision (not necessarily harm it, as one might have) and boost social skills.

But in spite of all the evidence that proves the contrary and the fact that gaming is a multi-billion dollar industry, video games are still perceived by some as a waste of time and, worse yet, a hobby suited either to children or societal outcasts.  And better yet, why are TV shows, films, music and books spared from this perception? You will never hear someone yell ’Look at that loser listening to music all day instead of curing Ebola!’’, and nobody will get shamed for spending their Saturdays watching the latest Richard Linklater film if they so desire.  

This stereotype seems even more baffling since video games have become so ubiquitous in the modern era that even the ‘’squarest of squares’’ (a.i. several American politicians) are confessed gamers. Sure, it’s easy (and totally understandable) to brush this off as yet another instance of the establishment trying to be cool in order to appeal to their younger constituents. But to give credit where credit is due, politicians have come a long way from declaring that ‘’video games are the works of the devil’’ and they encourage youth violence.

Even though the industry has benefitted from surpassing its underdog status – more mainstream exposure for games means more funding for niche, interesting titles, and so on – deep inside me, I still kind of yearn for the days when video games were still considered the spawns of Satan. Don’t get me wrong, I’m not saying video games were better back then, or that they were better because the general public didn’t understand them.

Rather, the fact that they were scorned by the general public gave video games, and the act of playing them, a certain charm that is lost today. Back then, if you played Doom for example, even if you weren’t breaking any laws, you knew on some level that you were doing something that would raise eyebrows in a social context. If a non-gamer saw your extensive collection of Super Mario figurines, or Nintendo Power Magazines, you might have gotten the look.

But maybe that’s the reason why gaming still gets such a bad rap compared to films, books and TV shows. Instead of watching Ray Liotta pistol-whipping a random person, you are actually doing it in a video game. And that is precisely why gaming will always hold a special place in my heart – their interactive nature, and the potential to create your own story and teach people new things through unorthodox means.

MARCO GIULIANI

MARCO GIULIANI

EDITOR

Although I’ve always had a love for everything related to pop culture (films, TV shows, comics books), video games were, and will be my one true love. My first contact with video games occurred sometime in the late 90’s when my parents got me a NES console.

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Marco Giuliani

Lead Editor

Although I’ve always had a love for everything related to pop culture (films, TV shows, comics books), video games were, and will be my one true love. My first contact with video games occurred sometime in the late 90’s when my parents got me a NES console.

I still remember the satisfaction I felt after beating the final boss in Ninja Gaiden getting past the first freaking level of Battle Toads after several weeks of excruciating pain. You can call it hopeless nostalgia, and you’d be right. And I’ll search for and dissect every video game that will give me even a tinge of that experience (Read more…)

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