30 Days of Gaming: Day 24, Favorite Classic Game

I’ve given this one a bit of thought.  I grew up at the end of the Atari age, played Pong, and had an NES.  While PacMan was my first game and I love it for introducing me to pixels, it’s not my favorite classic game.  I’d have to say my favorite is the original Legend of Zelda for the NES.

This may be a surprise to those of you who know about my love of classic Metroid.  Yes, I played it, and played every other Metroid game to come out on all of Nintendo’s systems to date (except for Other M.  We do not speak its name here).  I haven’t played all of the Zelda games; I’m nowhere near halfway through Ocarina of Time (blasphemy, I know), never played Twilight Princess, and didn’t finish Wind Waker.  I didn’t play the SNES Zelda game.  And yet, I think the original top-down scrolling Legend of Zelda would stand as my favorite classic game.

If PacMan taught me about pixels and introduced me to a love of video gaming, Zelda introduced me to what it meant to have a fandom and to be a fan (and that it was dangerous to go alone).  It was a complex game with a fairly simple, now-stereotypical story, and yet for some reason my 9-year-old self loved it.  I loved the land of Hyrule, and the settings around it.  I loved Link, the protagonist destined to save the princess from the grip of Ganon.  I loved finding the Triforce pieces.

But most of all I loved finding ways to start integrating my creativity into the land of Hyrule and the story of Link and Zelda.  Zelda led to my first forays into fanfiction.  Every year my elementary school had young author’s day, and we students would write books that would then be on display for our parents and peers.  I wrote a book set in the Zeldaverse, involving the original character my Barbie would portray whenever my best friend and I roleplayed Zelda with our toys.

I remember sitting through after school episodes of the Super Mario Bros. Super Show Monday through Thursday, bearing the antics of the Mario Bros. just to get the 30-second clip of Friday’s Zelda cartoon, and then calling my best friend so we could analyze it.  Yes, 9 and 10 year old girls analyzing clips of the Zelda cartoon.  Not sure if I’m laughing, cringing, or considering going after the brain bleach!  But anyway, when Friday rolled around I’d run from the bus stop and get inside and sit down and watch, reveling in every minute of it.  And once it was over there was the high of having seen it combined with the letdown of knowing I had to wait another week for the next episode.

Looking back now, the cartoon had little to do with the game; the game wasn’t about story.  There was a token story to lend context to why you were traversing all over this map finding items and solving puzzles and gathering items.  The cartoon had to fill in, but I think that’s what I liked about it.  It filled in what we didn’t yet know, and when it all went off the air, it left questions that couldn’t be answered by anything other than fan speculation.

So in the end the original Legend of Zelda stands as my favorite classic game not because of its merits as a game: but for what it did for me as a fan.  It taught me about being a fan, and made fandom a part of my life early on.  When fandom became a concept that was real and applicable to me as an adult, I already understood what it meant, thanks to Zelda.

Next up: Day 25, a game I plan on playing.

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30 Days of Video Games: Day 22, A Disappointing Sequel

We all know the feeling: you’ve played a game and loved it dearly, and then the sequel is announced!  The release date is given; you go pre-order, and may even spring for the limited edition.  You count the days until the midnight release, and come said release date you’re waiting in line eagerly.  You get home, pop it in, begin playing and… it’s not really that good.  So you give it a while longer and you still don’t really like where it’s going.  You begin to pine for the original, the one that you loved so much and got you hooked.  You start comparing.  You become resentful and then angry.  You throw controllers.

Okay, so maybe not quite that extreme.  But the sequel that most disappointed me did indeed have me throwing a controller at the wall.  It’s not my proudest gaming moment, but I think it speaks volumes about just how much I did. Not. Like. This. Game.

I’ve played games that were just okay, or that I didn’t like and just didn’t care for (see my apathy toward Dead Space).  But the sequel that most disappointed me was Metroid Prime 2: Echoes for the Game Cube.

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30 Days of Video Games: Day 12, A Game Everyone Should Play

Being a gamer is about more than just playing games.  Every gamer has his or her own unique personality and tastes.  Some like sports games and will rush out for the latest Madden.  Others will gravitate primarily toward RPGs, and even then, it’s a question of turn-based or not.  Some like real-time strategy, others prefer platformers, still more shooters… the list can continue on and on.  I am by no means an expert, and actually, Bard and I just discussed this as I started typing this post.  I considered something specific, he said he’d approach it with something more generic… even then, among two lifelong gamers the concept of a game everyone should play varies quite a bit!

But we both agreed that everyone should play Super Mario Bros. 3.

Mario 3 holds the record for being the highest grossing video game to date, and has appeared on numerous top ten games lists in various online and print publications.  It’s a side scrolling platformer that can provide a challenge, but is definitely accessible.  Though the graphics are still clearly in the NES era, they are a step up from the 8-bit graphics.  The music is catchy, the worlds differentiated and fun.  The enemies have a comforting familiarity to them, while still having enough new and different baddies to make things interesting.

In terms of Mario and his game play through the levels, the game gives all sorts of new and fun abilities.  With the raccoon tail, Mario can get up enough speed to fly.  With the frog suit, Mario glides through the water levels.  He can hop in a boot that stomps enemies flat or get a tanuki suit that allows him to turn into a statue and remain invincible to enemies.  With the hammer suit he can throw hammers at the bad guys.

As far as bad guys go, it’s more than your standard goombas and koopas, and the bosses are more than just Bowser lookalikes, and the objective is better than a Princess in another castle.  All the airships are different, and all the Koopalings have different abilities.  All in all it’s a blast, and a good time.  In fact, Bard mentioned he has a working copy of it and we can play it tonight!

