Do you remember that day you received your first video game console? How about that time you discovered a secret stage that none of your friends knew about? Those days of being so excited for the latest iteration in a long-running series, only to be disappointed or have your expectations exceeded beyond your wildest dreams. That is what the Video Gamer’s Experience is all about. Now lets take a trip down this electronic memory lane where I look at the top five video game-based Christmas presents I’ve ever received (listed in chronological order).
Nintendo Entertainment System (1989)
To this day I don’t know what convinced me that I needed a Nintendo Entertainment System (NES). Was it a random commercial or magazine ad? Did my parents say something about the video game console and it caught my ear? Did I see someone playing the system during a family get together? No matter the reason, the main present for me on Christmas 1989 was a NES. Thankfully, my parents were blessed enough to pick up the “Action Bundle” that featured the system, two controllers, the “Zapper” light gun and a game cartridge featuring not one, but two games (“Super Mario Bros.” & “Duck Hunt”). This is where my video game hobby began and thrived for four years as I tested my hand at everything from creating dirt bike tracks (“Excitebike”) to dying repeatedly as mutated creatures (“Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles” & “Battletoads”) to simply stomping mushrooms with eyes (the “Super Mario Bros.” series).
Sega Genesis (1993)
By 1992, the Nintendo Entertainment System was practically dead in the water thanks to the company moving onto its next venture, the “Super Nintendo Entertainment System”. New games were released rarely; and most of those games were terrible at best. Thankfully for the uninformed gamer in me, a weekend at my aunt Cicero’s house would open my eyes to the “future”. I sat with Cicero’s future stepson, Reginald (Reggie or “Boo” as we all affectionately called him) and watched as a hedgehog wearing red shoes and rocking a Japanese anime style hairdo sped through this digital, colorful world before me.
Over a year would pass until Christmas 1993 and the day I became the owner of a Sega Genesis. But the Genesis package I received for Christmas didn’t come with “Sonic The Hedgehog”, but its sequel – “Sonic The Hedgehog 2”. I was in for a brand new experience that would eventually go beyond just “Sonic” games and reinforced my passion for this electronic wonder.
Sony Playstation (1997)
Fighting games and platformers, professional wrestling “simulators” and the occasional sports/racing game rented if I’ve already played everything currently in the store. The previous sentence perfectly describes what was the first seven to eight years of my time as a video game player. In 1997, I found myself starving for new games after the height of the 16-bit era (Sega’s “Genesis” and Nintendo’s “Super Nintendo Entertainment System” consoles specifically) had come and gone. With the rise of gaming’s fifth generation and Nintendo’s “N64” system keeping its cartridge style of console gaming, Sony entered the video game realm with a compact disc-formatted system called the “Playstation”.
The Playstation had been available to purchase in North America two years before I felt the child-like urge (I was a twelve year old kid, mind you) to own a Playstation. My campaign to my parents for this new gaming system began three or so months before Christmas in hopes of having the perfect electronic present. My anticipation and constant badgering about wanting the gaming console paid off with a new console and several incredible games (“Mortal Kombat Trilogy”, “The King of Fighters ’95”, “WCW vs. the World”). An argument can be made that the fifth generation of video game consoles represented true innovation; and I was right in the middle of everything thanks to what happened Christmas day in 1997.
Final Fantasy VII (1998)
During the time of explaining why I “needed” a Playstation, I had a chance to pick up a copy of “Game Informer” magazine that featured a complete, spoiler-filled walkthrough of Squaresoft’s latest role-playing game entitled “Final Fantasy VII”. In reading the magazine article for this game I didn’t own, I exposed my fragile little mind to a genre of gaming I truly didn’t know existed because my local video stores either didn’t have role playing games available to rent or they were always rented out. Even though the marketing and magazines had made a significant initial impact on me, when I planned a Playstation-centric Christmas list that year, my mind had completely forgotten about “Final Fantasy VII”.
It would take a year of playing the games in the “Playstation” section (and a few others like the epic “Tekken 3” and “Twisted Metal 2”) and the opening of a video store not three minutes away from my house (in driving time) before “Final Fantasy VII” popped onto my radar again. Coming from school not long after the “Video 2000” store’s opening did I have a chance to rent “Final Fantasy VII”. For the next couple of days, I spent as much time as I could playing this wondrous game before having to return it; declaring to myself if there could only be one present under the Christmas tree for me that year, “Final Fantasy VII” would be that present. And thankfully it was meant to be.
Sadly, I didn’t get a chance to play my second foray of the game (I decided to start a new game even though I hadn’t gotten too far when I was renting the video store copy) until two days after Christmas thanks to an ice storm caused-widespread power outage. But when that power came back on, the first thing I did was crank up Squaresoft’s crown jewel. Heck, I even missed WWF’s “Sunday Night Heat” to play – I didn’t sacrifice pro wrestling for anything if I could help it back then. “Final Fantasy VII” was the first game I played that felt like a true epic experience, making me a fan of the series – both the previous iterations and future installments – and RPG games in general; thus forcing me out of my genre-exclusive bubble and allowed me to become a diversified gamer.
Sony Playstation 2 (2001)
By the fall season of 2001, the second Sony-created video game system had been available to purchase in North America for over a year. Aptly named the “Playstation 2” (or “PS2”), Sony looked to continue its dominance in the video game market by surpassing its then-current competitors (Nintendo’s “Nintendo 64” and Sega’s “Dreamcast”) thanks to an ever-growing library of quality games, media playback (being a DVD/CD player as well as a gaming console) and positioning itself head and shoulders above any future systems coming down the pike (Nintendo’s “N64” successor the “Gamecube” and Microsoft’s technically superior “Xbox”).
Sony had done a wonderful job of winning me over during the fifth generation of console gaming, convincing me to spend at least three hours experiencing the original “Playstation’s” catalogue of games compared to maybe one hour for any time I turned on my N64. With Christmas 2001 coming ever so quickly, the time to move forward into console gaming’s budding sixth generation was now. Though it was a sleek system featuring revolutionary ideas (such as online gaming via a built-in modem), Sega’s “Dreamcast” just didn’t have the same appeal to the once closed-minded gamer.
During some cold and at times icy December Saturdays, I spent a majority of my day working at a neighbor’s fruit stand downtown. The goal was to simply earn enough money to purchase my PS2 for the holidays. Going through my wallet two weeks before Christmas, I soon discovered that I had enough for the system … but the games would be lacking. My mom made a deal with me that she’d throw in a hundred dollars toward the purchase of my PS2 while I covered some of the games I asked my parents to buy. I didn’t hesitate in agreeing to the offer, leaving the market stand for a round of shopping that concluded with me owning “Final Fantasy X”, “Dragon Ball Z: Budokai” and “WWF Smackdown: Just Bring It”. I would get a couple of more games thanks to my parents (“Grand Theft Auto III” and “Legends of Wrestling”), but nothing prepared me for what would become my favorite time as a gamer yet. Thanks to having some income (be it my own or my parents/grandmother being nice enough to give me a couple of bucks) and the video store seemingly ordering every PS2 game released for the first four years I owned the system, I had the chance to game like never before. Thanks to a perfect mix of quality and quantity, my time as a PS2 gamer was the height of gaming fun that I’ve experienced.