“You still play video games? Aren’t you too old for that now?”
The thing that so many people still don’t seem to understand, is that video games are not just for children. Sure there are video games that are specifically for children, just like there are films and television that are for children. But that doesn’t mean they are the norm.
I was a child when I first played video games, so I should stop playing them now I’m an adult right? Well, that’s like saying kids who start playing sports and then continue to play when they are older are somehow also childish. I highly doubt that adult sports fans would be fine with their passion being reduced to a child's game, and it’s no different for fans of video games.
Attitudes toward games have significantly changed, of course, but you still get the occasional person who links video games to everything wrong in the world. Now it is possible to be addicted to them, and too much time without exercise is bad for you physically. But playing a game for a few hours doesn’t make me an addict. Playing the same game for 18 hours in a day does. And when you see one teenager in the news who gets violent, (supposedly after playing games,) suddenly the millions of other ‘gamers’ who don’t get violent are irrelevant. It’s been years and games are still being demonised by people who simply don’t understand them. And what makes this so sad for me in particular is:
Games have brought me so much happiness throughout my whole life.
I became part of so many amazing stories, I got to see truly rich and vibrant worlds, meet amazing people, not to mention my problem solving skills are something to behold (with the occasional exception where I needed the guide.) And the music… my god the music is beautiful. I listen to video game soundtracks more then I do chart music. Particularly when I work and write. (I’m listening to Nobuo Uematsu as I write this sentence, and it’s an absolute joy.) In fact video game music is almost as big a part of my life that as a result there are moments in my video game journey that can be marked very clearly by the music.
On the mega drive, probably my favourite game on this console, was Sonic 3 and Knuckles. Beating the last boss in Sonic games is hard enough, but that’s never the true test. You also have to complete special stages to collect ‘emeralds’. (they weren’t all green so calling them emeralds seems daft in retrospect, but I was 8 or something so I didn’t care.) But there was more! You had to insert the Sonic 3 cartridge into the Knuckles one to get the full game. And THEN you had to collect the MASTER emeralds to unlock the secret last level… where you are super sonic flying through the air! This blew my mind. And the music that went with it seemed very elevated, not like some of the other quirky catchy music throughout the game. It felt otherworldly. It solidified that as one of the biggest moment in Simons Video Game Journey.
Perhaps the next definitive moment in this epic journey towards the creation of Simon ‘A Life in Video Games’ was in my early teenage years. It was during my teenage years that games really saved me. Particularly as I did not enjoy my time at school. (which is so awful considering how much money my parents spent to send me there.) But coming home to the Playstation was a great way to escape. I could park all the times I was bullied just for being me and dive into the huge epic adventures in the Final Fantasy franchise.
FF7 was where my obsession began. It’s funny to think that this game made me angry before I even played it. My friends were all playing it and I wasn’t. They were all talking about it and I felt very left out, to the point where I ended up hating the game. Then one time I visited my cousins house and he just happened to be playing it. And one of the first things I could see was this blonde spiky haired man with a giant sword swinging at a huge mechanical monster. My eyes were wide, and my jaw opened. Same could be said for my wallet, because I was in the shop buying that game faster than you could say ‘violent video games’
And oh boy what an epic story that was. It’s a little sad that the graphics haven’t stood the test of time. And the same could be said about it’s gameplay. But I can still remember how I felt when playing it. All the turning points in the story. The way the characters progressed and interacted with each other. The moment you lose important characters. Fighting ridiculously huge monsters.
And for me, the biggest moment in this game was beating the final boss. Beating Sephiroth. Because there were two versions of him to beat (unless you count the third which was hardly a challenge.) And the thing is, I didn’t realise there would be another version to fight. He went down, he started to fade, the screen went black… I thought I had done it.
And then the music started. And a chill went down my spine.
And suddenly the whole environment changed. The music began to grow. There was a choir. A bloody choir! And he appeared. He was an abomination. Half man, half angel, all despair and terror. My characters had only just survived the first battle, how the hell was I supposed to deal with this guy?!
But then I beat him!… Haha just kidding. He floored me. BUT I knew what was coming, so I was able to prepare for next time. And after that, I was able to beat him. And that not only marked the definitive gaming moment in my teens, it was also very apt for my own life during that time. Teenage years can be full of hardships and nasty surprises, no matter who you are. But you can learn from them and grow. And most importantly, overcome them. Just like I did.
As much as I still like to call myself a gamer, modern gaming hasn’t quite managed to hook itself into me the way it did back in my teams. It could be that I had more time back then, or maybe games were just more exciting. It’s not easy to say, but still even with my lack of patience/energy from my ripe old age of (30s) there have still been games that have given me new life. Made me feel energised. Have moved me to tears. One game in particular, is Undertale. I would call this game a modern classic.
The style is reminiscent of my childhood days playing 16 bit retro role playing games. You play a child who has fallen into the underground. You meet monsters, and you can choose whether to fight them, or befriend them. This leaves you with a number of moral choices that keep you second guessing yourself. The story is rich. The characters are layered and funny. And it’s smart. It takes video game tropes and throws them at you. It challenges your perception of games. It speaks to you. And once again… the soundtrack is sublime. It’s incredible how much world building can be supported by music. We’re reaching spoiler territory now, and this game is infinitely better when you go into it with as little knowledge of the game as possible. So if you do still plan to play this game please do yourself a favour and stop reading here until you have played it.
Still here? Alright, you’ve been warned.
If you choose to play the game peacefully, you are informed that at the end of the game, you must still fight the final boss Asgore. Even if you play the game perfectly, and don’t harm a single creature, you have to fight him. You have to figure this out on your own. There is no peaceful solution. And what makes it worse is, despite knowing that no matter what you choose he will try to kill you, he is VERY likeable. And I don’t just mean in the same way people love the joker as a villain. He seems kind. He IS kind. He doesn’t WANT to fight you. But he will.
Even as he is about to fight you, he still tells you it was nice to meet you. His head goes down. Of course, music sets the scene. And your last fight begins. The music, even though it is presented like it’s an old 16 bit style game, is extraordinarily powerful. You feel the weight of what you must do to finish the game. (And of course, it’s really hard.)
And that’s if you play peacefully. If you play the complete opposite way…
You’re going to have a bad time.
It’s very hard to do this game justice in writing, and it feels obvious to say, but that’s because games are not meant to be read about. They’re meant to be played. And I want more people to be involved in games because they have so much potential to move you. Anybody who tries to tell us that games are bad for us; simply has to play games. Their own unconscious bias might not allow them to change their minds. But if they experience them the same way that I have, that we have, then they will have to accept that video games are also good for us.
At the very least, if I didn’t think games were good for me, they wouldn’t have been the theme of my wedding cake.
So, now I ask you. What games stuck with you the like these ones did for me? Were you moved the same way I was by these particular games? Or has your gaming adventure yet to begin?