So, this turned out to be me going off on a complete tangent. However, I don’t want to waste what I have written as I think some of you may dig it. It may even be useful to somebody? Let me know if it is!
Being a student, whilst being one of the most enriching times of someone’s life, can also be some of the hardest times of someone’s life. I’m no different to anybody else in this sense. Something strange happened to me the other day, but for you to be able to understand where I’m coming from, I first have to take you back to the year 2003. It started as bad as it can. My nan, who I was incredibly close with, lost her battle with cancer. 2002/2003 saw the start of my high school life, which is largely a period of my life that I would rather forget. All these things sucked, but one thing I always knew I could go back to were video games. I could always pick up a controller and for the next few hours, I could forget about things that upset me.
By the middle of 2003, you could say that I had amassed a very large collection of games. Growing up, I was a massive Sega fanboy and had pretty much anything you could ever want when it came to gaming on a Sega platform. I also had a Playstation, a Game Boy and a Nintendo 64 with a fair amount of classics to go with each. I’d acquired these either as Birthday/Christmas gifts or hand me downs from friends and family. To put into perspective how big my collection of games were, you could fill about 3 very large plastic bags full just with games.
It was around this time that my parents took me and my siblings down to Wales to see some close family friends of ours. Their son, who is one of my best friends even to this day got an Xbox with the original Halo and the original Project Gotham Racing a few years previous. I never got to see my friend very regularly, as he lived at the other end of the country. So, when we would visit, for the majority of our visit, you’d find me getting my arse handed to me on Blood Gulch. It just so happened that this visit coincided with my 13th birthday. Much like any teenage boy around that time, we all wanted the next big thing in gaming. At this time in my life, that thing was an Xbox with Halo.
I relentlessly nagged my parents to take me to the shopping centre nearby to get me an Xbox. Despite my nagging, they wouldn’t take me to get one. This probably had a lot to do with the Xbox’s price tag at the time. They weren’t cheap, and my parents weren’t exactly in a position to be able to spend that kind of money. I was absolutely gutted and as a result, I got quite upset. You tend to bounce back from these kind of things very quickly though when you’re a kid, and as a child generally does, I didn’t stop going on about getting an Xbox.
And so, over time, all my old Sega and Nintendo stuff was just sat in the loft collecting dust. One day, I was sick at school and the school called my parents to get them to come and collect me. When I got home, I found all my games neatly sorted into boxes and bags in the middle of the living room floor. My mum explained to me that if I wanted to, I could sell all this stuff to the game store in our city centre to get enough money to be able to get an Xbox. This absolutely blew my mind and without thinking too much about it, I agreed. When we took all these games into the game store, they told us they couldn’t take it all but called this guy in who they knew would be interested and he basically bought the lot from us. Knowing what I know now about the value of some of those games, if that guy still has them, he’s sitting on a substantial amount of money.
As the years went by, at least initially, I didn’t give it much thought. I was playing some of the best games that gaming had to offer. It wasn’t until I got talking to some random guys on an internet forum about retro games that my interest in these games peaked yet again. I realised that while the new games that I was playing were great, had much better stories and better graphics, beating Halo 2 on Legendary just didn’t quite give me the same buzz as defeating the Death Egg on Sonic the Hedgehog 2 or finishing the expert 18 lap Europe course on Super Hang On. It was at this point that I started to regret letting go of my childhood. These things were only physical products. Chunks of plastic with electronics in them that were capable of delivering whole worlds. I wasn’t attached to the physical entities. I was attached to the memories and the experiences.
So, fast forward to the present day. I’m a student, I don’t have a whole lot of money to last me until next year. The Playstation 4 is due to hit the UK in a few weeks time. Over the past few years, I have taken to picking up a lot of retro systems and, in particular, picking up systems and games that I lost all those years ago. I’m short on cash, but I really want this new console. I look at my collection and the thought of parting with them comes to mind. I even get as far as writing up a list to advertise their sale. But after I posted it online, I realised I couldn’t part with the stuff.
But what was different this time? You might say that at the age of 23, I’ve grown up a lot since the age of 13. And you’d be right. If I am being honest, the reason I couldn’t do it is because I am so attached with the memories of playing the games and having so much fun with them, it would make me sad to no longer have them.
What is interesting though is how this ties in to games design. As a creative who is looking to go into making games as a profession, you must have a clear appreciation for that which has been before, that which is here now and that which is yet to come. People often refer to games that are released today as the most immersive experiences there have ever been, and they would be 100% correct. Immersion in gaming is nothing new. Immersion has always been very much at the forefront of games. Maybe not in the form of huge stories or vast worlds that sprawl out for virtual miles, but definitely in the gameplay.
The games I grew up with were deceptively brutal. They required of you a will of steel. If at first you don’t succeed, try and try again, then try some more. Keep going, rinse and repeat. Before you know it, hours have passed and for what? To rescue the princess from yet another castle? To retrieve different colour emeralds in an attempt to stop a maniac doctor from having his evil way with many random critters (which sounds so wrong!)? It was more about mastering the game than completing the story. I played for hours. I had so much fun.
On the flip side to this, some games that I’ve played over the last few years, whilst having incredible graphics and fantastic stories, really let go on the gameplay side of things. To use a specific game as an example, you don’t have to look much further than the 2009 Quantic Dream release, Heavy Rain. Don’t get me wrong, I loved Heavy Rain because the stories that it told were compelling. But as a game, it was fairly forgettable. Another game you could point to that evokes similar feelings would be the 2011 Team Bondi release, LA Noire.
The point I’m trying to make, in a nutshell, is that games are so much more than just a throwaway or a passive experience. Without strong gameplay, you may as well just watch a movie. I’ll say it again. It is important to appreciate what has been, what is here now and what is yet to come. I choose not to let go of the past, not only because it is a part of me, but because it is still relevant. Remember your roots. Never leave them behind.