This week I thought I would post something a little different for you Platform Nation readers. I wanted to take a look at how videogames fit into your lifestyle, whether you are ashamed of your favorite hobby, or proud of it.
Now that videogames are really making huge strides at becoming a mainstay amongst everyone young and old, male or female, the prospect at being made fun of or looked down upon like a nerdy outcast is quickly fading. Who can cast the first stone now, when everyone’s got a plastic guitar in there hand, or finishing that next level in Angry Birds?
Let me take you back into my past so I can properly explain myself. I moved around a lot as a kid. I think in my 24 years of life I’ve averaged a move every two years or so. As a result, making friends was a skill I had to learn early on and it soon became essential for me. It also helped that my dad was a huge gamer (and still is), and so my house was always filled with the latest and greatest in the videogame world. I never used it as a lure, in fact I rarely invited kids over until we were pretty good friends. It did however provide me with an instant reliability factor amongst the other guys in class. I could quickly pipe in on my thoughts on whatever the topic was that day, or how I unlocked invincibility in GoldenEye.
Thankfully, due to the way I was raised from moving around a lot, I was a social kid. So I had a nice balance of nerdy and “normal.” I could keep up with everyone huddled around the fat kid in class with his GamePro magazines, talking about this thing coming out called a PlayStation, while maintaining my position as team captain on every sports team my school had. I was a strange breed of kid, but I’ve always been thankful for the fact that I could fit into many different circles and crowds of people.
I soon realized though, as I got older, that being able to to score the winning goal for my team, and being the king of the nerds could only last so long. Eventually these two worlds would collide and I would have to choose one road.
I was always sharp enough as a young lad to notice the disinterest from the girls in class, or the subtle eye roll from them when a group of guys started talking about Jet Force Gemini a little too loudly. I always shuttered when I knew my crush of the week walked by just as I uttered a terrible sentence about my night defeating Dr. Neo Cortex or my experience with Psycho Mantis. These moments were rare slips on my part. I was usually keen enough to remove myself from the conversation at key pinnacles of nerdyness, but I could see the gap growing between girls, videogames, and my place amongst them.
That was always the great war in my youth. Myself and gaming VS girls. Guys have always been able to bond over videogames, from the cradle to the grave. Guys have had no problem talking about games or playing games. It’s like a male ritual, or a right of passage. If you didn’t collect every star in Mario 64, you just weren’t a real man. I often wondered what we’d all do if videogames didn’t exist, and how on earth every human didn’t find this to be the ultimate hobby. But alas, in my generation growing up, it was seen as a major turn off to the majority of girls. The fork in the road was approaching.
By the time High School came around, I felt like I was Peter Parker maintaining my secret gaming identity. I could walk down the halls, flirting with girls, or joking around with the jocks, all while being distracted in the back of my brain like a cry for help. My spider sense tingled knowing that the Xbox just launched and I had to skip my afternoon classes to go pick up my console and my copies of Halo and Dead or Alive 3.
I was Jack’s multitasking super soldier. The first rule of Fight Club? You do not talk about Fight Club. A subtle nod was given as I would pass my friends, in the “loser” section of school. You know the ones, passing Yu-Gi-Oh cards back and forth, or whatever those kids do nowadays. It’s probably all iPhones now, but these are the same kids that years ago were throwing down slammers on Pogs with me at recess, or flicking marbles in the dirt. The gap had gotten so big that I couldn’t even recognize them anymore. I was a lone wolf trying to do the impossible; trying to do what I was doing my whole life: In elementary, it was trying to maintain my straight A’s for mom and dad while perfecting every level of Sonic the Hedgehog. In Jr. High I was trying to maintain my presence as a cool kid while juggling Crash Bandicoot, Metal Gear Solid, Perfect Dark and convincing everyone that the Dreamcast was hands down the best console for their money. In High School it got tough, the nerds separated into Sony, Nintendo, and Microsoft camps. Friends became enemies, and mini wars broke out amongst my allies while I struggled to keep my first serious girlfriend afloat all while not letting her know my true side. She didn’t know that when I couldn’t go to a movie because I had to study for tomorrow’s exam, that study actually meant play Rainbow Six on X Box Live all night until I could hear the next day’s school bell ring.
The true test came when I invited her over to my place. And by “my place,” I mean my parents place where I had a bedroom that I lived in. And by “bedroom” I mean gaming dungeon. My bedroom had to go through such a transformation for this girl every time she came over that I felt like I had some distant relation to Optimus Prime. I would tear down my posters of Master Chief, and replace them with a shrine of pictures dedicated to Martin Brodeur of the Jersey Devils – my favorite Hockey team. Statues from Shadow of the Colossus disappeared and were replaced with jars full of pens and other normal things. My consoles were tucked away and hidden, and the wallpapers on my computer transitioned from Ryu and Ken battling to a regular scenic picture of the mountains.
I just couldn’t let her know about this dark secret which was such a big part of me. She was one of those girls a lot of guys wanted, and she was with me. If she happened to catch that cardboard cut-out of Sam Fisher sticking out of my closet – it could be game over. I know this sounds terrible because it goes against every moral from every Disney movie about being yourself and being true to yourself, but this was different. This was real life. And in real life, the Star Wars t-shirt wearing, scrawny pale kid doesn’t get the cheer leader. At least not in my time.
But with every dark tunnel, there is always light at the end. Like the opening to Watchmen, the times are a changin,’ and publicly announcing on Facebook that you were heading out to your local game store at midnight for your copy of Halo: Reach isn’t such a bad thing anymore. In fact, it’s pretty normal. Sitting beside a girl on the bus who’s constructing her perfect combination of weapons to defeat the oncoming zombie attack in Plants vs Zombies isn’t so strange or out of the ordinary. Videogames are everywhere, and talking about them or playing them isn’t looked down upon anymore. I guess the point of this whole story was to show how different this medium was just a few years ago, and how much it has grown and changed. How do you feel? Do you think it’s completely caught on? Have you ever gone through a period of shame toward this hobby? Or do you even care?
As for me, my story ends happily. I’ve learned to maintain a perfect balance to this day. I’m still your normal 24 year old guy, with friends and girls in his life, family, and many different hobbies. Sure, some of those hobbies include blowing the heads off alien scum – that’s never changed. But now, I’m not afraid to let anyone know about it.