Friday, January 25, 2013

The Impact: Part Two

To really understand how I evolved as a gamer you would need to understand what kind my brother, Ben, is.  If video games were a drug, Ben was my dealer growing up.  He was always a step ahead of the other gamers his age.  Not to say that he was a better player, because that was not always the case.  He approached video games very differently.  Now a days, knowing the publisher and studio to a game is quite common.  Ben was paying attention to these things when he was only in middle school.  For example, he was a big Squaresoft fan.  He loved the Final Fantasy franchise, but he also made a point to see out their other titles.  Ever heard of Brave Fencer Musashi?  If not, don’t feel to bad.  I have no idea what it is past being a Squaresoft game that Ben loves. 

Soon he became a bit of a system collector.  Probably to make up for everything we missed growing up.  The first system he bought on his own, sort of, was a Neo Geo Pocket.  He saved up a lot of birthday money for that one.  For those unfamiliar, I do know enough about this one to explain.  Neo Geo is SNK’s gaming console.  None of them ever really took off in America.  Why, you might ask, would a middle schooler in America want a handheld system that has such a shortage of games in his country?  Growing up, we would spend our Thanksgiving holidays near the Smokey Mountains in North Carolina.  There was this lovely lodge/hotel we would stay at with a few vintage and/or rare arcade machines.  (Side note, I loved playing Mrs. Pac Man there.)  One of the games was Samurai Showdown by SNK.  My brother looked forward to playing that game every year.  He eventually discovered there was a way to play it all the time, and that was to buy the Neo Geo Pocket Color.  He only had two games for that system.  One was Samurai Showdown and the other was some random SNK fighter.  From that point on, my brother’s new hobby was collecting video game consoles.

I had mentioned last time that the PlayStation was a pretty big turning point for me in gaming.  Part of it was due to the fighting games I had mentioned, the other was my discovery of RPG’s.  When we first got the PlayStation for Christmas we also got the game Ogre Battle: The March of the Black Queen.  Well, Ben got the game.  My mother had picked it out for him because the game had many different endings depending on play through.  Unfortunately, Ben’s first complete play through did not get his desired ending.  I really enjoyed the art style of the game and the mechanics are not that hard, so he suggested I give it ago.  Before Ogre Battle, the only RPG I had ever played was Pokemon Blue.  This was a new experience for me, but I dove in head first.  To this day, I can honestly say it is one of my favorite games.  I was determined to show my brother what the awesome ending he wanted was, so I researched thoroughly on GameFAQS the who, what, and how’s for a proper play through.  I even employed a GameShark to help keep my reputation up, as that seemed to be our problems in the past.  All and all Ben was quite impressed with my dedication to the game and eventually gave it to me when I moved out.

When I moved out on my own at 19, I did not take the family PlayStation with me.  Mainly because the family had replaced it with a PlayStation 2 at that point.  My BFF post high school, Chris, was the one who set me up with my own PlayStation.  It was a going away present since I was moving to another city.  I think Chris may have wanted to make sure I would not get rusty without him and my brother around to play with.  So we went to a pawn shop and picked out a PlayStation.  Chris then had another friend install a mod chip and I was good to go.  Having a modded system was a pretty big deal considering the games I was getting into at this point.  My life had taken another shift and I had discovered anime conventions.  The video games found at these functions through my new friends are a lot more of a variety than I had been previously exposed to.

A modded system to anime conventions is a bit of a jump, so I will back up a moment.  The point of a modded PlayStation is so you can play burned/pirated games as well as Japanese games.  Sometimes they were one is the same, because Japanese games were not easy to come by in the States before the internet really took off.  Through my new friends I had discovered a few new genres: shooters, survivals, and rhythm games.  They were also big into fighting games, but I really don’t care for Street Fighter.  I just don’t.  I liked to watch games like Silent Hill and Resident Evil, but I really could not get the controls down.  I found it frustrating for what felt like very little pay off when I could just watch someone else.  Rhythm games, though, were a lot like puzzle games for me.  It might take a bit to get into the swing of things and I might now be the best, but the challenge was enough to make me happy.  My favorite was Beatmania, which is why the modded system was something I needed.  The PlayStation releases of Beatmania were for Japan and Europe only.  I loved watching the boys play those games and I enjoyed the silly music.  My moment came when I got my own copy of Beatmania 6thMix + Core Remix.  I practiced the hell out of that.

