On…A Gaming Childhood

smashbros64

No this post isn’t just about Smash Bros…

Let’s take a trip down nostalgia lane and cover some of my early days of gaming; days which I have infinitely many fond memories of, presumably because I had nothing to worry about. Still, I suspect I was rather angsty, particularly as a pre-teen, for I found a diary that I had written during that time which was filled with nonsense about how my friends were plotting against me, how I planned to plot against them, how certain people were spies for others…it was all rather dramatic. I kind of miss those days when someone giving someone else a friendship bracelet was cause for total friendship war. Anyway, let’s start with how I got into gaming.

I remember being at my grandparent’s house (on my dad’s side). My uncle lived with them at the time, and I think my other aunt did too although she did get married and moved out at some point. My uncle, however, is the main reason I got into gaming. He is the true geek of my family. He’s the one who lent me copies of Lord of the Rings, who taught me how to emulate games on my PC, who helped mod my game consoles so they could play bootleg and homebrew games. But when I was younger, I knew him as the guy who played Smash Bros with me on the N64. At some point, he met his future wife, and his future wife’s brother would play with us too. So there were three of us, and I can’t remember who the last person would have been. Perhaps my grandma? My father? I don’t know. I remember always picking Pikachu because Pikachu is cute. I don’t know if I won or not. My younger brother would get fobbed a controller that wasn’t plugged in to make it appear as though he was playing. We didn’t trust him with it. And for good reason too. One day we were playing and he tripped over the wires, yanking them from the power supply and ruining our game. Silly baby.

The other notable game from those days was DDR. I remember my grandma tearing up the DDR pad at her house (“Butterfly” was her song). It must have been plugged into a PS1 I suppose, though I really don’t remember any other PS1 games that we played. When my family eventually got a PS1 (a present for doing well in a Chinese exam I believe), we also got some dance pads and I was pretty into it. I was never expert level to be fair, my little 10 year old feet were a bit too clumsy for that. Still, I find myself drawn to the arcade machines in bowling places and other random establishments which might have a DDR machine, hoping to regain some of that skill. Unfortunately I’m still kind of terrible and inevitably, some other guy will take over from me and do the whole ‘lean on the back of the machine’ thing and just wreck my score.

ddr

Check out that bottom, oh yeahhhh.

At some point, my uncle lent us his N64. I remember that’s when I started playing Pokemon Snap. Truly a masterpiece of a game, I loved it, because it combined my love of Pokemon with some really cool mechanics. I cannot believe this game hasn’t received a remake in any form. I would honestly buy a Wii U just for a fully remade version of Pokemon Snap which used all 600+ pokemon.

It’s also when I played Ocarina of Time. I am one of those thousands of kids who have just the most magical memories of Ocarina of Time. Honestly when I hear someone who likes videogames but hasn’t played OoT, I mourn for their missed opportunity. It was such a revolutionary game at the time. I remember rolling all around Hyrule (is it actually faster than walking? I don’t know), swiping at the grass and the various baddies. I remember climbing the chains on the side of the bridge into Castle Town to get those secret rupees. I remember that fateful day I thought I could slash a chicken and I was rewarded with death by a million chickens. I had so many good feelings about that game, but I was also a child and so super scared of certain things. The spider house that you were supposed to help was way too frightening for me. I didn’t get the bigger rupee bag or any of the other rewards for skulltulas because the house was just terrifying. I also had trouble completing the well in Kakariko village because that was horrific. But by far the worst place was the Spirit Temple, with its gory torture devices. I’m pretty sure I never completed that. I must have gotten someone else to complete it for me because that dungeon gave me nightmares. Surprisingly, I don’t have frustrated memories of the Water Temple which a lot of people seem to have. I found it fairly straight forward, if a bit annoying having to put on those damn iron boots all the time and then take them off. I think one of the mini-bosses owned me though, the one which is like a tentacle? Yeah, that slimy bastard can go to hell. Overall though, my memories of that game are overwhelmingly positive. The world of Hyrule was just utterly captivating. I’ve played this game over and over again, on different platforms. I played it on a Gamecube disk which also included Majora’s Mask (a game that I’ve never beaten because it was too scary for me as a kid). Of course the best remake is on the 3DS, and yes I bought a 3DS just to replay OoT and yes, I played the master version. I feel like the remake does lose some of the scariness though, the higher polygons and the higher brightness makes it all a little less spooky. Still a solid remake and reminded me just how much fun I had as a kid playing this on the N64.

oot

Couldn’t find a good picture of Link rolling unfortunately

When I was in Year 2, I wrote a story which was loosely based off the plot of the first part of OoT, the child Link stuff, only it expanded more on Link and Saria’s relationship because I totally shipped those two even as a little kid. It was well received by my teacher, and that was one of my earliest indications that I was actually alright at writing in English. Before that, I was known as the ‘maths girl’, you know, the girl who knew her times table faster than everyone else and the one who could do even the hardest mental maths sum instantly. I have totally lost that ability to do mental maths, though I do still consider myself rather good at doing maths in general. Anyway, I never considered that I might be good at writing. It wasn’t until Year 7 where for my first writing task in English class, I wrote a 25 page biography, complete with my own pixel art design. It was a load of rubbish, and mostly angsty teen stuff, but my teacher loved it so much, I basically skipped Year 7 English. Instead I was given a book to read each class and just sat the back and read it. Good times.

