The Impact of Gaming's Gift


One Christmas gift, given more than two decades ago, changed my life. No joke, a single present under the tree forever tainted my choices that would follow. It was a NES, given the year they came out in the US and procured by a mother that still-won’t-let-me-forget that she drove to the next state over to get it. I don’t think I've saved the world by grinding levels in World of Warcraft or anything; I’m pretty we’d be soldiering on just fine if I was an accountant or a marine biologist instead of a games blogger. Just the same, it’s always amazed me that I can trace back most of the important touchstones in my life to a single grey NES box.

What’s even more interesting to me is how common that experience is for a lot of other gamers. A Gameboy, a Colecovision … they find their way into our hands almost accidentally, but have an enormous impact. Where would you be without the gift of gaming all those many years ago?

For myself, the NES began a lifelong love of gaming in a tactile way. I was about six when the console was released state-side, and as a result I’ve had it in my head for a long time that games are things you should participate in. The participatory, tangible experience of playing Super Mario Bros. was a watershed moment, an opening of a door that couldn’t be closed. While Monopoly and Yahtzee are all well and good, it’s hard to go back to rote pieces moving around a gameboard once you’ve personally saved a princess from a flame-belching lizard king.

If the NES opened the door, a book was what ruined any chance of having a normal social life. The hilariously lengthy-titled Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles (and Other Strangeness) was the meeting of the familiar, the novel, and my old friend gaming in an entirely new package. I’d heard of D&D and been intrigued, but TMNT was something I could take home to mom. How could the turtles be bad? I’d been a high-kicking reptile martial artists for years! To this day I still haven’t related to her how my first RPG character died, a brutal drowning by anthropomorphic mustelids in New York City’s polluted river.

Furry-adjascent or no, TMNT was my first tabletop roleplaying game. Thereafter I was forever lost. Tabletop gaming and the launch of Magic: the Gathering provided fodder for high school lunchroom conversations. Lunchroom conversations were the basis for fast friendships I’ve maintained to today, and kindled in me an interest in programming and computers. My laughable attempt at a programming career led me to the sweet embrace of via volunteer writing at a tiny fansite. And now you’re allowing me to bore you on the day after Christmas at an internationally respected source of games writing and opinion.

The beautiful thing is that if you’d told me twenty two years ago that playing Mario Bros. would someday lead to podcasting with GWJ or writing about MMOs, I would have had no idea what you were talking about. Gamers with Jobs and the burgeoning online game market are singularities years in the making, mere glimmers on the horizon in 1986. Their importance on this day-after-Christmas Day is a testament to all the ‘gifts of gaming’ since. Thousands of young men and women, just like me, who woke up to find something under the tree that made them open their eyes a little wider.

They opened their eyes not to mindless violence or meaningless time-wasters. They didn’t open their eyes because they hated reading or they had bad parents. Their eyes were opened to things like the pure joy of exploring a world, safe from repercussions. They opened their eyes to the terror and triumph of leaping a chasm, to the importance of standing up for what you believe in. They’ve learned that stepping outside of yourself, even just for a few minutes, exposes your mind to different ways of thinking.

Gamers around the world have been opening presents Christmas morning, and opening their eyes to the truth that fun is important. Even lifelong gamers sometimes scoff at the idea of fun's important, but it demonstrably is so. Without the work of game developers, without “permission” for us as adults to have fun, wouldn’t the world be a bit of a darker place?

Playing is important. Games can be important. And gamers, in turn, are important too.


So hey, I'm particularly interested. Anyone want to share any of their "How gaming changed my life" stories today?

Well, i've already posted this once in the forums and once on my joint site but hey, why not again?

An excerpt wrote:

No, I became what I am today through my lust for technology. It was my mum who introduced the PC into our lives for pure reasons and my dad who corrupted its intent in a strange reversal of the stereotypical garden of eden tropes. The PC was for university work but quickly descended into depravity and sin once it had been introduced to the (as yet unnamed) ‘warez’ scene. Once self aware, no longer could it hide its nakedness and at once sought ways to cleanse itself and return to the garden. If anyone remembers those dark days before the glories of more modern OSes you too may recall having to wipe your system weekly, sometimes more often, to start afresh after mistakes were made when tinkering. I never partook in this ritual of death and renewal until my dad, on a trip to visit family in Canada, brought back the game that would start it all: Diablo.

