There’s too many sad and infuriating stories circulating around lately. I was going to write something about the Alec Holowka suicide, but a lot of people have already commented on it, and I didn’t know if I had anything new to add. I will write a post about it, just not today.
So I’ve decided to write something fun and fluffy, and one of my favorite things in the world is video games. It’s fair to say I’ve been playing video games nearly my whole life. I remember how gaming was before the left sank their claws into it, and I can point out when games first started to get political.
So let me start from the beginning.
The first game I ever remember playing was something called Burger Time. I honestly don’t remember which system I played it on. I played it at my great uncle’s house. He and his son, my second cousin, are big gamers. It must have been the Atari or ColecoVision systems…one of the two. But, according to my family, I loved playing that game (of which was released in 1982, the year I was born, lol).
I probably played some other games on whichever system my uncle had, but I don’t remember those. I looked at a screenshot of Burger Time and got all nostalgic. I still remember it!
My parents didn’t get us a game console until we moved to Japan. They got us an original Nintendo system, and we had Super Mario Brothers, Duck Hunt (we even had that orange pistol), Tetris and Star Tropics. My parents bought themselves the MTV’s Remote Control game, of which I remember thinking was boring as hell. It was a trivia game, just like the show, I guess. I really liked Star Tropics and I played a bit of it, but mostly watched my parents play it.
My friend Sharon had a Sega Genesis, and whenever I went to her house we’d play one of the Sonic the Hedgehog games. I remember wishing I had both a Sega Genesis along with our NES.
Other than that, I didn’t play games a whole lot. I didn’t finish Super Mario Brothers or the others. I was busy with other things, like reading, hanging out with friends, going to the ‘yen store’ (a convenience store that was right outside the East gate at Yokota AB) where we’d buy Sailormoon cards, origami paper and lots of junk food.
My parents also bought me and my sisters a Nintendo GameBoy each. We had the original one, not the one with the color screen. I can’t even remember what games we had, but I remember thinking it was the coolest thing in the universe – we could play games on those long trips to Yokosuka (sadly, I can’t read in a moving car – I get sick, so it was listening to music or staring out the window for me).
Things changed when we moved to Florida. I had grown older and the move made me seriously depressed. I had just gotten used to being in Japan (we were there for about four or five years) and we moved again. Even worse, we moved clear across the country from my home state California, where my family lived. We were back in the US, but I was still so far away from them.
I managed to work through it as best I could, even though I never really recovered from depression while we were there. But at one point, my parents bought our first PC. I was so excited, because I had never really used a computer before, and I figured this would be very helpful for school and stuff. Plus, I could use it to write (I had hand-written some cringey Sailormoon fan fiction, long before I even knew what fan fiction was).
The first game I remember playing on the computer was some sort of application where you could make your own Spiderman cartoon. I don’t know if you could technically call it a game, but I had fun with it.
Someone (I swear it wasn’t me!!!!) spilled water on the keyboard, so they had to get a new computer. Back then, new PCs came with a bunch of software on CDs, and one of those was the original The Sims, which I had deemed way too boring (you didn’t even kill anyone in that game) and a game called Fury3. I still have the Fury3 disk. Oh my god, I loved that game. I loved to listen to Republican’s self-titled album while flying through space, shooting jets and stuff.
Not long after we got our PC, my parents also bought a Sega Saturn for $200 (at the base exchange, where they didn’t have to pay sales tax). I remember that because they still had the box, of which had the price sticker on it. My mother’s really into horror stories by the likes of Stephen King and Edgar Allan Poe, so we had some horror titles for both the PC and the Sega Saturn. I watched then play D on the Sega Saturn, and we also had The Mansion of Hidden Souls. They got us some other games too, like Mortal Kombat 2 and NiGHTS Into Dreams, of which was my favorite.
As for the PC, I watched my parents play the infamous Phantasmagoria, and yes, I was there when they watched the infamous rape scene, but they made me close my eyes for that one. I remember being totally obsessed with that game, and I still have a copy of it. My parents had the original version, of which ran in MS-DOS, but I don’t know what happened to it. I, however, have the “Stage Fright” version, of which you don’t need to run in MS-DOS, and it also came with the sequel, Phantasmagoria: A Puzzle of Flesh, of which I didn’t like much because it had nothing to do with the story of the original.
Phantasmagoria is really, really gory and violent, though. Definitely not for kids, and some people might wonder why my parents let me watch them play it. I was probably in my teens then, and I’m not the kind to get nightmares from horror stuff, so it didn’t bother me that much. I knew it was all fake anyway.
Oh, another one I watched my parents play was Gabriel Knight: The Beast Within, of which was really good and had a fantastic soundtrack. The actor that played Gabriel Knight (since this title, like Phantasmagoria, was one of those interactive movie types with real actors instead of animated characters) sounded like Bill Clinton and was pretty good-looking. I eventually played the third title in the Gabriel Knight series, Gabriel Knight 3: Blood of the Sacred, Blood of the Damned, and it’s a good game except for Tim Curry’s atrocious Southern accent.
