Saturday, January 24, 2015

Gaming Nostalgia with Man Crates: My Epiphany

I still have an opened pack of Red Vines in my drawer at home.
The community manager for Man Crates has (not so) recently asked that I (as well as many others) write a post on the moment that got me hooked on video games. Man Crates is a new company that ships awesome gifts for men in custom wooden crates that have to be opened with a crowbar. I'm sorry, but I don't care what kind of stuck up jerk you are: that sounds awesome from an entirely objective point of view. If you need a gift for your guy, or yourself, or whoever - I don't care who it is - then you should definitely check them out. For this topic in particular, I'd recommend their Retro Gamer Crate.

Originally, they were in contact with Lex about the topic, but Lex referred them to me, probably because she's a loser and won't write about something as exciting and engaging as this, so now I've gotta do her work for her.

I'm kidding, except for the part about how engaging this is.

Specifically, I'll be talking about a recipe: the combination of events, smells, foods and accessories that brought me to become a gamer. Those things that I can look at with a slightly aching heart and remember the good old days, going back even to 8-bit. Actually, my first console was the N64, but I had plenty of exposure to the SNES, and eventually went back to the NES. That was after I became a gamer. But what led up to that moment? What was I doing before then? What kind of gamer am I now, anyway? I'm going to take a moment to answer that last question first, and then go in reverse from there.

A few weeks ago I went to a game store not too far away from my house, called Next Level. The first time I had ever been there was on a stop of curiosity, on my way home from picking up Little Caesars. Now I keep going back whenever I find it convenient, because what mainly interests me about that place is their selection of collectibles, which most other game stores don't really offer me (at least, the ones that are near me don't).

Anyway, I'm losing myself. I went to that game store again a few weeks ago and looked around. Unlike the other times I had been there, there was a lot more activity. It seemed to be a group of friends who knew the store owner, because they were having a good ol' time with him. They were laughing, passing around snacks- wait, snacks? Can I have some?

The stuff of my dreams, basically.
I looked towards the back half of the store and saw a group of people sitting on some rather comfy looking couches, all watching as one of them tried to play his way through Castlevania II. The guy sucked at it, but that wasn't what I paid attention to at the time. What I noticed was this: a group of friends sitting on couches with bags of Doritos, boxes of pizza, bottles of soda, cookies, etc. just talking, laughing, and playing video games with their friend who owned a video game store. Filling inside me was an unprecedented level of envy. I've never coveted something so greatly before in my life. The very thought of being in any one of their shoes at that moment in time seemed like heaven to me. Friends, food, and video games; FFV - my paradise. What I wouldn't give to live a life like that.

Then I remember something upsetting: my life used to be like that.

I didn't appreciate it at the time, though. I didn't appreciate the simple moments of playing Mario Kart DS with a dozen people on the bus on the way to middle school. I didn't savor the times of playing random video games I had never even touched before, on consoles I'd never touched before, while over at a friend's house, just because that's what I felt like I wanted to do. I didn't keep those times close, because I didn't realize how engrained into my soul gaming was.

I still feel this way, and so it begs the question still: what brought me to this? Why does this sort of passion burst from my heart whenever I think about the lethal FFV combo? What makes me desire such a life, and cherish such memories?

There's never a sharp transition from non-gamer to gamer. I feel as though it has to be a slow, evolving process that brings out your personality and interests before it manifests into what can really be considered "gaming." What's true gaming? The level of investment in video games and the related matters that would have gotten you pushed off the slide as a kid if you grew up in or near the same generation I did. A lot of you know what I'm talking about.

I was never like that, though. I was never so intimately connected with video games that I was bullied for it. It didn't express itself so potently through me or my behavior. I was a late bloomer I suppose; at least, a later bloomer than I would've liked to be. If I could add more years onto my time as a true gamer, I'd do it in a heartbeat. But I can't, so I have to embrace the time that I've had thus far.

So, when did it begin?

Me as a kid, basically.
It was some time in the spring, while I was still in school - elementary school. I was known for never putting down my Nintendo DS whenever I could play it. At home, on the bus, in the car, going with my parents for pet food: you name it, I had my DS with me, and the thing was always 2 inches away from my nose, the screen fogging up from the heat of my adolescent breath. People would comment on it too, but it didn't matter to me. The convenience of being able to immerse myself in the latest copy of Pokemon while still pacing my steps was too enticing to pass up just because people thought it was weird. I was a weird kid, I knew that, so why the heck should that matter?

But one day, I felt something weird. Something like neglect, like I had been neglecting someone, or something. I looked to the corner of my room beside my dresser and saw my dusty old N64 - the same one I had grown up with - buried underneath a tangled web of A/V cables. My DS was in my hand, with a copy of Dragon Quest Monsters: Joker in progress and a charger cable chaining me to the electric outlet in the wall. I started to reflect on how long it had been since I had actually played a game on that console. What was the last game I played? I couldn't remember, but there was one plugged into the system; so out of curiosity, I lifted up the cables and set them to the side, making sure that none of the clumps of dust fluttered around and into my hair or eyes. Nestled in the cartridge slot was my collector's edition copy of The Legend of Zelda: Ocarina of Time.