On receiving the box (so large back then, with unnecessary flaps and plastic) I gazed longingly at the beautiful graphics on its rear then carefully placed the CD into the tray on our computer and watched as nothing happened. My, er I mean ‘our’, PC back then was a 486 DX2 (that was the extent of my knowledge) and it would not, even with the turbo button firmly depressed, run this game that i needed to experience. So I did what every young man must do - go and pester the adult with whom this fault must surely lie. My dad, a canny sort, immediately diagnosed the problem: an incurable disease known as obsolescence - and apologised for buying a game which was as good to me as a coaster… then proceeded to promise an upgrade ’someday’. I had realised at an early age that this day was not on any human calendar and duely returned to replace the CD within its jeweled case and instead experience the game via the proxy of the manual.

Several months later while at a computer fair with my dad we spotted a deal on a pentium 200 MHz CPU with matching motherboard. I saw then the lust that lay in my dad’s eyes - he saw the ’shiny’ and the phrase ‘It takes one to know one’ held true in this situation: i wanted it too. We conspired ‘without’ the knowledge of my mum to purchase these items there and then on the pretense that they would constitute parts of my birthday and christmas presents and I signed my soul right there on the dotted line. There was no turning back now.

Technically it wasn't Christmas - even though they were 'Christmas' presents.

<----going to be flamed

I like E.T. Yes, I'm talking about the Atari game.

E.T. was one of my first games. It certainly had more depth than COMBAT, PAC-MAN, and SPACE INVADERS, and I played it as recently as last year and still don't understand why so many people hate it so much. Sure, it's obtuse and finicky, but look at its competition! It's no ADVENTURE but it was far more engaging than STAMPEDE. what year did Atari learn about lower-case letters, by the way?...

<----okay, no more flaming past here

My gaming timeline goes something like this:

1981 birth, drool on Commodore 64 keyboard, crawl
1982 move C64 cursor on screen using arrow keys
1983 begin playing PAC-MAN and E.T., begin years-long obsession with SPACE INVADERS
1985 MARIO
1999 Begin college, aka Napster, Counter-Strike, and Team Fortress Classic
2003 Get first real job, aka I buy every game I ever wanted, but rarely play them
2007 Start listening to GWJ podcasts and feel better about the preceding line

As with you, Michael Zenke, my brief stint with programming was fun but not what I wanted to do, though to this day a majority of my friends are computer scientists. I couldn't imagine getting around the world today if I didn't have years of experience dealing with GUIs, taking the time to learn ALL the settings in ALL the programs I use regularly (thank you Zelda series), and other game-taught literacies. I can't picture a life in which I wasn't my office's unofficial tech support, our Excel spreadsheet wizard (that needs to be a Who song), or couldn't bond with new people by shooting the s%&t with them about Call of Duty and Civilization. What, you mean take an interest in people based on who they are instead of what they do, for fun? Games gives people like me with no interest in cars or hunting or which mutual funds I should use something to argue about that isn't religion or politics.

Did everyone see the article "If Gamers Ran the World" a few weeks ago? It talks about how today's younger generations' fluency with computers and gadgets and the like will be basic job requirements soon. These literacies I believe would hardly have spread so fast without Mario and Madden and Cloud Strife.

Those of you with serious interest in this subject, there have been some decent books published in the last several years, the best of which I consider to be James Paul Gee's What Video Games Have to Teach Us About Learning and Literacy, in which he describes all these Montessori-like lessons he observed his young son absorb by playing Pikmin and other games.

I'm a bit of a different case. I don't remember when the first gaming console appeared in the house, but I never remember a time when we didn't have the Intellivision underneath the TV, yet it was never a significant part of my entertainment world.

I became interested in PC gaming later in life, but our old 386 with hercules screen was too obsolete to play Doom, Wolf 3D etc that the other kids were playing, so I played F-19 Stealth Fighter.

It was only after I left school that the bug bit, with Warcraft 2, Starcraft and Half-Life the gateway drugs of choice.

