It's a me, barrio!
I grew up in a lower middle class tenement at the edge of Quezon City, under the shadow of SM City. This was the tail end of the 80s, when Trinoma was still a slum area and EDSA was lined with hand-painted movie billboards.
My family lived on the third floor of a four-story government housing project where there were no parks or playgrounds. Tag was potentially perilous on the open streets, with cars coming in and out of SM city. All we had were staircases and dingy concrete.
It was my grandfather who gave us our first Nintendo Family Computer. My grandfather, the Justice from Cebu City who, between court hearings, would feed pigeons on the roof of the Court of Appeals or beat his own high score in Bomber Man while lounging about in his court robe.
[In Character Select, we introduce ourselves by our gaming origins.]
We hooked up the Family Computer to a tiny black and white TV and saved up to buy cartridges. Super Mario Bros. became an exercise on providence, as any mushroom was a potential power-up, extra life, or deadly spore. Puzzle Bobble was impossible, so we stuck with games that didn’t rely on color.
My mother kicked so much ass on Circus Charlie and Galaga, and we had to earn the right to challenge her high score by finishing our homework hours before bedtime. I was the reigning queen of Adventure Island while my brother thrashed me at Castlevania. We’d keep sabotaging our missions as Chip and Dale in Rescue Rangers when we would carry each other’s characters over our heads.
I got my first taste of the PlayStation at a hole in a wall joint beside the nearby fish market. Paying 20 pesos got you an hour of play while 30 pesos let you rent a memory card for a month. The older kids were dicks who would override our save points, so we mostly stuck to fighting games like Rival Schools and the odd Bust-a-Move [Bust-a-Groove to our NTSC/PAL friends! –Ed].
High school rolled around and it was time to upgrade to a colored TV and get a PlayStation for ourselves. I realized that I couldn’t play horror survival games like Silent Hill and Resident Evil because I was a giant coward. I was my brother’s backseat gamer, barking orders at him while he steered Harry Mason through hellish hospital corridors and clock tower puzzles. On the flipside, my brother hated the meandering pace of JRPGs like Final Fantasy and Breath of Fire.
We were brought up to treat video games as a reward. We had to earn our right to play. All the schoolwork should be done, chores accomplished, vegetables consumed. Bathed, changed, and brushed our teeth. Only then could we play. Gaming was a respite from our grey neighborhood, the breath of air after a dreary school day.
These early days of gaming may have shaped my personal bias against portable consoles and PC games. I never felt comfortable with the luxury of being able to play anywhere and at any time. Going outdoors means enjoying the sunlight, going for a walk, having conversations. Why would I bring my games out there?
Similarly, the PC is an appliance for work, for getting shit done. After hours of working at the PC, I simply don’t have it in me to sit in the same place and play on the same machine. Give me a console just for gaming and I’m good. I understand that this severely limits my gaming range, but I never enjoyed MMOs anyway.
The new generation of gaming consoles came out when I was dating this sweet boy who gave me my first handheld console— a Nintendo DS. Pink with a Hello Kitty sticker on it, I suppose because he thought that was what girls liked. I received it graciously and loaded it with pirated games—blasts from the past like Tetris and Space Invaders, and glorious tactics games like Advance Wars. Said boyfriend introduced me to the Ace Attorney series and The World Ends with You. But I never once did bring the DS out of my house.
The same boy convinced me to buy a Nintendo Wii. He said it would be great, motion control being a revolutionary new thing, and games like Super Smash Bros. and Wario Ware were supposedly great for parties. Looking back, it was probably love that blinded me to get a Wii, momentarily forgetting that 1) I enjoy serious games with darker themes, something the Wii can’t quite get right and 2) I disliked gaming with people.
So when that relationship burned out, I got myself a PS3. With great relish, I conquered Batman: Arkham Asylum and Bioshock.
Gaming was like this secret life. In the morning, I went to school or worked. I fulfilled obligations, was a responsible citizen. At night, I was busy dangling mooks from rooftops or calling down swarms of bees on my enemies.
Gaming is an escape. It could be art— it rouses emotions. It could be a hobby as it develops a certain skill. It could be idle entertainment because it passes the time. I play to escape.
I play video games to step out of my life for a few hours. Gaming is the world outside of traffic jams and MRT rush hours, away from responsibilities and commitments. It is pulling off a stunning 25-hit combo on Street Fighter after barely passing the math quiz. It is wielding fireballs at my fingertips and raiding Orcish skooma operations in the wake of a rough break-up. It is beating the bad guys and saving the world at the end of a long day.