The Game that Started It All… (for me at least)

First of all, I have to remedy something from my last post, which is giving a HUGE shout out to my friend Mike. He’s the one that gently suggested to our lovable group of geeks that we all had to read Ready Player One. So far I’m the only one who listened to him. Good looking out Mike!

As I’ve been readying my poor thumbs and wrists for the onslaught of new games that will be hitting me in the face this fall, I’m reminded of the excitement I used to feel as a kid when I got my hands on some new jewel of nerdy goodness. I suppose we all have those things, even now, that we look forward to with that same kind of glee. One of my good geek friends dropped off the face of the planet for at least a week when Skyrim came out. I’ve been contemplating taking the day off when Mists of Pandaria comes out next week.  But my thrill of getting to play some long-awaited game or finally seeing that epic movie (ahem, Hobbit!) really just doesn’t compare to the day that my younger self bought The Adventures of Lolo.

Now understand this: growing up I didn’t have a whole lot, and my mom worked really hard to make sure I went to a good school, was able to go to dance lessons and so forth. We lived with my grandparents, and as a kid I used to play on my mom’s old Atari 2600 on a black and white TV. I had never envisioned video games in color before. The NES came out in 1985/86, but I wasn’t aware of it and didn’t dream of owning one until close to 1989. And that dream was led not by the beloved Mario, but by a little blue ball of cuddle named Lolo. I must have seen a commercial for the game. Or maybe I spotted it in Toys R Us and read that it was a puzzle game. All I knew was that Lolo must be mine. I begged my mom for a Nintendo for Christmas. Even begged my dad, who was worse off than us at the time. I’m sure my mom would have loved to get me one, but instead she decided to use the NES as a way to teach me about saving. I could buy it, if I used my own money. So I started saving every dollar and quarter I could get my hands on. I milked the Tooth Fairy (yeah I was still losing baby teeth, lost the last one as a freshman in high school), and saved all my birthday money. In the summer of 1989 I had saved $70 out of the $100 I needed for the NES, not even close to having the extra I would need to get Lolo as well. I thought I would never save all the money I needed.

That summer I had to get some shots. God I HATE shots. Even to this day. They SUCK. The thought of getting a needle at the doctor’s would incite nightmares in me the night before, every time, without fail. I would dream that the nurse would staple my clothing to me. Don’t ask where I got that association from, I’m kind of scared of staples too. Anyway, this time around at the doctor’s office, I took those shots like a champ, and didn’t cry or complain. I remember so clearly how proud my mom was of me, and how I felt when I figured out that we were driving to Toys R Us from the doctor’s. She gave me the rest of the money I needed for my Nintendo, and bought me Lolo to boot. That blue ball of awesome was officially mine! And in return, I tried to teach her how to play. She sucked 🙂

Recently I played Lolo on a NES emulator, and wouldn’t you know, it still holds that same magic over me. I can still remember many of the puzzles, where to push those stupid blocks to protect myself from the Medusas, still jumping when I would accidentally get killed, humming along with the catchy music. It is really the game that made me a gamer, and I am proud of that.

So I want to know, my treasured few readers: what game do you remember being the start of your gaming obsession? It doesn’t have to be a video game, though mine certainly was. I want to know!


Ready Player One: Real Life Sucks

Yesterday I read Ready Player One, by Ernest Cline. Only yesterday, because I finished it in one day. It’s one of THOSE kind of books, the kind that even though you know you should put it down for a minute to cook some dinner, or do some laundry, or whatever sort of boring minutiae that life has to offer, you simply…can’t. It takes you out of your world and puts you in another one, very much what the book is all about. As a younger child of the 80’s, and an all-around geek and gamer, I instantly appreciated the care that Cline takes to reference so many beloved classics, some of my personal favorites, and others that I vaguely knew about but have piqued my interest. I couldn’t wait to see what movie or song or game was going to pop up next. Add in that most of the book takes place in the future of massively multiplayer online games (MMOs), where the game is actually a way of life, THE way of life, and you have a great cocktail that any geek should gulp down in a heartbeat.

After finishing my book, I decided I had spent enough time offline, and jumped onto WoW. I immediately realized how hyper-sensitive I was to that online environment now, how much I really used WoW (and other games, and books, and movies, etc.) as escape and solace. Because, as one of my guildies put it so succinctly:

“Real life sucks.”

Yeah, sometimes it does. You worry about money, or your living situation, or your job, or your family, or your other half, or your kids, or the world in general, and it can add up. I see myself coming home after a long day at work, exhausted, thinking about the next day and the next and the future, and immediately I want to plug in. That’s what Team Ultra does.  We come home, we unload the weight of the world off our backs, and we plug in. Of course we have our priorities. I’ve never missed work or important events just to game. I’ve never been in a dire monetary situation because of gaming. The most harm it has done me is occasional lack of sleep. We don’t let the game take over our lives, or think we live BETTER lives in our game…but do we?

My avatar in WoW, I should say my latest one, is almost at the top of her game (I don’t raid, so I’m not THAT cool). She’s got some awesome outfits, state-of-the-art gear, and many sweet rides. She’s got more money on her than I have in my bank account on a regular basis. She can create epic and special things that are in high demand. She associates with a group of people that go out and have regular adventures. My avatar can do things that I can never hope to do (mainly because they don’t exist in our reality).  And death isn’t even permanent! Is that kind of world…a better world than ours right now? Many people think so. But…most people, myself included, have the wherewithal to realize that the digital world is not a REAL world. It is a story. Just like good movie, or a book, or even a great piece of music. It gives you the idea of possibility. And isn’t that really, all we want in THIS world?