On Thanksgiving Day, we all usually gather around a family member's house, cook up tons of food, and watch [insert sport here} or play around in the yard with family that we haven't seen in a while to work off some of what we just ate. Everyone could agree that has always been the standard for as long as we have known it. Another tradition that most people do during this holiday is sitting around the table and telling everyone what they are most thankful for. Whether from the past year, or just in general, people all over talk about the things in their life that they are grateful for, and what has truly brought some joy to their life during the course of the past year. This week, I have had that thought jumping through my brain: what am I thankful for? What has brought me some joy this year, or just in general? While I, of course, have a multitude of things that I am thankful for in my life, one of them that I realized that I have a LOT of gratitude for, and it shouldn't be a surprise considering the title of this and where you are reading this, is video games. But, the reasons I have for my appreciation for video games may not necessarily be what you're thinking...
For as long as I can remember, I have had access to some type of video game. Like many people around my age, I was introduced to the wonders of interactive entertainment with Nintendo. I remember jumping through the Mushroom Kingdom with Mario on the NES and the Super NES and could not have been more content (plus, I'm sure my parents were OK with Nintendo keeping me pretty quiet in front of the TV). I was even one of the lucky (lucky?) few to own a Virtual Boy system (I can still see the red lines when I go to sleep at night sometimes...) and remember spending about 1-2 hours each day playing Batman on the system, since that was about as long as you could play before the headaches started setting in. Since then, it has pretty much been downhill from there, as I have played almost every console or popular PC game since then. But, reflecting back on my video game history, I realized that it wasn't necessarily the games themselves that I was thankful for, but the experiences that I had from playing them.
I think what some people may forget with video games is they can be more than just an escapist device for people to get away from a bad day at work, or something to keep yourself busy. Some of my best memories are not just events from the game, but also the experiences I have had with the people in my life playing those games.
I remember the first time I played DOOM on the PC. My dad ran into my room one day telling me to come into the computer room and play this game he just got. I walked in there and saw the multiple floppy discs laying on the table, and the DOOM logo emblazoned on them. I asked him, "Isn't that the game with the demons?" and gave the immediate "I don't think so" look as I tried turning to the door. But, after a few "encouraging words" from my father (ie. "Sit in this chair, stop being scared, and play the !@#$ game"), I sat down and had my eyes half-closed while trying to kill demons on the empty factories on Mars. In the end, as I am sure my dad assumed, I realized that the game wasn't as scary as I thought, and ended up enjoying my romp through the hellish landscape. Now, I just picked up the latest DOOM on the Steam Autumn Sale, and can't stop remembering that moment, and how my views on this franchise could have been very different if not for my father. At the least, he has a joke or two to throw out every once in a while whenever we talk about it.
I look back at growing up and all the friends I have made while enjoying jumping into some of the games I have had the chance to play. When my family moved out to where my mom lives now, I got the chance to meet one of the best friends of my life, and we couldn't play enough games. He would come over and knock on my front door (we had a special knock that we did so that we knew it was one of us each time, you know, before cell phones and whatnot) after breakfast each day, and from sunrise to sunset, we played outside, inside, and anywhere in between playing any game we could think of, from chase, to tag, to hide and seek, and so on. But, even through all this, we always carved some time for video games. We raced each other in Mario Kart, took out Andross in Star Fox 64, fought each other tooth and nail in Power Stone, and even argued about making sure his brother didn't pick Oddjob in Goldeneye 64 (he was clearly an unfair opponent to fight against). We would sit on the front porch on late summer evenings and race to battle the Elite Four while trading Pokemon with each other to make sure we had the best chance for success, with a few Link Cable (remember that?) battles between each other just to keep us on our toes. My brother and sister had to come over and drag me back home by the time the sun ducked under the horizon. Those were some of the most vivid memories I have growing up and playing with them, and even after 20+ years, we still find time to get together, play some games (they still have all the systems we played while growing up), and goof off about the good ol' days. Why would you think I still keep a Game Bo... I mean, a Nintendo handheld around? I always have to be ready in case either he or his brother come calling, just so they remember who is the best, like no one ever was. I have so many memories with all of my friends playing games, and it ended up becoming an integral part in a lot of my friendships.
