A lot of us remember our very first video game rather fondly. While I’m not going to explain my own life story, I will say that I was first hooked on video games through my older cousins’ Sega Genesis systems, specifically the Sonic the Hedgehog series. Much of my interest in gaming as a whole came from the Yuji Naka-created mascot. It wasn’t the only set of games on the Genesis available to me at the time, but it was without question the series that hooked me. It began my own journey humbly, but in retrospect, it’s actually quite difficult to articulate why it was so interesting to me. This is a situation that many of us recall, but rarely ever examine deeply. Think about your first video game, the one that convinced you to pick up a controller and keep playing till the end credits, the one that convinced you to try another game afterward. What exactly was it about that first game that hooked you and urged you to keep playing from then till today? In essence, what appealed to you about that game that made you “a gamer”?
Many other gamers in my age group were hooked during the Super Nintendo/Sega Genesis era, while the older crowd are likely to have the original NES in their hearts. Some might even cite the original Atari 2600 as their first step into the world of gaming, with their reverence for the medium enduring even the colossal gaming crash of the 1980’s. On the other side of things, we have younger gamers who are being raised on Playstation consoles as new as the Playstation 4 and even Microsoft’s Xbox line, which didn’t appear until the new millennium. We also mustn’t forget those of us who played PC games during our childhood, even the consistently ridiculed edutainment games like Oregon Trail II. We’re all given so much history and so many options to choose from as fans within this medium, but those of us who call ourselves gamers find something truly fascinating with games as a whole.
During the early 90’s, many of us were involved in, as coined by James Rolfe, the “bit wars,” the point where competing systems developed a brand loyalty with the consumers. It was a Genesis/SNES world and the market intended for you to pick a side. But those of us who were first exposed to video games during this time didn’t originally intend to side with either Sega or Nintendo. While there were certain characteristics of each console that we preferred, our focus was never on what games were better. The first big step for any future gamer is one devoid of partisanship in the gaming community; when you first enter the gaming world, you aren’t involved in the console wars. In fact, they did not exist to you back then. I personally chose Sonic the Hedgehog as my “gateway game” simply because I liked who he was as a character. I liked his cool blue color, his tough-guy stare, and the acrobatic nature of how he moved. Level design, physics, replay value, music, even the buzz term “blast processing” meant absolutely nothing to me. It was Sonic himself that captivated me to join the gaming world.
And understanding what initially draws a person into video games is all the more difficult today. With three major consoles on the market and an avalanche of games to play, newcomers to the gaming world have ample opportunity and choice to select from. Fans of sports games are able to experience the fun of managing their favorite player rosters with Madden. Fans of Dungeon and Dragons or other tabletop games are able to get a faster-paced and more cinematic version of role-playing with The Elder Scrolls. Alternatively designed games like Minecraft, Journey and The Stanley Parable are becoming interesting to scholars who find fascination in experiencing a story from an unorthodox viewpoint. There are so many different styles and genres to choose from that, now more than ever, finding out why anyone gets into games is a question with too many answers to list.
Even people who passed on gaming in their youth are able to experience that same magic in their adulthood with more mainstream successes like Wii Sports. In fact, this demographic, a group who likely passed on the gaming world as kids, are now realizing a fresh new perspective. They get to see different elements of game design that they might have ignored back then, making the evolution of the medium and the broadening of the market a much more appealing prospect. Specifically, that big moment where a “virgin” gamer (regardless of age) is finally able to have fun when playing a game is a sense of purity and epiphany. It’s all about having fun. As we get more involved in the medium, we begin to take sides. We begin to favor consoles or developers. We begin to look at games with the minds of cynical and judgmental critics. Even as kids, we’d argue at the lunch table as to whether Sega or Nintendo is better, but if you rewind just a few years before that, you didn’t even care who made the console. Perhaps it was the catchy level themes that you remember the most or maybe it’s some iconic environmental hazard that sticks in your mind. Maybe it was similar to my case where it was just the character’s expressive personality that encouraged me to pick up a controller and actually control the character. The moments of realization and involvement vary for everyone, but as fresh faces in the gaming community, we’re never forced to pick a side. We are clean slates for series to enthrall and characters to enlist, and our focus was precisely on the game itself and those subtle moments of appeal.
But there are still those who “cannot get into video games.” Maybe the person is intimidated by a controller with 25 buttons and three joysticks. Maybe the subject matter of a 2D platformer just appears juvenile or an FPS appears too violent. These failures to get involved push some people away from gaming, but as stated earlier, gaming is no longer a single formula. We’re seeing so many ways to approach game design, narrative and control in this day and age; I’m of the mind that, with such a buffet of choice, anyone can find at least one game that can hook them into gaming. Maybe it’s not in the “hardcore” form where they’ll stand outside at a midnight launch, but in a way that they can have a favorite game that they can revisit over the years, while still enjoying it.
Looking back at my own experiences, my situation isn’t too much different than a lot of the experiences seen in the younger crowd who are being introduced to Minecraft or Wii Sports today. It might seem silly at first, but the appeal of these games is so vast and varied that it’s difficult to be scared away from gaming that badly. It’s an age where what defines a game is so ambiguous and diverse that it’s near impossible to be turned off by absolutely every title on the market. This is why games are such a fantastic medium today; there’s just so much to play. New niches are being formed and filled as we speak and even the most jaded, cynical technophobe would have to find some aspect of a video game that’s worth a considerable look. It’s hard to explain what exactly makes games so magical, since we all have our own little moments of fascination with games, ones that kept us playing throughout the entire story and into the sequel.
So what convinces us to play games in the first place? To answer that, you’d need to look at every game ever made, because that’s the solution. Because of everything games can, have, and will ever do.
Feel free to share your own gaming origins in the comments! What game drew you into the gaming world?