Because of all the fun aspects of this game, and its classic nature, I think Super Mario 3 is a game everyone should play.

Tomorrow: Day 13, A Game You’ve Played More Than Once

Am I Really A Gamer?

There are a lot of things that keep me awake at night.  I worry about the next day: do I need to make copies before class, will I have a chance to grade a set of essays, do I have the answer key to the vocab sheet.  Stuff like that.  I think about my Dragon Age rogue armor: can I pull it off?  Can I get it made before PAX East?  Is my new design idea viable?  I think about finances and bills and how a relationship might be nice if only to have someone helping with the bills.  I think of a lot of things.  Usually my identity isn’t one of them, but today I got to thinking about my identity as a gamer.

I’m a high school English teacher, so the fact that I game instantly gives me +50 approval with a lot of students.  Suddenly I’m not so alien.  My interests are the same as their interests, and there’s suddenly common ground for us to talk about.  For a few moments I don’t hold their grade in the palm of my hand, and they aren’t expected to learn about literature and writing and vocab.  For a few moments we’re just people.

In a way, I think that’s what I’ve always liked about games and gaming: they bring people together.  There’s no gender or age discrepancy.  Growing up, there weren’t any girls my age in my neighborhood.  They were all just a few years too old to be bothered with me, or just a few years too young.  My best friend lived across town.  So what did I do?  I hung out with my brother, my two male cousins, and their male friends.  I remember the year one of my cousins got the first Nintendo console… and everything changed.  It didn’t matter that I was a girl, or that I wasn’t a fast runner or didn’t like sports.  When we played Mario and tried to get to the Minus World we were all the same.  When we struggled through dungeons in Zelda, or tried to figure out the mysteries of Metroid, we were all on the same level.  Beating a game?  Was a big deal.  We started a club: the Nintendo Nuts.  That was the year I got a Nintendo calendar from the Scholastic book order, and we all chose characters to be our code names, and diligently wrote our meetings into the calendar.

If I can recall all those details so clearly, then it’s evident gaming always has been a big part of my life.  I’ve had my hiatuses from it: high school and college and summer jobs and homework and everything else made me drift away.  But now that I’m an adult, living on my own, I’m back into it, and it’s a major hobby of mine.

But am I really a gamer?

I have consoles: my most current is an xBox 360, which I purchased in 2010 just before Kinect came out, so I don’t have Kinect.  I have a Nintendo GameCube, and an N64 I got a couple years back at Game Stop.  I have a DS, but it’s a first-generation one from 2005-2006.  I could have traded it up for a DS Lite when they came out, but since I got it in Belfast, Northern Ireland, it has some sentimental value.  I have a GBA-SP, which I keep so I can play my ancient, ancient Gameboy cartridges.  I do not have a PS3, a 3DS, or a Wii.  My gaming library consists of 22 titles,  quite a few of which I bought with the system (it was a good tax return that year).

We’re now in the dawn of 2012, and so far the only game I want is Mass Effect 3, which is coming out in just under two months.  I’ve never played Portal or Portal 2; never played Assassin’s Creed or any of the Final Fantasy games, and ironically, I know a great deal about Call of Duty Black Ops without ever having played it.  My gamerscore isn’t in the tens of thousands; heck, I was just happy to break four digits!  By some standards I have large gaps in my gaming background.  And of course, when talking about games with my students the question comes up: “JayRain, are you going to get insertepicnewgamehere when it comes out??”

Usually the answer is no.  Most of the times it is financial; I am a public school teacher with grad school loans, after all.  But the real reason is I’m just not interested.  I subscribe to Game Informer, so I am informed about what games are coming out, but I’m just not that interested in purchasing most of them.  If a game really intrigues me or is another installation in a franchise I like, I’ll find a way to shell out for it.  With Gears of War 3 I used my tax refund and paid in its entirety when I pre-ordered, for example.  I pre-ordered Mass Effect 3 today, and used some gift cards.  For Halo: Reach I put down $10 a month for the Special Edition.

But I didn’t get Battlefield 3.  I didn’t get the Halo Anniversary edition, much as I love Halo, and while Homefront and Bulletstorm looked cool I couldn’t bring myself to shell out around $60 for them.  Even Dante’s Inferno, based on a work of literature I love, didn’t sear my wallet begging to be bought.

This all begs the question then: what is a gamer?  And with this I think I’m referring just to videogaming– I know there’s card and tabletop gaming, as well as roleplaying, all of which were included with video games at PAX.  But as for what makes a video gamer: Is it someone for whom gaming is life, regardless of price or time commitment?  Is it someone who just enjoys picking up a game and playing for a few minutes to relax, and then moving on?  Is it someone who engages in social gaming on Facebook or with iPad/iPhone apps?  I don’t know.  But I do know that when I think about it, I think I really am a gamer.  I don’t have a wide range of games, but the franchises I do enjoy I am loyal to and I play them frequently.  I read through my Game Informers every month for the insider news and information as much as for the previews and reviews of games.

But most of all, I love game culture.  I like analyzing the storytelling elements and the characters.  I love puzzles.  I love becoming someone else even if it’s just for a few hours, and I love exploring new worlds or new versions of our own.  I don’t have a lot of games, or the newest consoles.  But what I do have I enjoy and it’s big part of who I am.  So when I shut down Skyrim tonight after joining the Bard’s college, I may have other worries that keep me up.  But my identity as a gamer will not be one of them.