Eventually I took a liking to Dance Dance Revolution as well, though it took a bit of convincing.  My friends back home had always enjoyed it.  They even tried to get me into Para Para Paradise because it was more girlie, not realizing that my lack of coordination was the real reason for my resistance.  That changed when I started making new friends in my new city, Tampa.  Through my connections at conventions I met a guy from Tampa who was big in the DDR scene, he even had a website with a popular message board.  Right before my move to Tampa he was moving to Orlando for college.  The two cities are very close, so this led to a lot of trips to Orlando when I had an extended weekend.  Through this friend I ended up meeting a lot of hardcore DDR players from around Florida.  Eventually I gave in and got the game and some pads to play at home.  I knew I would never be as good as the people around me, but I didn’t want to fall on my face in public.  This lead to a lot of practice, and it turned out I actually enjoyed the game.  I even took it on a trip home to teach my brothers and sister.  It is probably the only game Ben cannot beat any of his other siblings in.

The next game system to catch my eye was the GameCube.  Chris came down to visit one summer and brought his GameCube and copy of Harvest Moon: A Wonderful Life.  For those who have never played, I would describe the game as being part RPG and part sim.  The sim portion is what destroyed an entire summer for me.  I had played games like SImCity and SimTower on PC when younger, but this was a whole different ballgame.  You could peak in the early Maxis games, but because Harvest Moon was an RPG there was an actual ending to the story.  The problem is that I would get so caught up in running my farm that I would forget to progress the story.  The more cows and chickens you had the longer it would take to let them all out, feed them, and harvest from them.  There was also the crops that needed tending to.  There were just not enough hours in the day on that game.  The only reason I was not on that game 24/7 was because I had a job to go to.

My love for Harvest Moon and a few other Nintendo games prompted my next system purchase, a GameCube.  That system helped me become more aware of my own gaming preferences and also taught me that not all gamers are the same.

Wednesday, January 23, 2013

The Impact: Part One

There was a post within the last few weeks on Reddit where one of the comment threads had somehow devolved into the topic that girls don’t like video games.  More specifically, the person was arguing that the only girls he ever came across who genuinely liked video games had older brothers.  I know one really should not take offense to what a random person from the internet says.  Especially considering that it was not actually directed at me.  Yet, I couldn’t help but feel a little sting.  Being the oldest of four, I obviously don’t like video games because of an older brother.  At the same time, it was one of my younger brothers who managed to keep my interest in gaming.  Thinking about all this stirred an inner conflict briefly in me.  Did I just like video games because of my younger brother?  And what if that was the reason?  Does that make me any less of a person in the gaming community?  I want to touch on more issues about gaming and my experiences in the future.  Maybe even dive into why I would feel the need to justify my enjoyment of video games to total strangers on the internet.  Before I get into any of that, though, I would like to take the time and share how video games have been such a huge influence on my life.  The best place to start is at the beginning, literally.

My parents are nerds.  As they have gotten older, they have slowly lost time for some of their hobbies.  When I was born, they were in their 20s and still very nerdy.  I have come to find out recently that my mom is a huge Bard’s Tale fan.  She said it really helped pass the time when the first two of us were born.  I really shouldn’t be surprised.  My parents loved playing PC games when I was little.  Just for reference, I was born in ’83 and home consoles were pretty rare.  I remember watching them play something that looked like Centipede, Q*bert, and other games I never was able to identify.  In fact, they would actually let me play Q*bert.  My dad took advantage in my interest of their video games and programmed me one called Alpha-Betsy, a play on my name.  Now, this wasn’t actually a game, it was just a program that flashed the capital letters of the alphabet randomly on screen.  I could mash the keyboard and nothing would happen, so 2 or 3 year old me was convinced I was playing a game when I was really just learning.  Clever dad.