Even today though, I love gaming, but it is only one of many forms of entertainment open to me. But I do find the topic fascinating to discuss, that's why I am a member on this forum. The deeper aspects of gaming are in many ways more interesting to me than actually playing.

My first gaming system was the NES which my parents bought for my older sister in 1986. I was born in 1989 and I started gaming around age 3. My sister and I would play Super mario Brothers 3 for hours on end. Then in 1996 I had a friend who owned the SNES..I wanted one soo bad and Christmas came around I asked for it incessantly..then on Christmas day i opened up the Brand new SEGA Genesis...I thought "OK well this was alright I guess. I had Shinobi and all the sonic games even the SEGA CD...Which I traded away for a brand spanking new SNES in 1999. Whats worse I believe that was the year that N64 came out and of course I was very distraught over the whole thing. I saved my allowance for months and months to Buy myself and my sister the N64. My father decided we were not allowed to have two gaming systems so i had a rough decision. I hid the N64. Yes Gaming was so important that I lied to my own parents which I still feel bad about..the next Christmas came and he gave me N64. so needless to say me feeling bad was the highlight of that Christmas day. Anyway in 2003 I got a PS2 and then a PS3 last may from My sister for my Birthday. So that's my gaming stories all in a nutshell

Zonk wrote:

Where would you be without the gift of gaming all those many years ago?

Doubtless in my tuxedo on the stage in Stockholm, accepting my Nobel for literature, while the press twitters on about how I'm an accomplished violinist, martial-arts expert, and five-year winner of "Sexiest Man Alive" award. Yes, all those things I could have done, if I hadn't said "screw it, I'll just go play a game."

I always had games around my house, but the gaming bug didn't really bite me until my brother and I received a Sega Genesis for Christmas. We had had an Atari 2600, an Amiga, and an NES, but the Genesis was the first gaming system that I really bonded with. I played Golden Axe II far more than was healthy and drew Sonic the Hedgehog in my spare time. The real turning point for me, though, was when I began to design my own games in third grade; a friend and I filled a number of spiral notebooks with ideas for fighting games and platformers that we intended to mail to Sega. Later, I'd get into Doom and Unreal mods and then ... give up gaming entirely.

Unlike a lot of people here, I actually gave up games when I went away to college; I considered them to be childish and an unnecessary distraction from my pursuit of literature. I was also very aware that I had spent an amount of time playing games that simply wasn't healthy physically or emotionally; it simply isn't a good idea to play games for 14 hours straight for weeks on end. I don't know that I would have ever taken up gaming again if it weren't for my wife. We were cleaning some of her old things out of her mother's house when we found an N64 with Majora's Mask in it. She said that she liked the game and wanted to watch me play it. Reluctantly, I agreed and was entranced. Seeing games again as an adult having taken time away from them allowed me to appreciate the architectural beauty of a well-made game (and it certainly didn't hurt that I was reintroduced to gaming by way of one of the medium's best examples). Majora's Mask led me to The Ocarina of Time which lead me to buy a GameCube so that I could play Wind Waker which lead me to now.

Oddly, or perhaps not, I'm back to what I was doing in third grade: designing games on notebook paper. I've never become interested in a medium without wanting to become involved with it on the deepest level possible, that is, creation. I've finally admitted to myself that I'll never start a band, but I do hope that I'll see my current project, an iPhone game, available to the public sometime late this year. [Er, next year. 2009.]

The first console to enter my house was an Odyssey 2 that my dad brought home one day when I was about 9 or 10 (1980-ish), not as a gift to me, but as a form of family entertainment. (My dad was young - I was born when he was 20 and my mom was 19) We only had a few games for it and the console's graphics were horrendous (8 total colors I think), but I had fun with it. However, a couple years later I was given an Atari 2600 for Xmas, as well as a used TV, so I was able to play video games in the privacy of my own bedroom.. whenever I wanted.. for as long as I wanted. So even though I played the Odyssey 2 before, the Atari was what really turned me into a gamer. It had better games. It had more games (by a long shot). Plus, I had friends who also (eventually) had it, so we'd meet up at my house or their house to try to beat each other's scores, as well as some 1 vs. 1 competition with the few games that had that feature. We would also trade and/or borrow games between friends. Times were good then. That was my 'golden age' of gaming.

