It seems only fitting that some sort of “Things I’m grateful for” list come up the eve before you, your family, and your friends all attempt to see if it is possible to overdose on tryptophan… and I’ll be damned if I’m not going to just follow that trend. So here it is, the “Five Games I’m Thankful For” list in no particular order. Don’t be surprised that not all of them are video games.
I'll never understand why they thought playing D&D was a gateway to devil worship...
Dungeons and Dragons: No, not the MMO, you little whippersnappers. I’m talking the old school pen and paper, first edition rules, wild-boars-eat-your-first-level-character’s-face D&D. While my parents were concerned that I wasn’t getting enough sun and perhaps too much Devil worshipping when I played, I can honestly say that without this game I may not have ever come out of my shy shell or explored the world inside my imagination. In short, one game served to shape who I am today and inspired a love of gaming in me.
In my memories, those misspent weekends where my character ran around in a make believe world were glorious things. We adventured, we plundered, we lived entire live in those precious few nights. Our characters fought, loved, and died on those weekends and in my mind, those stories are as vivid as true memories. In reality, they were caffeine and junk food fueled nerd fests where odd things began to happen as the weekend wore on and the sleep deprivation began to manifest. The only true magic was our imaginations and I mourn the loss of those more innocent days.
In a world where everyone is trying to see who can make the next big money making MMO and pixels have replaced the images our mind’s eye produces, it seems tragic to me that so many kids will never experience the true meaning of the letters RPG even as they play the latest MMORPG.
Final Fantasy: Way back in the day of the original NES console, before there were motion controls and fancy ergonomic controllers, there was a common misconception that video games were all about blasting aliens and eating mushrooms. There had been a ton of RPG games on the computers of the time but it was Final Fantasy that showed that an epic story could be told, successfully, on the smaller consoles.
It spanned a world and let you speak to the inhabitants of each of the cities you came across. Suddenly it wasn’t so silly to think that a story couldn’t be told in a game that didn’t involve killing giant spiked turtles while trying to rescue a princess. You actually found yourself caring about the characters and trying to get them the best gear you could find. By the time every thing was said and done, you saved a world and kicked evil squarely and firmly in the ass.
While others would argue there were a slew of games that birthed the console RPG, this is the one that did it for me. My fascination with storylines grew with each entry into the franchise until they started getting so weird on me that I couldn’t keep up with who was a former bad guy and who was some dream of a dead race. And even then, I find myself going back and playing earlier entries in the franchise. Some might call it nostalgia but I think the stories are just that good.
Magic the Gathering: For the longest time, Collectible Card Games were for kids and any adults who thought to compete in them were often suspected to be either immature or potential pedophiles. It wasn’t until Magic the Gathering hit the scene that I ever considered playing one. When I finally broke down and joined my friends in what I considered a waste of money, I was hooked from the first time I drew a card.
If you ever saw this card in person, we're betting you lost.
There was something about the game that made me want to experiment with different cards, trying to find that perfect mixture of offense and defense. I looked at friends’ cards, bought booster packs, tuned and retuned my deck, and even went to tournaments to see how my deck stacked up against other players. The aspect of RPG was unmistakable within the game and I’d freak out the people who had purely mechanical playing styles by naming my creatures and gesturing arcanely when I threw down a spell card. Fortunately, I stopped short of wearing a robe and calling myself Gandalf or something.
The game gave me an appreciation for what could be done with a small amount of ingenuity and what essentially constituted a modified deck of playing cards. I spent hours at a time going through my collection of cards and seeing what I could come up with and every now and again, I’d actually socialize with other players to trade cards and discuss strategies. While I enjoyed winning, it was more about the friendly competition and the relationships that could arise than the actual game itself. After all, sitting down across the table from complete strangers can be intimidating when role-playing but the cards just seemed to remove that angst from the effort.
Ultima IV: I doubt many people still remember the Ultima franchise. There was a brief resurgence some years ago but it faded from memory once again. A top down RPG created by the infamous Lord British, you controlled a party of eight heroes who ventured forth to fight an ancient evil and, yeah, save the world.
It was my first experience with the franchise and one that definitely left an impression. At the very beginning of the game, you answered a series of questions that determined what class/character you began as. It was the first time, at least for me, to see such a feature implemented and I was honestly and truly impressed with the implementation.
My friends and I would spend our lunch times discussing what we had discovered and what we had done the night before. We lacked the actual instructions to the game and so everything we garnered from one another’s experience made us want to explore the world even more. It was a single player game that turned into a group effort and was the first game where I truly felt a sense of accomplishment when I beat it.
Years later, I found a copy of the game and loaded it up in an emulator but with the ease of which things could be discovered on the Internet, it was difficult to recapture that sense of awe and exploration I had felt when I travelled that world with my friends. It did, however, instill a desire in me to explore every nook and cranny of the game worlds I would play in till this very day.
Doom: I couldn’t even tell you what game began the First Person Shooter genre but I can tell you that this was the first one for me. I can’t say without it that I wouldn’t have gotten into the genre but without it, I doubt I would have the fondness that I do for the FPS today. Blasting my way through demons and floating eyeballs, I was hooked from the first moment I fired my virtual weapon.
If you didn't play it when it first came out, you wouldn't understand.
It was the first twitch based game I really got into and would remain on my list of favorites for a very long time. It may also have been the first game that made me jump when something came around the corner after me and even in all of its pixelated glory, I wanted more of it.
As the game matured into the horror shooter it has become and the graphics became more and more realistic, it is probably the one game that led me to explore other genres. Without it, I may have become an RPG snob and never experienced games like Resident Evil and Silent Hill. Doom was ahead of its time and I sincerely believe that the FPS category would never have gotten off the ground when it did without it.
This is by no means a complete list but I think that each of the games I listed have shaped the type of gamer I am. I prefer RPGs but I would never turn my nose up at a good shooter or horror survival game. These five games shaped my gaming career and to this day continue to do so.
So be thankful for the games you’ve played and how far we’ve come in the gaming world. Enjoy your Thanksgiving with your family and friends and relish those turkey fueled naps. The BG crew will return after the long weekend.
Happy Thanksgiving, everyone!
End of Line – Gritskrieg