The time has come yet again, LusiCakes. It feels like every other week I am saying goodbye, but this time it is for real; at least when it comes to traditional articles like these. But because I have said goodbye approximately three thousand times and even received an unearned review from Bup, I am going to go a different route and recount some of my favourite gaming moments from my more formative years. Enjoy.
The Legend of Zelda: Ocarina of Time
Ocarina of Time may no longer top either my “favourite” or “best” Zelda list, but it was the game that truly introduced me to the series and drew me much deeper into the world of video games. I had briefly seen Link to the Past played at an acquaintance’s house, but although I was just as intrigued by it as I would soon be by Ocarina of Time, it was the only glipse I would have of the beloved SNES title until many years later. Instead, it was at a friend’s house that I stayed over at often when I first saw Ocarina of Time. My imagination was immediately captured by the varied world and how natural it felt to explore it. As I have mentioned frequently, when I was younger – despite how much I loved them and how often I played them – I was not very good at video games. Ocarina of Time is notoriously easy, but for a young Ethos, it was everything I could have hoped for. Ocarina of Time was never about blasting through the main quest as fast as possible. It had nooks and crannies that boosted the personality of each area and – for the most part – the world expressed itself to me through experience and not text. It was the first game to let me know that video games could be everything I imagined they could be, and not just what they had been up to that point.
Either at that same friend’s house, or through renting and borrowing the game, I beat Ocarina of Time seven times before I finally bought it. I remember my first time playing through it with my brothers at one of my father’s creepy rented houses that he passed through during his first unsettled years after he and mother broke up. We were so excited that we had finally collected all three spiritual stones and were awestruck to discover that there was a much larger and darker chapter to the world. I felt a thrill and horror as I returned to the Lost Woods that I had explored so thoroughly as a child to discover the ways in which it had changed with no regard for how I felt about it. Still, I pushed through to the Forest Temple and that was when I knew I had to accept that things had changed. The light-hearted adventures of Link’s childhood were replaced with a more sincere darkness. Music that never settled, hands that grasped from the shadows above, twisted hallways, switches that looked like eyeballs, ghosts inside paintings. I still remember the feeling I had that night when I dreamed of the Forest Temple from the moment I closed my eyes until I opened them again.
Ocarina of Time showed me that the dry tasks and mechanics of a game can be lost in masterful multi-layered storytelling that is unique to the medium. The world was mine to explore, but it also was not mine and I had to adapt to it whether I liked it or not. I was the right age and at the right experience level with the series to take the game for what it was and it forever changed my expectations of what video games are capable of.
The Game Boy Years
After years of begging, I was finally allowed a Game Boy of my own. Although Kirby’s Dream Land was my first video game and I liked it fine, it was Super Mario Land that I associate most with that system. Not only did it draw my siblings into playing video games as well, but it was the first game that I lost countless hours in a row to. I had so few games that I did not question anything about it. The game did not scroll backwards, but I did not care. There was no progress to save and each attempt to beat the game would have to be done in a single sitting, but I did not care. I would sit in my corner chair at the kitchen table and play it until I had to eat or sleep. I remember holding a mini tape recorder up to the speakers to record my favourite song so that I could hear it at any time without having to run out the clock on the level.
Final Fantasy IX
I actually do not remember too much from my very first playthrough of this game, but I do remember the night I beat it. Once again it was an experience I shared with my brothers as we huddled around our small Commodore 64 monitor wondering if we really had finally earned the ending. I had played and loved Final Fantasy VII before that, but I had not beat it yet, and the feeling of accomplishment, sadness, and joy as we watched the credits roll was something I took a little for granted; I assumed that all RPGs would make me feel that way.
Yes, all these games could be predicted, but that is one of the reasons I am moving on, dear LusiPetals. I need new experiences and new ways to talk about them! I was a little past my “formative years” at this point, but the first time I played Flower is definitely a gaming experience I remember. I did not own a PS3 at the time, but I was at my best friend-at-the-time’s house and he had one. The system had so few games for it that my minor hesitant interest in Flower was enough for him to drop ten bucks on it. For context, the most played game on that system at that time was Super Rub-a-Dub, so…
My first instinct in gaming is to look through all the options, and after that, or (like in the case of Flower) if that is not available, I try to get a “feel” for the controls before I start seeking out what I “need” to do. I am not sure that there could be a game better suited for that playstyle than Flower. My friend and I spent nearly an hour before we made it over the first hill (which takes about 15 seconds if the player wishes) because we were so enamoured with how freeing it felt to fly around the beautifully rendered world. The game was not about beating the level as fast or as well as we could, it was about feeling like that stream of flower petals. It was about experiencing something in a way that only a video game could make us experience.
I do not believe that my focus on feeling and experience is an obsession with nostalgia or sentimentality, although there is always that danger when discussing abstract formative experiences. I, like many others, have connected to video games because their worlds make more sense to me than the one I live in. But this is not because there is more order or justice in those worlds, but because there is more freedom, more creativity, more room for abstract thinking to make its mark. Final Fantasy IX might be a primitive example of game design, but it also revealed a new pace of story-telling that was neither a novel nor a film, but was purely its own. Ocarina of Time might prove to be more important than it is good, but its importance is paramount nonetheless, acting as a beacon for what games can become. Flower might be a pretty bad game when all is said and done, but just because it is less than the sum of its parts does not mean that there is not beauty in its mechanics’ abilities to transcend traditional controls and give the player a feeling of flight that was previously reserved only for dreams.
Video games are a stumbling explosion, they are Howl’s moving castle, they are so much less and so much more than what they are, they are everything we feel they are and they are nothing close. I have only experienced a scant few decades of gaming. It is easy to feel the temptation to start to reflect on my time with games or try to say I have arrived at a better understanding than when I was wide-eyed and did not think to question what I played, but this does a disservice to the critical eye I am beginning to develop. I love games because of the way they make me feel and because of the way I know they are capable of making me feel. This is only the beginning.
Thank you for reading my final gush on Lusipurr.com, I will miss it very much.