Even though I virtually stopped gaming completely during my early-mid 20s (spare time and money spent on partying, girlfriends, and paying the bills now that I was out in "the real world"), I eventually came back to it in my late 20s. The two things that brought me back was (1) buying my first PC (a HP with the $400 rebate for a 2-year subscription to CompuServe) and (2) WarCraft II: Edition. I had never seen (not to mention played) a game like that in my life. When I saw how huge the instruction manual was, I said to myself 'WTF! you've got to be kidding', but after I started reading it and realizing the complexity of the gameplay (compared to any other game I'd played before), I was very intrigued. Once I actually started playing the game, I was hooked. I've been a PC gamer ever since, although I did continue to play console games and still do, occasionally.

As a side note, for the last 5 years some or most of my income has been from gaming-related jobs (was a cofounder/webmaster for a Guild Wars fansite, owned my own console gaming center, and for the last 16 months and counting, I work for Wikia in their Gaming division).

So yes, I think I can say that Gaming's Gift has had quite an impact on my life.

Christmas of 1981. I was 10 years old. Sitting under the tree that year was the Atari 2600 with Space Invaders, Asteroids, and Superman... and the Dungeons and Dragons Basic Set (the one with the Erol Otus cover of the spear-wielding fighter and fireball-brandishing magic-user fighting the dragon). Best Christmas ever.

Sonic. Sega. Wow...

I had to beg my dad for a long time to buy me an the end he wouldn't buy goldeneye for another year - too violent for a 6 year old, apparently - so i got mario 64:

i never completed that game but it was so much fun. I've wanted pretty much ever Mario game that's come out ever since. i had multiple mario parties, which i think are under appreciated to this day.

And goldeneye was AMAZIN' when i got it. that's when i started actually trying to complete games.

I only just got rid of that too, and it's because the plugs weren't going to work in America. otherwise i'd still be bursting peach's balloons on that weird fiery donut.

mario games are weird.

My Grandparents owned a cabin in Northern Minnesota, and around 1986 they'd bought a NES for all my cousins and I to play with whenever we came up. Since the cabin closed down during winters, I'd used the skilled diplomacy my seven year old self to ensure that the NES would spend winters at my house, with Mario and Duck Hunt. : ) This lead my Grandma to get me a SNES for Christmas when it came out, and it was pretty easily the best Christmas present of my childhood.

The game that totally hooked me though was Final Fantasy II (aka FF IV). It was the first RPG I'd played, and I sank hours and hours into that game, loving every minute of it.

One Christmas (1980?), we got a late version of Pong. My sister and I played until we'd still see it when our eyes were closed. A few years later at Christmas, we got an Atari 2600 and wore one controller out after another (Centipede, Space Invaders, Donkey Kong, Berserk, etc.). Not too long afterward, my best friend got an Intellivision II, and we'd play football and B-17 Bomber for hours and hours. Nonetheless (and my sister missed this hook) the PC was the platform that transmitted the permanent "infection". The games had so much variety and complexity, and this was most strongly emphasized for me with Harpoon (1989-ish, the original "Tom Clancy" game) which used real-world military specifications to govern in-game interactions. Suddenly, the drama and impact of the original WarGames movie was directly in my control between mouse and keyboard. Amazing!

Oh, I've periodically laid off video games here and there for a variety of reasons (marriage, job, etc.), but the siren call is ever present.

It wasn't a Christmas present that launched me into the realm of gaming, but a birthday gift to someone else. My best friend's grandmother heard she liked dragons. Lacking any real clue as to what she was getting, she bought her the infamous "blue box" Dungeons and Dragons Basic Set with "Keep on the Borderlands" for her birthday in 1980. And that started me and the whole gang on the slippery slope.

Later that same year, the father of another one of my best friends brought home a Vic 20 and my descent into nerd-dom was assured. I'm not saying I wasn't a heinous geek before then, but that was the launchpad for I don't know how many hours of stomping my way through countless strange worlds of my own on just about every media and platform you can think of since.

