When I was about 8 or 9, I had my first true taste of freedom. I was allowed to cross a major thoroughfare (really just a 2-lane road) on my bike. This previously impassable obstacle rendered moot, I knew exactly where I would go. Across that road, past my elementary school, to the strip mall about a quarter mile past I would heed the clarion call and find my childhood Shangri-La, the brand-new local video arcade nestled right next to the Giant supermarket.
I would take my not-so-hard-earned five dollar allowance (I wasn't old enough to yet think cutting the grass was anything less than totally exciting), get on my bike and ride that mile or so, getting more and more excited the whole way, until I would finally step into that dark, air-conditioned paradise. With so many games! This was in the days of cabinet consoles, hulking monoliths of cathode ray tube glory. Maybe twenty or thirty of them (some duplicates), all with colorfully painted cabinets and sounding off their early soundtracks or vaguely martial music and bleeps-bloopy shit. After scoping out for new machines, I'd feed my bill into the machine for my 20 quarters. No game cost more than a quarter at the time, so I knew I had some solid game time in front of me. Space Invaders was probably the first game I ever played, and I usually started there, moving on to Galaxian, and invariably ended up at my jam, Battlezone. I mean, just LOOK at this thing!
Look at those sweet vector graphics! It had two joysticks and a viewfinder.
Simply awesome. How was I supposed to resist? With my face buried in the viewfinder, it felt like early virtual reality, and I was hooked.
I loved my solo hours in the arcade, alone and happy, anonymous among all the other dorks and nascent gamers. As games got bigger (Pacman fever, anyone?), the experience became less fun and more and more people began to intrude on a space I considered mine. Getting back to simple, lonely fun was an experience I would try to recreate for myself throughout my life, and once I got my Atari 2600, I was sold on home gaming as the future (even though most of those games were terrible - I actually owned and finished the Atari E.T. game, which is largely considered the worst mass-produced video game of all time).
Still, I found that I could largely be in control of my environment (i.e. be by myself) and, best of all, I would never run out of quarters.
And so from the 2600, I went through a long stretch with my Commodore 64. Let's take a look at this thing:
I found this picture on the interwebs, but this was literally my setup. I mean, look at the size of that disc drive! And that thing in the back right corner is a tape drive. A TAPE DRIVE! I had Frogger on that mofo, and it took about 5 minutes to load once you pressed play, and even then it worked about 40% of the time. It's mind-blowing to think that machine had 64K of RAM. I had a word processor, a dot-matrix printer. The 64 was money. But I used it about 95% of the time to play games (duh). My dad and I saw this in a computer store:
That's Beach Head, and we were blown away by the graphics. So real! I was only jealous of one friend, who had an Intellivision we could play football on (and an early voice synthesizer, which was pretty cool).
I continued gaming through my "adult" life. I've owned the original Nintendo, a Super Nintendo, a Nintendo 64, and original Xbox. But for some reason, I'm a Playstation guy. I got the PS1 while I was in graduate school, and the PS2, PS3, and PS4 have all been day-one purchases for me. When I became a professor, my first goal was to assemble as legit a home theater system as possible for my gaming habit. I wanted (and still want) to create an environment of my own making, where I feel safe and quiet, and can shut down the shouting inside my mind for a while and be somewhere else (usually somewhere epic). Having been there roughly since the beginning of casual gaming, I am still filled with 12-year-old wonder at the graphics and sound design, and for me, the current generation of gaming is just awesome. To be able to sit in my mancave in Manhattan and play cooperative games with my friend Rob in Raleigh, NC is so much fun, and has actually become a central part of our relationship. Who knew that you could hash out major life problems while hunting zombies? At the end of the day, though, fun takes a distant second place to the sense of peace and wonder that I get when sitting with my boyhood self, slaying dragons. It's no wonder, then, that my most favorite experiences are the epic single-player games like Skyrim, Fallout, or the Batman Arkham series, where I can truly immerse myself in an alternate reality and persona, and let my mind wind out the day so that I can be ready for the next.
I'm always happy to make new online connections. If you have a PS4, my PSN is MrBoulez. MrBoulez has been my online name since the very beginning. You can also catch me right here most nights, doing my thing. Feel free to drop in!