I love my brother, and he and I have been through some great journeys playing video games. He was right there with me on the Pokemon train, and we played through so many games on so many systems; Ocarina of Time, Kingdom Hearts, Mario, the list goes on and on. As we grew up, we even started a system between us, where we would team up and take down all the long, lengthy games we got our hands on. When Final Fantasy XII came out on the PlayStation 2, my brother and I would spend night and day playing through the game together. As part of our "system", we bought the strategy guide for the game too, and while I would play the game, he would have the guide wide open, navigating me through all the secrets littered in the game. We went night after night throughout the summer playing the game, with only food and bathroom breaks in between. My mother would go to sleep and wake up the next day, and when she poked her head into the room, it was like we never moved (which we didn't). Sure, we may have gotten in trouble a few times, but we wouldn't trade that time for anything in the world. All we had was this vast JRPG, the "definitive" strategy guide, the glow from the TV, and each other, and we could never give that up. Now, since Pokemon Sun and Moon has finally released, my brother and I call each other each night to see which Pokemon we need to trade with each other, and plan when we are going to battle, and since he is hundreds of miles away from me, I didn't think we would be able to interact with each other in one of our favorite games again, but with the advent of new technologies added into our video games, we get the chance to goof off all over again, and I couldn't be happier.
When video games were first made, I am sure that the creators had a set goal in mind for them. They planned to have a new interactive entertainment experience for people all over the world, in arcades, and eventually, in the home. Games have come so far, and it has been incredible to watch what and how we play now, and compare it to what we had only a few decades ago. But sitting here at my mother's house letting my helping(s) of Thanksgiving dinner digest a bit, while typing this, I have realized that my passion for video games isn't just merely how far games have come, but how they have created and enriched the connections in my life, and also gamers around the world. I have met people in my life who I would never have thought I would talk to, much less have a common interest with, who are now very good friends of mine, all thanks to video games. We have laughed, cried, and fought together, all with controllers in our hands, and I really feel it has given me some of my most cherished memories in my life. Thinking about it, I don't think I would enjoy games as much as I do without those connections. How much would I have liked, much less fell in love, with Final Fantasy VII, if not for my friends in middle school meeting up every day and discussing what point of the game we got to and what new Materia spells we acquired? How many secrets would I have missed if my brother wasn't there telling me to check the corner of that dark cave since the guide told him to? How more scared would I have been when that monster crawled out from under that car in Silent Hill, if not for one my good friends laughing his ass off (at me and) right next to me? I ask myself that, and know that those experiences, and those connections I have made with those people have made me a better person, and gamer, than I would have been riding it out on my own.
While you are finishing Thanksgiving dinner, and eventually planning out your list of games to pickup on Black Friday sales this year (Best Buy and Gamestop have some good ones, FYI), I would pass along this piece of advice: experience those games with as many people as you can. Sure, you can pickup Dishonored 2 and play through by yourself, enjoying the experience along the way, but why would you? Call your friends and yammer on about how you snuck around all the enemies in that one tough level and got that low Chaos level clear. Pick up Titanfall 2 and make sure your brother/sister is on your friends list, so you guys can jump into some online play together and take out some unsuspecting noob in Team Deathmatch. Stream a game on Twitch, and goof off with viewers in the chat room about all of the silly stuff you do or find during your playthrough. Get that NES Classic Edition (IF you can find one), and make sure you pickup an extra controller so you and a friend can go through the games together, and talk about all of the epic fails you both had in Super Mario Bros. while you had a few drinks playing those games. We have brought video games to the point now, to where they have such capacity to bring family and friends together, with internet message boards, Twitch streams, and online multiplayer giving us the chance to talk about one of our most passionate hobbies, regardless of where we are, and I believe we should not waste that opportunity when it is presented to us. Sure, we can fire up a game for some alone time, but I can tell you from experience, that playing some games with others will provide you with some great memories you will never forget. Those connections that I formed with video games while growing up helps me everyday with my friends while working here at Rocket Punch, and I would not be nearly as passionate about this endeavor without those friends playing, showing, and talking about games with me into those microphones each and every week.
Why am I thankful for video games? They gave me some great experiences with good friends, wonderful memories with my family, and help me showcase my passionate hobby with the world, all while getting the chance to experience these vast universes that developers and publishers deliver to us each and every day. As a true-to-heart gamer, I couldn't ask for anything more.
ABOUT THE AUTHOR
CAMERON KIRNES - @CKIRNES
Editor-in-Chief for Rocket Punch. Now that he is stuffed from all the turkey, dressing, mac and cheese, and other various Thanksgiving food, he is gonna need some help getting to the stores tomorrow for those Black Friday deals. Can someone get him that Dishonored 2 deal at Gamestop? He'll pay you back; he's good for it.