It didn't stop with me, either. The boys and their buddies spent Christmas Day playing Requiem.

I can't really remember where it all started for me, as we always had games consoles in the house. The first machine that was actually mine was a Gameboy (the original black-and-white blurry-screened brick). I became obsessed with the GB when a German exchange student came to stay with us. I was far more interested in the GB than the bemulletted Teuton, and bugged my parents until I got one. A SNES followed, and pretty every console and handheld since.

It doesn't really qualify as life changing, but my brother, mother, and I did spend christmas eve playing through an emulated zelda. None of us having touched the game in nearly 20 years made us quite nostalgic. We even had to put the L and R on my laptop screen to help navigate mom through the game. As we did so many years back on the failing game tv that required pliars to turn on and frequently emitted long high pitched tones.

As with everyone here, gaming has always been very important to me. It took me a while to realize how important.

From the time that first Atari 2600 crossed the doorstep into my parent's house I was hooked. I've owned virtually every mainstream system since then. Games were a common thread throughout the years and have helped me become who I am today.

I can't count how many times I've defended games against the condescension of the ignorant. It's easy to condemn something that you aren't involved in and don't appreciate. Being the dolt who stands up for it is much harder.

This year was a big one for me as I finally moved to a career in gaming. I couldn't be happier. Deep down I guess I always knew it was the right thing, but sometimes it takes a while to realize it. Gaming is important to me and I'm now playing a part in helping the rest of the world realize how important it can be.

Let's see.. my odyssey with gaming began in the mid 1980s, when I was 5ish. My parents got me an NES for my birthday, I think it was. Mario, Duck hunt, Donkey Kong, Rampage, Cobra Command, Battletoads and my personal favorite: Where in Time is Carmen Sandiego?, the list of games i owned and loved on that system was endless.

Following that, began my love affair(and my mother's also), with the Gameboy. Tetris, Mario, and others sucked my time away. Well, up until I saw the SNES. I can still remember where I was and what I was doing. My parents had taken us out for hair cuts at the PX on base at Norfolk Naval Station. Right next door, there was the large appliance store. They had really big TVs, like 40 inch rear projection sets. They also had a Super Nintendo hooked up to one with a copy of F-Zero. Man, I loved that game. Occassionally they'd have Star Fox and Street Fighter 2. So, that year, on my birthday again, I received an SNES and Street Fighter 2. Dad kept suggesting Star Fox. I wish I'd have listened, it was superior.

The years came and passed. I played my SNES for hundreds if not thousands of hours. Eventually, Nintendo released another console; the N64. I was a die hard Nintendo fanatic by this point, even though Sony's console looked fantastic, I had no interest. Fanboyism had set its' roots in me. As luck would have it though, while I got an N64, my younger brother got the PS1. We swapped off often, although I think that Goldeneye and Mario Kart 64 got the bulk of the play time... until I discovered Final Fantasy again. It wasn't a game I got into much on the SNES, but FFVII hooked me. Oddly enough, it's my least loved of the series, but I digress. The PS1 was everything I wanted after that. As I recall, when my brother went up to the PS2, I got the old PS1. I think, I don't really recall exactly how that all worked out.

So time went by, things changed. And then the Dreamcast came out. Oh man, how it enticed me with bouncy fighting games, Resident Evil, and hordes of other games. I loved it, and it rewarded me for it. Since then, I've rebought a PS2 for myself, rebought a PS1(Still have them both). I fell into PC gaming along the way, Along with D&D, Magic, Warhammer(Table top minis, not the MMO), and so on. My current set of consoles is a 360, Wii, and PS2. No real inclination for a PS3. My PC manages to keep up with most of the new hotness there, and will see a $500 upgrade in another year or two. I'm cheap that way, I guess.

All in all, gaming hasn't had a huge profound effect on my life. It indirectly got me into computers, which directly got me into being a programmer for the USAF. But all in all, it's been a favored hobby, a beloved pasttime along with reading, working on cars, and playing with the adults version of little green army men most of us had as kids

If there's one thing that sucks about growing up, it's that you usually buy yourself all the toys you want.

