Why Video Games Matter to Me

Remembering the good old days playing the classics

20 December 2011
zelda Image: Nintendo

Researching the history of the video game industry for this month’s issue was a special treat for me. It made me realize that, being born in the early ’80s, I had the good fortune of growing up while the game industry was still in its infancy. I had always been jealous that my parents’ generation witnessed—in my opinion—the best decade of music, the ’60s. But now I realize that I had been just as lucky to witness an amazing evolution in another area—video games.

I went from playing Street Fighter 2 on an arcade machine at my favorite pizza place to playing the game in my own home on the Super Nintendo. I watched Mario go from 8 bits on the NES to a character we can now manipulate with a motion controller on the Wii. And then there’s everyone’s favorite green-outfitted hero named Link…

This year marked the 25th anniversary of my most beloved game series: Zelda. I recently bought the newest release, The Legend of Zelda: Skyward Sword, which came out in November. It’s a series that has had such a lasting impression on me that when I heard the iconic theme music in the new game’s intro, I almost cried. It felt like it was just yesterday that I was sitting in my big brother’s room in front of a 13” television playing the original Legend of Zelda [shown above] on our gray, boxy, 8-bit NES. Now here I was, wielding Link’s actual sword by just waving my Wiimote on my 52” LED flat screen TV.

Simply put, video games hold a special place in my heart. It may sound strange to have such a strong emotional connection to something many people associate with only violent battles. That’s not the case for me. Some of my fondest childhood memories were playing early classic games with my brother. But we didn’t stay inside all day glued to the television—my mother would never allow that! We spent a lot of time outside, where we orchestrated massive hide-n-seek games with the neighborhood kids or explored the forest behind our house. There was always a perfect balance between video games and outdoor activity, and I’m grateful my parents enforced that. In fact, when my mother decided that we were playing games excessively, our NES or Super Nintendo would be hidden—which we usually found in the back of a dark closet. Then we’d quickly reconnect it to the TV in the little time we had after school and before my mother came home from work.

I have so many fond memories playing those games with my brother. They were like a doorway to a fantasy world, where anything was possible. We’d battle each other in Street Fighter 2 (one of us shouting at the other that his/her moves were “cheap,” or unfair). I was always Chun Li, and he was Ryu or Ken. Somehow my lightning kick was always deemed cheap, while I felt the same way about his seemingly excessive use of hadoukens. But we also learned teamwork. We’d take turns playing the classics: Super Mario Bros. on the NES and my favorite, The Legend of Zelda: A Link to the Past on the Super Nintendo. Always wanting to be just like my big brother, I’d watch how he tackled some of the more challenging puzzles in Link’s quest. He was always there to help me when I got stuck (this seemed to happen most often in the ice temple). We spent weeks—well, he spent weeks, it took me a few months—to beat the game. By the time we were done, it was no longer just a game. It felt like the end of a real adventure, as if we were actually the ones touching the Triforce to restore peace to Hyrule after defeating the evil Ganon. So, I’m not afraid to admit, I often cried when it was over.

But big brother couldn’t stay and play video games with me forever. One day he had to leave for college out of state, and so my video game days came to an end for a while. It just wasn’t the same playing without him there for tips, to accuse of playing cheap, or to cheer me on.

My video game lull didn’t last forever. As more technically impressive systems like the Xbox 360, Wii, and PlayStation 3 have come out, I ran out and purchased them. And I even learned to enjoy playing games without my brother—though I still think they’d be more fun with him. Thankfully, now I have my husband (a much better player than me) to play games with. That’s good, because I really could use someone to help me navigate Link through the ever-more challenging puzzles in Skyward Sword—especially if there turns out to be another ice temple!

Do you have memories of playing video games growing up? What were some of your favorites? Share them below.

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