So tomorrow is like my 30th birthday. To commemorate the occasion—and to get something published on my blog for the month of June—I decided to put together a brief retrospective. Here is a snapshot of the games I remember playing at each of the five-year intervals of my life. (I've seen something similar over at Pitchfork.)
I don't really know what I was playing at around age 5, other than the games I started playing shortly thereafter on our family's Macintosh computer. But since I've already written a little about that here, I'm going to relate a different memory from my early childhood.
As a Generation Y'er, I mostly missed out on the golden age of the arcades. But I do remember them, particularly the arcade at the nearby mall my family frequented for the Learning World store and the Orange Julius stand. That arcade always intrigued me. The darkness. The sounds. The machines!
I vaguely remember one time when my dad took me into the arcade to … actually play some games. I don't know why. Maybe we were killing time while my mom shopped for Christmas presents or something. At any rate, after asking me what I wanted to play and not knowing how to respond, we ended up at the Pac-Man cabinet. My dad dropped some quarters and pushed me up to the screen. Now, I was not at this time an experienced gamer by any stretch, but I was smart enough to know I should avoid those little moving ghost sprites at all costs. I was terrified. Where should I go? How do I get away from those things? I couldn't get away from those things! Left, no, right, no, down! I died immediately and made my dad finish the game. It wasn't just that the prospect of failure was inevitable. It wasn't just my that failure was on display, as I imagined, for every set of eyes in the room. I was also acutely aware that my dad was spending actual money to facilitate this embarrassment.
Needless to say, I didn't spend a lot of time in the arcade growing up. And I owe it in part to Pac-Mac.
Memorable game — Pac-Man (arcade)
This was a watermark year for me and video games. Prior to age 10, my sole source for digital entertainment was either the black-and-white computer or my small collection of Tiger electronic games. Yeah.
What a monumental occasion when—in the fourth grade—my parents decided to buy me a Nintendo Game Boy. Here's the interesting thing. I was probably the only kid in America who had a Game Boy but didn't have the Tetris cartridge. That was a deliberate choice on my part to go with the non-bundled version. I'd already played a version of Tetris on our Mac computer. Been there, done that. Tetris was cool and all, but it was also kind of lame, not exactly the flashiest game with which to showcase this amazing new hardware. Let's not forget—before I got my Game Boy I was playing this! I distinctly remember pacing up and down the aisle of games at Toys R Us, trying to decide what would become the first real video game I would own. In the end I went with Mega Man.
I don't think I can properly convey how satisfying it felt to click on that Game Boy device for the first time and listen to that 4-bit musical score on the title screen. I savored it for about a minute. And then I hit start. Even at the time I knew it was the beginning of something special.
Well, age 15 would have been an interesting year in my video game life. I was now five years into owning the Game Boy, four years into the Sega Genesis, and still a year away from getting the Nintendo 64 as a joint birthday present with my sister.
But in 1997 I was probably picking up whatever I could still find on the Genesis, such as Paperboy 2 and Mortal Kombat 3, the latter of which I acquired used from the video rental store that went out of business. That was an interesting one. It was like watching your first R-rated movie, or buying your first CD with a parental advisory sticker. I wasn't sure if my mom had gotten the memo on Mortal Kombat back when it had debuted. Did she realize that by letting me play this game I was going to develop antisocial or—who knows?—sociopathic tendencies? As far as I recall, I don't think she batted an eye. And so back to home we went, where I promptly started up the game and attempted to pull off my first of what would become many gruesome fatalities. Toasty!
Memorable game — Mortal Kombat 3 (Genesis)
My sophomore year of college. For me, a recently declared English major, 2002 marked the beginning of the most intensive reading period of my life. For my dorm mates, it was the year of Halo. I'd picked up one of those massive Xbox machines between my freshman and sophomore year. I remember playing that quite a bit at the beginning of the school year. My friends and I had some intense matches, but I was pretty good. I could definitely hold my own in a Hang 'Em High deathmatch. Pretty soon, however, those reading and writing assignments started really piling up. Whereas I had pretty strong willpower to abstain from the "one-more-game" addiction, it seems the other people around me did not. Actually, they probably just didn't care about their GPA as much as I cared about mine. All I know is those guys got good—like really good.
It was impressive to watch—demoralizing to play. And it just got worse throughout the year. Two-on-two team deathmatch? Forget it. Oh well. There was always the single player.
Memorable game — Halo: Combat Evolved (Xbox)
Ah, bachelorhood. Age 25 marked the beginning of my relocation to a small town in rural Eastern Oregon, where I lived alone and worked for about 15 months as a newspaperman. I didn't have much time for games. When I did, it was for abnegation—a chance to unwind. I remember playing a bit of Dead or Alive Ultimate for precisely this reason. It was also the year I picked up a free hand-me-down Playstation 2 with a borrowed copy of Shin Megami Tensei: Persona 3, a.k.a. the longest game I have ever played. I'd like to talk about that game some more in a future episode of “On The List,” so for now I'll just move along.
Well, here I am, 30 years old and still playing games. I'm a married man. I just moved again to start a new job (which I should probably tell you about sometime). I'm writing this in an unfurnished apartment ... in a very uncomfortable chair. I need to wrap this up.
It's hard to say what will be the most memorable game of 30, so for now I'm going with Trials HD, another game I will be posting about very soon. Hopefully.
Memorable game — Trials HD (Xbox 360)