My Life as a Gamer
From Frogger to Fatal Frame 3 and beyond
As my 23rd birthday looms, I’ve been thinking about how far I’ve come as one of the gaming horde. I realize that I have lived through the modern gaming age. While I don’t remember the first time I saw Super Mario Bros., I recognize the effect it had on the rest of my life. Gaming may have started for me earlier than 1989, but memory being what it is, I don’t remember that far back. There was most likely some old-school arcade game like Galaga or Frogger, but to my conscious self, it was the good old NES that started it all. The last fifteen years have heralded some interesting rivalries, upheavals, and trends from a consumer gamer’s perspective. The following diatribe attempts to illustrate the depth of my obsession and how it has played into my life, which gaming is a significant part of. I can only hope that you enjoy reading this as much as I’ve enjoyed reminiscing.
The story of my introduction to the gaming scene very much hinges on the situations of my three at-the-time closest friends. Daniel and Michael Gingras were born into a well-off family and over the next decade, any system they desired would be theirs. The boys are interesting and funny, and their interest in gaming has declined slowly since going to college. My other friend, who was never as close as the Gingras boys, is Andrew Rodgers. He was one year my senior and back when I was much younger I thought we’d even out in age over time. Never happened, but we did eventually even out in terms of gaming prowess. Although Andrew never amassed the number of systems that Gingras boys could brag about (he never upgraded his SNES), it always seemed that he had the games everybody loved to play. Andrew has a little sister, Emily, who I actually regard now as a closer friend than her older brother. Emily was kind of our group’s gaming groupie. She never actually played the games (perhaps because we never let her…sorry, Emmy!) but she always watched us play and offered encouragement. I don’t think Emily ever really understood the draw that video games held for us boys, but her support was always appreciated.
The Gingras boys had the largest collection of NES games, and I distinctly remember playing Paperboy the most, although Super Mario Bros. 2 held a certain charm back then. The real meat and potatoes of their NES collection, though, had to be Mega Man 2. We actually beat that game one day, taking turns on lives, and using the Gingras’ impressive array of Nintendo Power magazines for tips on how to beat the bosses. I remember now the thrill of getting to the end of Dr. Wily’s first stage and being faced with an enormous robotic dragon—a thrill I experienced again (along with a flood of other memories) thanks to Capcom’s excellent Mega Man Anniversary Collection (go buy it now!). TMNT 2: The Arcade Game also fell into the Gringras boys’ lap, and I can’t remember a better party game. Andrew didn’t have as many games, but what he did have was awesome. He introduced us all to Super Mario Bros. 3, and I remember waking up many a dark Saturday morning (from a sleepover) before the sun rose and tip-toeing downstairs to try and get farther. Of course there were no save points, but we learned shortcuts every time we played…it was an evolution of sorts. The best methods would be carried over to the next day. We eventually found two of the three Warp Whistles thanks to whispers around town (there was no internet back then) and beat King Bowser. Good times. Andrew and I also, one dark night, stayed up until probably 1 a.m. (that was very late for us) beating Batman: Return of the Joker, which remains one of my all-time favorite NES games, though it’s dismally underappreciated. The game featured some of the most impressive graphics and musical score of its day, although my own memories of the game seem mighty impressive compared to screenshots I recently found online. The only other game I remember the two of us fighting tooth and nail through was the original Contra, before we knew the Konami code. After we learned the code, our job became much easier, but before we knew it…yeesh…that game was tough.
Andrew also had great games like Ninja Gaiden and TMNT. Both were excruciatingly hard for us at the time, and we never beat either game. We did have lots of fun with Tetris, though, at both the Gingras and Rodgers’ houses, and it was one of the few games that Emily also played. Another game all of us got into was Bubble Bobble. I remember playing that in the Rodgers’ backyard, each of us pretending to be a character from the game. For some reason, we all thought the two main dinosaur characters were named Bub and Bob, and nobody ever wanted to be Bob. My friends respected Springy more than Bob…go figure. I’m not entirely sure how we played real-life Bubble Bobble, but I suspect that, like both of our backyard games at the time, it was some variation on cowboys & Indians. Andrew would later sell me TMNT when his NES mysteriously malfunctioned. I bought it from him for $10 and played the hell out of it. To this day I haven’t beat the game and my own NES no longer functions, so I probably never will, sadly.
Check out the blog throughout the next week or so as we post the rest of Zach's chapters.