My grandmother on my mom’s side was also a pretty big geek.  I know she was huge into Star Trek, Star Wars, and. . . video games.  It was such a big deal when she got an Atari.  Somewhere there are pictures of her wearing a helmet while playing Space Invaders.  The only game I was allowed to play on the Atari was Frogger.  Being as young as I was, I really could not get very far in the game.  This, naturally, led to my dislike of Frogger.  Nothing is more frustrating than a game you suck at.

Then something magical happened.  We got a Nintendo for Christmas.  I am not sure how old I was at this point.  I know my little sister, the second youngest of us, was born at this point.  That is about all I have for a reference of point in time.  I know the Nintendo was still pretty new.  Anyways, my brother, Ben, and I were so excited.  A game system we could play!  One that was just for us, sort of.  (My parents would usually wait until we were supposed to be in bed to play.  The three of us would hide in the hallway and giggle as we watched our parents play Super Mario Brothers together.)  Ben and I are about two and a half years apart, and that Nintendo system is probably why we had a close relationship growing up. 

Ben is definitely the better gamer, even from a young age.  My hand eye coordination was never very good, and it was down right horrible when I was a child.  Ben, on the other hand, was actually pretty amazing for his age.  I was a little jealous at first, having a younger brother that was so much more talented, but he wasn’t perfect.  The best way I can describe it is that he was more of an in the moment person, he couldn’t always see the big picture for the level.  I could.  This made us a great team.  I was the strategist and planner and he was my eyes and hands.  The arrangement worked out wonderfully for us.  I got to still feel some sort of accomplishment when gaming and I could still enjoy the story.  My brother had someone by his side that could help keep him calm when a game would get frustrating.  (He was a bit of a rage gamer.)

This isn’t to say I never played a game myself during this time.  When I was six, I loved to play the Ninja Turtles arcade game with my friends at the local Put Put.  I was always Donatello, even though Michelangelo is my favorite turtle.  I would also try to solo the various Mario games over the years, though I was never any good.  Duck Hunt and Tetris were two of the few I was pretty decent at.  I was more of a casual gamer when on my own.  Plus, the Nintendo was our only system until the PlayStation came out.  My parents skipped several console because (a) money was tight with 3/and the 4 children and (b) something new was always coming out. They said they wanted to wait until something that seemed pretty advanced came out before they invested again.  I was able to play the Super Nintendo and Sega Genesis when I was at a friend's, but that is never the same.

The PlayStation was the next big turning point for me with video games.  A little before the PlayStation my interest in games had started to wane.  We hadn’t owned a new system in years and our Nintendo collection was starting to feel a little stale.  With the PlayStation came the discovery of a new game and genre, Mortal Kombat 4.  Yes, I was aware of Mortal Kombat before the fourth one, but it always looked like a boys game and I didn’t play fighters.  Well, Ben was able to get the game and the easiest playmates are one’s siblings.  The nice thing about Ben is that while he does like to when at fighters, he seemed to always feel wins against a weak opponent were meaningless.  Our younger sister, Sarah, was just too easy to beat.  This made me the prime opponent.  He taught me how to play and how to be decent so he would have someone to practice with.  As it turns out, I am not completely horrible at most fighters and with enough practice I can hold my own.  From there, Ben bought Tekken 3.  I love Tekken 3.  Ling Xiaoyu and her panda, Panda, were my players.  What made these games nice is that every once and a while I could win, and that is all I needed.  One of my favorites, though, is Darkstalkers 3.  When Ben found that one, he could not wait to share because he knew that the creepy monster/vampire factor was right up my alley.

At the time, I had no idea how much the PlayStation was going to impact my life.  Looking back, I may well have ended up in a very different place today if it had not been for my interest in gaming.  But that is something we will get into at a later time.

Wednesday, January 16, 2013