But I digress, this is about games, not about my feeble attempt to justify why I’m writing at all even now in this blog! What else did I love about the N64? Well, I had a friend at the time who used to invite us to her house and we would play Diddy Kong Racing. We were obsessed with it. I think we also played Wave Race which was just as good (those water physics!). I loved going to her house because she had that game. She was two years older than me though, and at some point, she decided that gaming was childish and for little boys, not something suitable for sophisticated young girls like her. I remember we went over less and less, and even when we did, we rarely played on the N64, but instead played board games. I think she plaited my hair once, the horror.

Soon though, the N64 was becoming outdated. We bought a Gamecube, and then later a PS2. Of course we still played the classics like Mario Kart Double Dash, which I still believe is the best version of Mario Kart ever made and also Super Mario Sunshine which for some reason, I found unbelievably hard. I’m pretty sure I beat Mario 64 100% with no problems back on the N64, but Sunshine was just so fiddly and difficult. And of course, Super Smash Bros Melee, to this day, is the most played game I had on the Gamecube. It’s also when I played Animal Crossing, and I was militant about logging in every single day. I also played Harvest Moon: A Wonderful Life, having missed out on the N64 version.

harvestmoon

Yes I played the girl version

But really, this was the era of the PS2. My brother was old enough to actually play instead of just watching me so we played a lot of crappy games on the PS2. You know, those trash pile racing games you can get for £2 from the bargain bin. But the highlights of the PS2 for me, were the Final Fantasy series. FFX, FFX-2 and FFXII were the mainstays in that console. Yes, I’m someone who did like X-2 though I recognise it was pretty terrible. I mean, it was blatant pandering to girls but you know what, not many games did that and I think I appreciated the effort. I’m sure if I played it again now I’d find it offensive. But I did enjoy watching the swapping costume cutscenes, I won’t lie. I’m also in the minority of people who loved FFXII. That world was just so immersive, so huge in scope. I’ve heard it criticised for being like a MMO, but I’ve never liked MMOs or played one to know what that meant (except Runescape, which I’m sure everyone my age did). But I loved the characters, and I loved all the environments and it really was the first game I invested a serious chunk of time in. I think I have 200 hours logged on my save because I’m a stubborn person who didn’t consult gamefaqs or the like and instead randomly wandered around to find stuff and complete sidequests.

Of course, I also dabbled in handheld gaming. I had a Gameboy Colour in teal, and my brother had one in purple. I mostly played bootleg games I got from Malaysia, the ones that have 150 games on one cartridge but you only ever played like 3 of them. I played games like Zelda: Minish Cap, Harvest Moon, Super Mario Bros. and of course, Pokemon. I even had one of those now quite rare fake Pokemon ROMs. The one I had was called Pokemon Diamond (this was years before the actual Pokemon Diamond came out) and instead of catching pokemon in pokeballs, you had to call them up. The ‘pokemon’ were called e-monsters and you were in the world of electric monsters. I remember there being bad guys who were way worse than Team Rocket. Anyway, I think I sold that game for an obscene amount to a childhood friend, after convincing them it was a legit copy of a not-yet-released Pokemon game. Sorry. I still feel bad. If it’s any consolation, I bet you could sell that cartridge on eBay for a small sum.

And I also played games on my computer. I played things like Lego Island and delivered pizza. I played various platformers, like an Aladdin one (which I see crop up on r/gaming every so often). I also played a platformer where you played as a potato and the levels were kitchen-themed. If anyone can remember what that’s called, I’d be so grateful to know. But really, my big obsession with PC games revolved around God-games and the sub-genre of city builders. I loved Theme Park World as well as Rollercoaster Tycoon. I loved Theme Hospital. I played Zeus: Master of Olympus as well as Pharoah. In fact, I’m pretty sure those two games gave me a working knowledge of ancient Greek and Egyptian mythology which has come in handy throughout my life. Those games took hours of my life and they still do! I re-downloaded Zeus and Pharoah for pennies on Good Old Gaming. So worth it now I’m a lazy university student with too much free time. And of course, who could forget Age of Empires? I played AoE II because it came free with my PC (or was it my copy of windows? I forget) and I loved it. Don’t get me wrong, I was terrible at it, and I could barely beat the AI on medium difficulties. I always cheated by spawning in that racecar and just driving through and shooting everything down. I think later on, I had The Sims too and that was fun, though I couldn’t afford to keep up with the expansions. I just had the magic one which was more than enough for me. I wasn’t very creative with my Sims either, and just remade me friends as Sims and let it play out or made a perfect version of myself and let myself get successful. I wasn’t one of those sadistic torturer types either, though I remember finding it hilarious when one Sim got struck by a meteorite one day and died on the spot.

