I don't deny it, I'm a huge nerd. I suppose you'd have to be to write a list of the video games that have influenced and shaped you into the person you are today. However, you always hear about how people related to this film, or how they felt the first time they heard a specific song, so why not video games?
People in our day and age relate strongly to the popular culture that surround them, and this culture plays a strong influence in determining things like personality, interests, careers, and style. Just ask the guy I went to high school with who spent all day listening to gangsta rap and is now serving a jail sentence for trafficking drugs. Or, look at the guy who fell in love with a movie and decided to write a screenplay of their own. How about the person who listens to Marilyn Manson and starts shopping at Hot Topic? I even believe that violent video games without parenting and structure can be damaging for a child and their development. These are not universal absolutes, as I am sure that there must be well-to-do doctors who listen to gangsta rap, or people who just watch movies for fun in between work shifts. If you want an example relating to video games, look no further than the countless Guitar Hero experts who went and picked up a real guitar. Popular culture does not represent an absolute in terms of shaping what a person becomes, as things like parenting, education, class status, and environment play a large role too. But it would be naive to discount the role that pop culture takes.
For me, things like music, video games, and movies have all played a huge role in determining who I am today, and I credit these sources with all the love I can muster. I won't get into movies and songs that have influenced me, because we'd be here all day. Below, you'll find a list of video games that I have experienced in pivotal points in my life. It's important to note that these aren't necessarily my favourite games of all time, but games that have influenced me personally.
Super Mario Bros. (NES)
I know that I am not alone when I say that this is the first video game that I ever played. As a six year old child, I was instantly hooked by the bright colours, catchy music, and insanely addictive gameplay that holds up a shocking 25 years later. This was my introduction to video games, a relationship that has been going strong for 20 of my 25 years.
Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles (NES)
It's funny what you can remember as a kid. I was a total Ninja Turtles kid. I had tons of the toys, and I was glued to YTV every day at 4 pm to watch the latest adventure of my favourite green quartet. When I first saw the packaging at my local Canadian Tire (who did indeed sell video games back in the day), I knew I must have it. But my parents wouldn't buy it for me. I did everything I could to save up the sixty dollars plus tax to get that game. I sold lemonade, I raided our pantry and did a food sale on my porch, I did chores, I begged for an allowance. For what seemed like an eternity later, I had saved up enough money to buy the game. The first I ever bought with my own money. This is the game that taught me the true value of a dollar and a day's hard work. Sure, the game wasn't all that great, but what the hell did I care? I was playing as the Ninja Turtles, and that was good enough for me. Furthermore, the Ninja Turtles games were a catalyst of discussion between myself and a grade one friend, a friendship that has gone on strong for twenty years.
The Magic of Scheherazade (NES)
It's likely most of you have never heard of this 1989 gem from Japanese developer Culture Brain. The easiest way to explain it would be that it was like Zelda, but with an Arabian setting. You traversed a huge overworld, collecting weapons, magic, items, allies, and solving insane brain teasers. Zelda may be credited with starting the adventure genre, but not soon after, it was given competition by a game with better graphics, a fully fleshed out class system, a deeper combat system and more intense bosses. This is the first adventure game to ever engross me so fully.
The Legend of Zelda (NES)
Of course, I played my fill of Zelda as well. This is likely the first game to so fully capture my imagination. My school notebooks were filled with Zelda doodles, and I had an notebook filled to the brim with tips, strategies, maps, item locations. I actually wrote my own strategy guide for the game. To this day, I have never devoted myself so fully to exploring every nook and cranny. Much like Shugeru Myamoto, I would explore the forests behind my house, imagining the woods to be Hyrule.
Dragon Warrior (NES)
In what is certainly turning into a trend, the original Dragon Warrior captured my imagination like few games have before or since. Before the series went all anime and cutesy, Dragon Warrior was a serious game upon which everyone spoke in Shakespearean renaissance English, replete with "thou's" and "thee's" and "hast's." Years later, when I read my first Shakespeare play, Romeo and Juliet, I was already ahead of the curve in understanding the language and the way it was written. Granted, Iambic Pentameter is lost on a simple NES game like Dragon Warrior, but the passion started here. I have a love of Shakespeare that continues to this day. You could say that Dragon Warrior led me straight to one of my favourite writings of all time, "Love's Labour's Lost."
Blades of Steel (NES)
I was never much into sports as a kid. Being a skinny Jewish nerd doesn't exactly bestow natural athletic talent. However, from the first time I played Blades of Steel, I developed an obsession with hockey that goes on strong to this day. Now if only there was a way to play as the Senators in this puck classic.
Mortal Kombat II
When Mortal Kombat was first released, it was a absolute phenomenon. Unfortunately, it's phenomenon status meant that my mother had heard of the game and barred me from playing it. It was at this time that I took initiative to play the game whenever possible, be it at the arcades, at a friend's house, or secretly playing my sister's copy. However, my mother's warnings about the game taught me a valuable lesson that every parent should teach their child: the difference between violent fantasy and reality.