My Golden Age of Gaming
Back in the ‘90s, my parents had a subscription to PC Gamer. Each issue came with a CD-ROM full of game demos. One disk came with what was called the second bonus demo of a game called Tomb Raider.
I quickly became obsessed with it. I got to play as a chick, and it was a third-person platformer and shooter, which meant I got to make Lara, the main character, jump onto ledges and shoot things. It was so much fun.
My uncle got my sisters and me Tomb Raider 3 as a birthday gift (one of my sisters was born in March, just like me – our birthdays are two years and four days apart, lol), and I was permanently hooked. I still have that disk, but it’s all scratched up and I have the entire original Tomb Raider series from Good Old Games.
My uncle also made me a copy of his Tomb Raider 2 disk. The mid to late ‘90s was a good time for adventure gaming, but by the time I graduated from high school, things already started to change.
I was still playing Tomb Raider but had also branched into playing other games. I played American McGee’s Alice and the No One Lives Forever games. I love both of those games, and still have my copies.
It’s a pity the publishing rights to No One Lives Forever are still a mystery. You can’t really buy it at Steam or GOG because of that. The only way to get it is to get a used copy of the game, or to pirate it. It’s a fun first-person shooter starring a woman named Cate Archer, who is a new recruit to the spy agency UNITY. It takes place in the ‘60s and is obviously inspired by the spy shows and movies of the 60s, and to some extent, the Austin Powers movies. Nowhere else will you find cool gadgets like lipstick bombs.
As for American McGee’s Alice, that one is a spooky, gothic, gory take on the Alice in Wonderland story. It also has an amazing soundtrack, one I liked so much I bought the CD (and I still have it). It is perfect Halloween music.
Then, around 2002 or so, I downloaded the demo for a game called Bloodrayne and found my new favorite game. It’s a third-person platformer, like Tomb Raider, but gothic and very, very violent. You play as Rayne, a dhampir (half human, half vampire) who works with the Brimstone Society to rid the world of vampires. It takes place during World War 2, so you get to kill lost of Nazis in addition to vampires.
I had a lot of fun playing this one, and I eventually got the full game. Then the sequel was announced, and for some reason, went to game consoles first. I was devastated, but quickly hatched a plan: I’d ask my grandfather for a Playstation 2, and my parents for a PS2 copy of Bloodrayne 2 for Christmas.
At some point before that glorious Christmas, I had visited my second cousin in California, and he had an Xbox, so he was nice enough to rent the game for me. I played it and was hooked, even though he and his friends were scandalized at how sexual Rayne sounded when feeding on vampires.
That game is indeed gory and really violent, but it’s also fun. Not for kids. When I finally got the game and my PS2, my mother made sure that I didn’t let my brother play it because he was very young at the time.
I had a decent graphics card for my PC, so I still played some games on it, although it seemed that more games came out on console than on PC. Since I personally found it easier to just play on the PS2 (no worries about updating drivers or hoping that a given game supported my graphics card), I played more games on it than on my computer.
I did play one game on the PC that I found utterly riveting, and that was Dreamfall: The Longest Journey, of which was the sequel to a game called The Longest Journey. I loved the story and the setting, although the combat mechanics could have been better.
In the midst of all this, I did get a PSP for Christmas one year, and I played Tomb Raider Legend on it and a couple of other games I can’t remember. I downloaded demos on it, and listened to music on it. I still have my PSP, but I’ve lost the power cord, and the rechargeable battery has swollen. I doubt it works anymore, which makes me sad. It’s in good condition otherwise.
I eventually upgraded to an Xbox 360 and kept on playing Tomb Raider, and also played the first Assassin’s Creed game, among others. I really liked Venetica too, but it was Elder Scrolls V: Skyrim that really caught my attention.
So, around this time, probably in 2013 (and I am leaping forward in time, from 2006, when I played Dreamfall, to 2013, when I had moved from Oregon to North Carolina), I noticed that games were becoming increasingly political. I’ll get to that later, but there was some controversy with Bioshock: Infinite so I decided to get a copy from GameStop.
I saw that there was a two-pack – one that had Bioshock: Infinite and another title, one I had heard about but didn’t know much about, called Elder Scrolls V: Skyrim. It was only $30, a seriously good deal, so I snapped it up.
I had already played a bit of Bioshock: Infinite on my MacBook, but the game gobbled up a lot of disk space and made my Mac hot, so I opted to play it on Xbox 360 instead. I played it, and was disappointed at how awful I was, because back then, I wasn’t used to playing first person shooters on a game console.
So I popped in the other game, played it and was HOOKED. To this day Skyrim is one of my all time favorite games, right up there with Tomb Raider, Bloodrayne, and No One Lives Forever.
My passion for gaming had waned, but Skyrim renewed it. Unfortunately, bad changes were on the horizon.
The Politicization of Games
I’ve written about this subject before, but I will try to keep this part brief.