zeus

I preferred the isolated neighborhood design personally

I feel like I’ve missed out some games too on this windy trip down nostalgia road, I guess I forgot to fully explore some of the side streets. So I’ll mention them here briefly. Parappa the Rapper will always be the quintessential music/rhythm game. Hogs of War was some terrible turn-based military strategy involving pigs which my brother and I used to love.  There was some Bob the Builder game on the Gameboy which I spent way too much time one. There was another gameboy game which I cannot remember the name of, but it had Zelda-esque combat and there was a lot of exploration of a castle. There was a game on the PS1 which had anime characters and the gameplay was kind of bejewelled/tetris-like? It involved matching hexagonal shapes with stuff and I feel like it contributed to making buildings? My memory is super fuzzy unfortunately. Oh and how did I forget Ape Escape? Those pesky monkeys! Also I kind of played FF7 but it was in Japanese so I didn’t get very far. There were a few Asian games which had loads of mini-games in them (kind of like Warioware) which we knew as Bishi Bashi but I don’t know if that’s the legit name for them. My brother and I made many of our thumbs sore from excessive play of those games. I also have fond memories of Spyro, you know, before they made him all weird in the new reboot (though I hear Skylanders is actually quite good). Of course there’s also our other favourite anthropormorphic tyke which was Crash Bandicoot! And there was Rachet and Clank too. Oh and I played some Tweety game on the GBC which was rather fun.

apeescape

I remember at the end when the levels get all sci-fi and impossible

Well, this was a rather fun blog post to write. I am bathed in the glow of nostalgia and it is so warm and fuzzy. All these games in my childhood have, in some way, contributed to the sort of person I am today. I don’t just mean in that a lot of these games are predecessors to modern games I play. But I feel like the level of immersion I got, the sense of escapism, that activation of my imagination, are at least partially responsible for the way I am. I feel like I’ve been made more open-minded by these games, because they showed me some of the the breadth of human imagination and the stories which they told involved themes which are forever relevant. They made me a more cooperative person, because I was never one who liked competition and instead preferred games which let you play together rather than play against. Even in something like Mario Kart, I would let my brother win because I knew that made him happy (and because he would cry and sulk if he lost…ahem). I’m sure they’ve improved my hand-eye coordination to some extent, and my quick-thinking skills. But most importantly, these games were there for me even when I had a rough time in my childhood, such as through my parents’ divorce. They were the best kind of therapy I could get, because they gave me shelter from those harsh problems of reality, they let me forget for just those few hours when I was Link and not Michelle, when I was an beautiful battle mage and not a small child, when I was saving the world and not just a scared, crying girl.

People these days see me play games and as a female, I’m sometimes asked to justify it, especially to other females who can’t comprehend why I would enjoy them. Well, this blog post is part of that justification. They were such an integral part of my childhood and teenage years and they gave me so much happiness. Why wouldn’t I carry that through to adulthood? I strongly believe that even as I get older, I will still be an avid gamer. Perhaps my hours will dwindle, but I will still play if I get the chance.

Which reminds me of the time I spent with my uncle at one family gathering, when he, my brother and I played Resident Evil: Umbrella Chronicles on the Wii together. My uncle, the guy who started my gaming obsession, hadn’t played a video game in months, maybe almost a year. He has two small children now and they were even smaller back then. He just didn’t have the time. But that night, we played for hours and hours on this terrible on-rails shooter. We laughed and laughed as we shot zombies and desperately tried to protect each other. We discovered that you could shoot almost all the lights in the game though, so we made it our goal to shoot out the lights rather than the zombies. I don’t know why but we guffawed so much at this challenge but we had a great time. I was later told by my aunt that on the car journey back to their house, my uncle said he was imagining shooting out all the lights from the lampposts on the side of the road. I hope I’ll be like that one day. I could tell that despite not having picked up a game in months, maybe years, he still had that fondness for it, that spark that ignites when you just have so much fun.

So, as you can tell from my list, I’m sure I missed out on a lot of games which you guys consider childhood gems. What games do you still have epic memories of? If r/gaming has taught me anything, is that people love to bring up old nostalgic memories of games. So dredge them up and let me know in the comments below or on Facebook, Twitter etc. I’d love to hear your stories.

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