Final Fantasy (NES)
The very last NES game that I ever got turned out to be one of my favourites of all time. It was this game that established my love for RPGs that goes on to this day. Furthermore, when one looks back at the conventions of this seminal classic, it becomes shocking how little the genre has changed in terms of its fundamentals.
Super Metroid/Chrono Trigger (SNES)
I acquired these two Super Nintendo classics in the same month, and never looked back since. At the time, I was on the verge of middle school, and my interest in video games was sagging slightly. I was getting sick of repetitive platformers and racing games, until these two games came along and reaffirmed that everything I loved about games, while exciting me about the future again. Both games were deep experiences that kept me up until the wee hours exploring every element. Nowadays, I still pop in these classics for a play through. You should too.
These are the first 3-D shooters I ever played, and they were played on my trusty Macintosh Performa. These games got my pulse racing in various ways, and helped me to steady my nerves in all situations. For a kid who used to suffer from anxiety attacks, this was the perfect tonic to train my brain to deal with stress. I honestly credit these titles with partially curing me of my severe anxiety.
Until Half-life, cinematic techniques were limited by cutscenes and those awful FMV games you'd find on systems like the Sega CD. When I first played Half-life, it was like actually playing a movie. Half-life to me was the first time I actually felt like I was living the life of a badass action hero. This was made all the sweeter by the fact that he was a bespectacled nerd, which I can certainly relate to. Even on my old Pentium 200 laptop sans hardware acceleration, my memories of this game remain vivid and joyful.
Grim Fandango (PC)
I unfortunately missed out on most of the classic LucasArts adventures such as Full Throttle and Curse of Monkey Island, so this masterful production by Tim Schaefer and crew was my first real introduction to the genre. No game before and few since have made me laugh with such aplomb. Along with Half-life, this game's hilarity has helped bridge another gap between games and movies, the former being through action, the latter being through quality writing and acting.
GoldenEye 007 (N64)
I played this game so much during grade 9 exams that I almost entirely forgot to attend one. This game taught me that no matter how great and addictive a game is, the real world must take priority once in a while. Responsibility is a bitch, but at least there's always time for one more run on Stack on licence to kill mode with automatics. If you don't know what that means, I'm done talking to you.
Final Fantasy VII (PS1)
This is the game that taught me that it's ok for a guy to cry. Yeah yeah, I cried during Aerith's death, but only because I built up her levels before realising that she wouldn't be around for the last half of the game. I still don't know why Cloud couldn't use a Phoenix Down...
Resident Evil 2 (PS1) / Silent Hill (PS1) / System Shock 2 (PC)
I group these three games together because I played them all within months of each other, and each of them terrified me to my very core. These three games are the reason that I am so desensitized to violence and horror movies today. Nowadays, I can't watch a Saw movie without laughing or play a survival horror game without telegraphing each scare. I still maintain that the original Silent Hill is the scariest game ever made, but all three games were a masterful blend of atmosphere and gameplay.
Metal Gear Solid 2 (PS2) /Final Fantasy X (PS2)
These are the first two games I got with my PlayStation 2 back in the day, and both of them convinced me that no matter how bad things are going in my life, I can take some solace in gaming. Whether or not that is a good thing, I'll leave for you to decide, but for me, retreating to a fantasy world of video games is the perfect tonic when life gets too stressful and I just need a break from the world. I acquired my PlayStation 2 after what was likely my most painful break-up to date. By the time I saw the credits roll on both games, I felt immeasurably better. These two games have convinced me about the healing power of a favourite hobby, in my case, video games.
The power of Halo multiplayer has allowed for many relationships in my life to blossom, but one especially in particular. A good friend of mine had moved to Guelph for University, and naturally we were both concerned about falling out of touch. However, each time he came back to Ottawa for a visit, we'd play through Halo's campaign together, to the point where we once played through Legendary difficulty together in one sitting. By the end of that 12 hour ordeal, Our friendship was easily reaffirmed. Lame? Probably. But it's the truth nonetheless. Throw in some Halo LAN parties throughout my university years, and I easily have a half dozen friendships that continue to this day that were built on a foundation of Halo multiplayer.
Guitar Hero II (Xbox 360)
Like many others, I rediscovered a love for music through this venerable series. While my musical talent may be about as impressive as watching someone put one their shoes, I became an expert at this series. While I'm still unable to play any instrument effectively, I was given a new appreciation for music and the amount of work and talent that goes into creating it. Some would go so far as to say that the Guitar Hero series has rejuvenated the music industry. I include myself in that group.
How about you? Are there any games that you credit with shaping who you are? We'd love to hear from you. Send your stories to asztein AT gamingexcellence DOT com and we'll publish the best ones in a future feature.