The first time I noticed politics in games was in 2006, three years into the Iraq War. Beyond Good and Evil was supposed to be a critique on the government’s handling of the war on terror. Dreamfall: The Longest Journey was said to be the same. Back then, it was very fashionable for celebrities and their works to be “anti-war”, and these two games were no exception. Good thing they were still good games. I had fun playing both.
Then, a few years later, came the controversy surrounding Bioshock: Infinite, its alternate-history USA and commentary on racism and such. By then, Obama was in office, had just been re-elected and things were only going to get worse.
So today, I have an Xbox One, a Playstation 4, an Xbox 360, two iPads, an iPhone, an Android tablet and a Kindle Fire. I only do my serious gaming on my consoles, and I have one game installed on my grandfather’s iMac, which is The Sims 4, of which I scored for free (forgot how; it was a promo. I don’t pirate games).
I play Elder Scrolls Online fairly regularly, and I’ve been muddling through the thoroughly wretched Fallout 76 ever since I (stupidly) bought it shortly after its release. I probably won’t play that for a while, because there’s a serious problem with getting my character out of her power armor. I exit the power armor and it flat-out disappears. It’s set to automatically go to my inventory after a minute, but normally you’re able to see the power armor sitting there in the world…I’m terrified the power armor will never go into inventory and be lost, and the only other power armor pieces I have are too high for my level. There’s still a lot of problems with Fallout 76, and it’s a shame because building camps is a lot of fun.
I got bored with Destiny 2 and I never finished Destiny, and I really should. Both are pretty fun.
I also need to finish Horizon Zero Dawn, Mirror’s Edge: Catalyst and some other games I have. I don’t buy games that often, because new games are often $60, and that’s really high for me. Also, both consoles only have 500 GB of storage space each, which is way too small if you want to play a lot of games.
That being said, the politicization of games makes me sad, but there’s some games out there that aren’t Democrat propaganda, and of course, there’s always older games. Both major consoles have expansive catalogs of games, and if you’re willing to play on an older system like the original Xbox or a Playstation 2, there’s even more. And no stupid politics!
Today’s games do look amazing. I’m amazed at how good the rebooted Tomb Raider games look, even though I don’t like the gameplay much (for example, in Rise of the Tomb Raider, fairly early on in the game there’s this massive jump Lara has to do that the developers made way harder than it needed to be. Then there’s this annoying bear chase where you don’t have control over the camera and can’t make Lara run faster…that was insanely hard, and I’d just like to have the opportunity to fight the bear rather than run away from it).
Before I wrap this up, new technology has resulted in incredible-looking games, but a whole host of annoyances.
Console and PC games these days often have massive first-day patches. Back in the late 90s and early 00s, you didn’t have to deal with that. Game consoles weren’t capable of connecting to the Internet the way they can now, if at all. Sure, PC games might have come with patches or whatever but it wasn’t as bad as what you have to deal with now.
Also, you didn’t have to install your game onto the console – it read straight from the disk, but considering how big and graphic-intense games are today, having the console read from the disk would probably slow it down. Playing on a PS4 or XB1 is like playing a PC game – the disk exists for two reasons…to hold the game and to authenticate the game when you actually want to play it. You still have to install it.
Then there’s the concept of in-app purchases and DLC. The first DLC I ever purchased was the Xbox 360 exclusive DLC for Tomb Raider Underworld, and I found both fun. Beneath the Ashes was my favorite, and Lara’s Shadow was really hard for me, but cool because you played as Lara’s superpowered clone.
Now it’s expected that most games will come with some sort of DLC. It doesn’t bother me that much, especially if the core game itself is expansive and long. Elder Scrolls Online is an example of a game that does it right. The core game itself is so long and takes hours to finish, and then there’s the DLC, of which there’s a lot.
Same with Horizon Zero Dawn – that game map is HUGE and there’s the Frozen Wilds DLC, of which I’ll get when I actually finish the game.
Then there’s the in-game shops in games like Destiny 2, Fallout 76 and even my beloved Elder Scrolls Online. ESO’s Crown Store isn’t so bad – it’s mostly a place to purchase cosmetic items, exclusive power ups (some of which you get for free as a daily login reward), mounts, costumes, etc.
Same with the Eververse in Destiny 2 – mostly cosmetic, but on occasion you’ll get something useful.
Then there’s the Atom Shop in Fallout 76, of which the developers promised would only sell cosmetic stuff…then they introduced the repair kits, and now they’re selling freaking refrigerators. Refrigerators are very, very useful because you can store your food in them, and the food won’t spoil as fast. You need food to survive, and your food will spoil pretty quickly. There’s some foodstuff you can find that doesn’t go bad, but the best food is food you cook at a cooking station. Those come with perks (my favorite is the Grilled Radstag, which increases your carrying capacity. I am a total hoarder in all games).
And note, the game was $60 upon release. This isn’t some free-to-play title like Warframe.
But the worst thing is in-app purchases, of which you find in mobile games on both iOS and Android. This introduced the world to the wretched concept of freemium games, and I wrote a super long, ridiculous rant about how much I hate freemium games.