In the case of gaming consoles and games, purchases become an afternoon affair. You walk into a Best Buy, walk out of the store with a game in hand, and it either goes into the gamebox at home or sits on the shelf until you have enough time to get to it.

Gone is that childish thrill of opening all the presents, playing with the good stuff first, then tossing all the clothes into a big ball.

It would be difficult for me to pinpoint, but I know that in 1988, I finally received a NES with Super Mario Bros by trading all of my GI Joes (literally over 100 of them) for it and played the game until my thumb was bruised.

It was from there that I knew where my passion was.

Also, in 1992 I received Final Fantasy II (IV now) on the SNES and loved it. I wasn't big into reading books, but give me a good RPG and I'd read every line from every NPC, and that helped me read and do well in school. Looking back on it now though, the translation was very poor, but, oh well.

Colecovision. It was sort of a computer, which justified the purchase to my dad. It came with this game Decathlon, which required you to mash a button-knob thing to and fro to make your little dude run. The 1500 metre event required you to do this for about 10 minutes straight. Terribly painful, but somehow intriguing... the rest is history.

My obsession began in the early 80's with a steady dose of:

a)Alpiner on the TI-99 and the first boss that plagued my waking hours for weeks, the dreaded Abominable Snowman...several other memorable games on this console of course
b)Combat and Pitfall! as the most notable for my brother and I on the Atari 2600
c)and a smaller dose of Burgertime, Major League Baseball and Astrosmash on Intellivision at our friends house down the street.
d)all supplemented with the constant quarter dropping at the arcade in our local bowling alley during our parents' league night

...however it was a few years later in 1985 at a pizza joint in Wisconsin Dells that truly changed my world forever. As my brother and I patiently awaited our delectible dinner to come out of the brick-oven and be served, we noticed a lone arcade machine off in the corner. An unfamiliar cabinet, we solicited for a few quarters from the folks and sought out to quench our curiosity. Neither of us could have ever been prepared for the experience that awaited us in our first ever game of Super Mario Bros. I still can't recall if we managed to extract ourselves long enough to down even a single slice, but I'm sure our parents managed to alternate a few bites in here and there between lives. How amazing was it for our favorite little plumber from Donkey Kong to finally be armed with more than a short stint with a strobing hammer, and for the dynamic duo from Mario Bros. to have the freedom to run on and on throughout seemingly endless levels until they took the final leap of faith hoping to touch the top of the flagpole.

That game was all I could think about upon returning home to Iowa and what now appeared to be prehistoric games on our previous consoles and at the local arcades. The clouds would soon part on our gaming gloom a few months later during the usual stop at KB Toys and the sighting of our salvation, the [i]Nintendo Entertainment System prepackaged with Super Mario Bros.[/i] I was practically reborn in that moment and still get a little choked up even thinking about it. :'')

Much like NT - my first game was Pong that my dad bought and set up at my grandma's house on Xmas. It was really more for him, as I was probably 6 or 7. Moved on to the Atari 2600, followed by my dad deciding to build his own Atari console... he called it the 7800, and I have no idea if it was pirated or what, all I know is that it was a single motherboard that sat in a cardboard box the size of flat of soda (24 pack). We were not allowed to bring food or drink around the exposed hardware (to this day I still wonder how that did not get destroyed or stepped on in the first week). Moved on to playing PC games when my mom and dad separated (we got the 7800 - dad got the commodore 64).

Nintendo was big and sega genesis, but my ultimate immersion was when a friend (known here as Felonous or Eason) convinced me to play DAoC for free on his second account. after a computer upgrade or 2 I was hooked. Like a good dealer, he let me play for free until the addiction set in, then one day the screen popped up with "please provide credit card info to unlock account." I have been playing ever since.

I would consider receipt of an NES along with SMB and Zelda on Christmas day of 1989 to be the beginning of my obsession with gaming proper, but in the years previous my father had brought home a Vectrex. I missed the entire Atari era, lost in a haze of shiny vector lines beneath colored plastic screen overlays. There was some measure of sparse beauty in the blazing points and intersecting lines against the dull black of the screen, punctuated by harsh tones and white noise from the tortured speakers. Did anyone else have one of these?