It's a me, barrio!
Like a lot of gamers born in the 80s, I started out with the console and the video game that saved the industry— the Nintendo Entertainment System, or the Famicom as it was known in Asia, and the original Super Mario Bros. I was around four or five years old when I first held that red and white brick of a controller, gleefully hopping on Goombas and bashing bricks while that classic chip music burrowed through my ears and into my brain. I remember the intense primal fear I felt when I finally got to the end of World 1-4 and I had to confront who I once thought was the Koopa King himself.
[In Character Select, we introduce ourselves by our gaming origins.]
I never actually faced Bowser back then as I couldn’t get past World 2.
It was also the only time I remember my dad ever playing video games. I’d hear later on that he and my mom used to play all the classics like Pong, Galaga, and Space Invaders for one of those Atari consoles before I was born. So I have to thank my parents for actually being into videogames enough to get themselves a Famicom. They introduced me to this magical 8-bit universe where I could take mushrooms and throw fireballs, eat pellets and chase ghosts, engage in epic tank battles, create my own custom dirt bike race track, and be Popeye.
The Book of Genesis
My parents moved on from playing video games soon after, but I had my two brothers to keep my early gaming experience fun. We were very lucky to get an SNES and a Sega Genesis not too far apart, but we gravitated towards the sleek black 16-bit machine. In retrospect, we missed out on a lot of Nintendo classics because of our choice, and I remain ignorant of the utter joy some gamers my age felt exploring the Kingdom of Hyrule, traveling across time, and battling an evil clown turned god.
But I don’t ever regret the fun times I had racing through jungles, waterways and carnivals while collecting rings in Sonic 1, 2 and 3 (none of which I ever beat as a child). There was also the beginning of my forgotten love for basketball with NBA Live 95 and Arch Rivals; my love-hate relationship with beat ‘em ups in Bare Knuckle (Streets of Rage), Mighty Morphin’ Power Rangers: The Movie, and the seed for my interest in comics with the Adventures of Batman and Robin, Punisher, Maximum Carnage and Separation Anxiety.
Playing those videogames with my brothers made us closer. We counted down the days, hours and minutes when we could boot up the Genesis since we were only allowed to play on weekends, and we cherished every second since we could only game for a couple of hours. We even fought each other when one of us hogged the controller, resulting in fistfights and spankings I’ll never forget.
We Have to Go Deeper
And then we saw our older cooler cousin playing Final Fantasy Tactics and Metal Gear Solid on his brand spanking new Playstation in 1998. My eyes were opened to the complexity video games could reach, especially with the breakthrough of 3D graphics. Narratives of political intrigue, conspiracies and betrayals with the fate of the entire world in the balance flooded the right side of my brain while the left side went on overdrive figuring out patterns and building strategies in three-dimensional virtual realms.
But my affection for games with dizzying stories wasn’t an immediate attachment. When we got our own Playstation thanks to my then globe-trotting parents, I was perfectly fine creating my dream fighting robot in the Armored Core series, bulldozing buildings and dining on the local populace across the globe in Rampage: World Tour, playing out my fantasy of being a superhero in Spider-Man and its sequel Enter Electro, embracing the absurd fun of pro-wrestling in Acclaim and THQ’s offerings, and breaking out sick million point combos jumping gaps, grinding rails, and just generally being awesome in Tony Hawk’s Pro Skater 2.
I still craved the immediacy of those action oriented mish-mash of genres. Just being able to explore all that new space that wasn’t just going left or right in a straight line was absolutely liberating. But it was also the time when my brothers and I slowly stopped playing videogames with each other. It certainly didn’t help that we only had one controller for a long time, and most of the good titles were single player only. But those times when we visited our cousin to see him playing FFT and MGS stuck with me, and I soon found myself becoming an attentive backseat player when my older brother started playing RPGs.
I watched and listened like both a student in class and a kid in the movies, taking mental notes of character builds, boss strategies, and locations of rare items while getting fully engrossed in the unfolding plots and machinations of tyrannical lords, duplicitous church leaders, and malevolent world-ending alien entities. Seeing bits of animated cutscenes and reading slowly scrolling text built up my patience till I was ready to tackle these fantastical 60-100 hour beasts such as the clash of destinies of two best friends in Suikoden II, the sci-fi soap/space opera that is Star Ocean: the 2nd Story, and the revolutionary cinematic stealth spy thriller Metal Gear Solid.
To be completely honest, I can probably trace my natural skepticism of authority figures and traditional institutions because of these games influencing my naive 12 year old mind entering the volatile adolescent years. No coincidence I started turning from squeaky clean model student in elementary to aloof smart aleck teen in high school. Coupled with the explosion of Counter-Strike in the country, I had drifted away from those old family videogame connections.
The funny thing is instead of getting immersed in the expensive addiction of internet cafe LAN gaming still present to this day, I ended up getting lost online downloading bots and all sorts of maps and mods for Counter-Strike. Rare were the days when I actually went out with friends to play the game as it was meant to be played— with real people. I turned a multiplayer experience into a solitary one. And this happened even with RTS games like Starcraft and the national phenomenon that was Battle Realms.
I’d go on to focus on single player gaming with the Playstation 2, having completely severed whatever links I had with family and videogames. I threw myself into the epic battles of Dynasty Warriors, the wholly realized gang-run cities of Grand Theft Auto, the watercolor world of Okami, the magical dream universe of Final Fantasy X, the metafictional espionage mindfuck of Metal Gear Solid 2 and 3, and so on and so forth.
I’ve since embarked on these virtual journeys on my own, kinda like Solid Snake having to accept that he doesn’t have to be defined by his bloodline. But like Ramza Beoulve being able to stand up in the beginning with the help of his last name, I also have to thank my family for letting me get on the ride in the first place.
(Joseph Berida has since sent Bowser into the depths of hell in Super Mario Bros. 1 and 3, and stomped a mudhole in Dr. Robotnik’s candy ass in Sonic 1, 2 and 3; all without the help of his father, his brothers, or his cool cousin.)