I'd never beaten that game. It was my favorite game of all time next to Donkey Kong 64 and Kirby 64: The Crystal Shards, and yet I'd never beaten it. Why? Because of that frickin Water Temple. I had unknowingly set myself up to not be able to ever beat the game with that save file. My only option was to start a new game, but I was so aggravated by that fact when I learned it that I abandoned the game altogether. I regretted that moment.

So with my DS still on and charging, I hooked up my N64 and started a new game, feeling myself anticipating every bit of dialogue and every note to every song that I had already experienced what must have been at least a year prior.

The musty feeling of the evening's twilight filled my room and engulfed my senses as I recognized that soon it would be dark out. My room was a little too hot, but it always was. The dust from the displacement of my N64 from earlier created a misty cloud in front of my TV, but I didn't care. It felt like a holiday for some reason, as though I shouldn't have even been in my room to begin with in that moment. Again, I didn't care. Something was tugging me in: waiting for the moment that Navi would flutter on screen and allow me to finally take control of my character, Link.

I was eating something. I can't remember what it was, but I was eating something. It wasn't even something I really liked, but you know what happens when you put food next to your hand while you're watching a good movie or TV show, or playing a video game. It just disappears, and crumbs scratch the edges of your lips. I had a cup of something too, probably white grape juice, but I don't remember that either. I'm lucky enough to so vividly remember this time anyway.

That DS stayed on for the next 3 days, but I didn't touch it. I played straight through Ocarina of Time, making sure to use a guide for the Water Temple so I didn't mess up again and have to repeat the whole thing. The corners of my room had empty water bottles and dirty paper plates from snacks and drinks that I had consumed over the course of those few days that I had been playing my N64. That was a bad habit of mine as a kid, and even as an older teenager.

I think I've finally gotten over it now, but where did that habit come from? Those days.

One of few things that'll make me, a grown ass man, cry.
When I finally finished that game, I sighed out. The ending credits were so memorable. The music was lively. It felt like I had accomplished something, and something more than just beating a video game. I had no idea what it was, but it enveloped me. It was the first and only time I didn't feel any
need to try to skip the credits or turn off the game before it was over, and I'm glad I didn't. The ending scene where Link and Zelda reunite as children was perfect. It wasn't too little, and it wasn't too much. For all that had happened, and for all that was taken from them in those 7 years, that very last scene was absolutely flawless.

Feeling something new inside me, I turned off the game and swapped my TV back to Cartoon Network. I immediately turned to my side and picked up my DS, intending to pick up Joker. The light immediately flicked on and the music started up mid-tune, reminding me that I had set the game aside without turning the console off several days before. It was surprising, and funny, but I picked up something else from that. The situation said something about me that I hadn't realized before, and it was just how consumed I was by video games. I had such a wide selection of games that I could pick up after beating Joker, and after that, there were game stores all around that I could visit to buy something new. There were games I could borrow from my brother. There were games being released soon that I could ask for.

But all that was on my mind was games. Games, games, games.

And realizing all of that, and seeing what it said about me as a person, I smiled in my head and thought the very same words I heard echoing in my brain when I saw those guys absolutely sucking at Simon's Quest at Next Level:

"I could get used to this."


  1. Incredible post. You write beautifully. Ocarina of Time always gets to me too, although the game that turned me into a gamer was Smash.

  2. nice....ocarina of time is my favorite zelda game although i have twilight princesss but havent played it yet. i didnt play a zelda game until 2003 when i was 13 and i fell in love instantly but I've been a gamer all my life. I started out with my dads sega genesis and game gear playing sonic games then nintendo playing mario and duck hunt. then playstation and i just about have owned or played every single system that has come out although my favorite is sony because of the final fantasy series. my favorite game is final fantasy 7. I still play games now but not so much. dont have as much time as i used to with all the boxing, weight lifting, and working a job i do. I have a couple of hobbies like drawing, exercising, and martial arts but mainly boxing Before i adopted those hobbies though i was a gamer since 4 years old and always will be. good read

  3. They asked me to write for them too. Basically, they are wanting you to give them a link to their site from you writing about them. The more links they can get from people the better. That's why they do this FYI. Hope you got a free man crate for writing. If not, then you just helped them move up in the rankings for free.

    1. I liked the concept of their website and was interested in writing on the subject they suggested anyway. Gaming is important to me, and writing about this was not only a beautiful experience, but also one that has revitalized a long lost love in my life. Thanks for your warning, if I can call it that, but I don't need compensation. Doing this was gratifying in its own way.


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