A History of Games

ZOMG, Nostalgia

The first time I played a computer game was around 1990, when computers still had 5 ¼ inch floppy disk drives alongside the newfangled 3.5-inch ones. Windows didn’t exist yet, which meant navigating the computer required mastery of a whole series of DOS commands. “dir/w” and “cd…” are two I still fondly remember to this day.

The game I played consisted of a dartboard composed of large white, black and cyan pixels, though I can’t quite remember the mechanics. Something to do with stopping a slider for aim and throwing strength, perhaps. Such was my introduction to the world of video gaming.

When I moved to Australia, the five-year-old me was astounded by my uncle’s computer. It had proper colour, for a start. It also had speakers that played music–actual music! From a game!–and a mouse. I was introduced to the world of educational games like Super Solvers: Treasure Mountain! (actually, the whole line of Super Solvers games) and Carmen Sandiego, as well as platformers like Jill of the Jungle and Commander Keen. Not that I was any good at the latter, so I watched my cousins play them instead.

On the whole, I treated video games as a passing hobby. There was the occasional fling with games such as Myst, Broken Sword, Star Wars: Rogue Squadron or The Curse of Monkey Island (and my subsequent affairs with walkthroughs when I got too frustrated) but nothing that really made me think of video games as a life-long commitment. I preferred my books, thank you very much. Okay, there was a slightly longer-term relationship with Pokemon, but you can thank the TV series for that.

Then came the fateful week when my older cousin from Malaysia came to stay. He brought with him a veritable treasure trove of games. The one he told me I should play was called Final Fantasy 7. Being a lazy high school student with nothing better to do, I gave it a go. And I fell head-over-heels in love.

It was eye-opening to realise that video games could have complex, heart-wrenching stories with three-dimensional characters. I was intrigued by Cloud, the amnesiac (and admittedly angsty) lead. I wanted to know how one of Midgar city’s elite soldiers ended up as an underpaid mercenary working for a rebel group. I wanted to be like Aerith, the gentle flower girl who captures Cloud’s heart, even as she draws the interest of Midgar’s leaders for reasons of her own. And if you’ve played the game, yes, I cried at that part. I fell–hard–for the villain Sephiroth, formerly Cloud’s leader and Midgar’s hero, gone mad by revelations of his origins. Hell, I even grew fond of Cid, foul-mouthed old man that he was, and I wanted to see him achieve his failed dream of going into space. There was a whole cast of characters with their own histories and motives, thrown together by circumstances beyond their control to save the world, one way or another. It was an immersive take on the typical quest storyline, and I loved every minute of it.

It introduced me to the world of Japanese Role Playing Games (JRPGs), games that lived or died not so much by their gameplay, but by their storylines. I absolutely devoured the other Final Fantasy games in the series, all with stand-alone stories set in different worlds. I discovered games like Golden Sun and Xenogears. It didn’t take me long to diversify–I’d play just about any game which was well-reviewed in terms of story. Still do, actually.

These days, I find that gaming is evolving. Story is becoming increasingly important, and as small indie studios are starting to flourish, so is experimental gameplay. I’ve played games that made me laugh in sheer wonder and later, hold back tears–all without a single word. There are games where the mechanics are tied closely to the story, providing an even deeper sense of immersion and emotional resonance. And there are games that made me think deeply about my choices and actions, or made me question the entire philosophy of gaming culture. They don’t even have to look pretty, but it doesn’t hurt.

Yes, I’m now a gamer through and through. And it’s one of the best things that’s ever happened to me.

Leanne Yong is an aspiring Aussie author who is working on her second young adult novel. Check out her blog at Clouded Memories for more information and a journal chronicling her latest foray into novel writing.

Photo by Kurt Nordstrom, via Flickr


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