In this personal reflection I will examine my history of interactions with the medium of video games with a critical inclusion of the historical contexts relevant to the time.
My introductory video game was the original Super Mario Bros (Nintendo 1985) run on the first Nintendo Entertainment System (NES). My Father who worked as a manager at a London wine bar purchased this game and console for my Mother. In London, England in the early 1990s my Mother presented this game to me and explained what games were. While I wouldn’t have been more than three to four years old I very distinctly remember this and the strange, frustrating and joyful experience of engagement with this game and the social experience with my family as we passed the controller between attempts.
I was unaware at this time that I was engaging in an early form of digital education and media exposure. Experience of Super Mario Bros offered an introduction to the language of play of video games viz-a-viz the platformer genre which proved at this time to be one of the most dominant on consoles (which would continue for the next decade). This provided me a cultural distinction from other peers in terms of playing further video games. Thus from an early age a sense of my own media consumption and readability engendered a part of myself belonging to a marketing identity as a ‘gamer.’ This created the grounding for momentum of engagement with the medium at an early age.
This consumer basis of considering Super Mario Bros has further considerations, as while video games in terms of experiences can often seem purely imaginative, social or ludic their very existence is frequently dictated as their predicted viability as consumer items. Dyer-Witheford & de Peuter argue that Super Mario Bros as a consumer item offered a promise to the post-Fordian workers of an ‘… escape from the hard, soulless Fordist labour their parents or grandparents suffered into a world of digital freedom and possibility’ (Dyer-Witheford & de Peuter, 2009). Despite the NES being at least a decade old at this point this argument would seem applicable. My Father through conscious generosity was probably also swayed by an ideological trend in culture at this time toward the importance of digital technology in the coming period.
In a similar stead as I became older my Father purchased a desktop computer with Windows 95. With the computer came a variety of pre-installed multimedia software titles, interactive CD-ROMs, ‘edutainment,’ anthologies of highlights of 80s gaming and so on. There was also one full game which was the adventure game King’s Quest VII (Sierra On-Line, 1994). This game drew much from the other software’s approaches yet offered something more holistically meaningful, specifically, an intention to use a commercial video game to explore narrative experiences for its own sake.
KQVII used full voice acting and was fully cell-animated. Prior to this I had never experienced a game that consisted of these elements or that was anyway comparable to a animation or to cinema. This was technologically afforded by the increased data storageof CD-ROMS over the cartridge systems of consoles.
At this age I would begin to just have enough saved spending money to begin to make my own consumer decisions. Console gaming in this era seemed to largely be defined by more interactive, violent, and competitive aspects. As a child the ludic complexity and at times tediously ‘machismo’ orientated forms of marketing meant that adventure games offered a deeper direction and interest. Thus for some time I would remain more engaged with PC adventure games. Despite the genre’s commercial decline at this time many cheap bundles and clearance sales meant my personal exposure only grew greater. Most significant in this period was Sam and Max: Hit the Road (1993) which significantly begun to develop my reading skills and lead to me playing the other Lucas Arts games.
As time progressed toward the end of the 1990s I eventually did own the main consoles of this period of the Playstation/N64. I remember being excited to own these platforms yet sceptical that the core game’s would suit my interests. I begun both with Final Fantasy VII (Sony Computer Entertainment) and The Legend of Zelda: Ocarina of Time (Nintendo). Both of these experiences were challenging from both a narrative and interactive basis at my age, yet through completing these titles I felt more able to play games that offered a challenge of strategy, combat, puzzles and threat. Both of these titles drew from experienced franchises charting huge games onto the early eras of 3D console gaming. Both games have become historically iconic and defined the early cinematic and open-ended, blockbuster model which remains with us today.
For the next ten years I continued to play games across a variety of platforms and while there were many important entries in this period it wasn’t until Passage (2007, Rohrer J.) that I felt a significant new direction of culture within video games that had a meaningful personal impact on my own development.
Whilst studying a film degree a close friend who was an avid follower of internet-based video gaming introduced this title to me. Passage can also be taken as the opening-shot in the ensuing search for a unique language, meaning and justification of games as storytelling art that defined this period in both development and debate.* While these discussions had long been engaged within the academy (Cf. Aarseth, E. 1997) it was around this time that bloggers and social media conversations between press and developers started this process with a wider remit.
To summarise, my most salient experiences with video games begun at a young age through familial experiences with Nintendo platformers. This continued through individual play with adventure/roleplaying games which emphasised narrative. In more recent years games what’s impacted has been those that broaden the medium’s horizons such as interactive dramas, art games and the more personalised games that expand or create new genre horizons for the medium and amplify otherwise marginalised voices and their imaginations.
My own personal experiences with video games reflect an early found immersion that stems from some economic privilege and consumerism. From this followed a conscious rejection toward the marketing gameplay of action/console titles, preferring the PC as a more cinematic vehicle though this gap would eventually shift. Finally the growing capital of the independent branch of the industry as well as the internet and new design software has allowed for far greater exposure for new concepts and approaches.
* A notable flashpoint of these gaming ‘culture wars’ could be cited back to some of Roger Ebert’s declarations (from 2005 onwards) that games could never be art. Both art and independent games would go on to rekindle my passion for the medium.
Personal Timeline – Important Games
Nintendo 1985, Super Mario Bros, video game, Nintendo Entertainment System, Nintendo, Japan
Sierra On-Line 1994, Kings Quest VII, video game, PC, Sierra On-Line, United States of America
LucasArts 1993, Sam & Max Hit the Road, video game, PC (DOS), LucasArts, San Francisco, California, United States of America
Sony Computer Entertainment 1997, Final Fantasy VII, video game, Playstation, Sony Computer Entertainment, Japan
Nintendo 1998, The Legend of Zelda: Ocarina of Time, video game, Nintendo 64, Japan
Rohrer J, 2007, Passage, video game, PC, Jason Rohrer, New York, United States of America
Mojang 2009, Minecraft, video game, PC, Mojang, Stockholm, Sweden
Telltale Games 2012, The Walking Dead, video game, PC, Telltale Games, San Rafael, California, United States of America
Porpentine 2013, How to Speak Atlantean, text game, PC, Porpentine, United States of America
tinyBUILD 2016, Diaries of a Spaceport Janitor, video game, PC, tinyBUILD, Stockholm, Sweden
Dyer-Witheford, N & de Peuter, G. (2009), Games of Empire: Global Capitalism and Video Games. Minnesota, Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press, pp. 4
Donovan, T. (2010), Replay: The History of Video Games, East Sussex, Leweds: Yellow Ant, pp. 182-183
Aarseth, E. (1997) Cybertext – Perspectives on Ergodic Literature, Maryland, Baltimore, : John Hopkins Press