My earliest memories of gaming are hazy at best. I recall sitting on the floor of my parents’ bedroom, playing Roland’s Rat Race on a ZX Spectrum that to this day has inexplicable origins. We transitioned into owning a Sega Megadrive, on which many happy hours were spent gaming with my dad on Sonic the Hedgehog and Streets of Rage. I have warm memories of annoying him by beating him to the chickens and apples that restored your health in the latter title as we battled together through many a boss fight.
I actually have just as fond memories of gaming with my mum as well – she was an absolute pro at the Syphon Filter games, and I’d often call on her to aid me through the tougher levels.
I believe it was these early exposures to video games that set me on the path to what is my biggest passion today. As the years progressed and I grew up, I made my way through a string of formats, from PS1, to PS2 and then on to Xbox 360. This evolved into Xbox One, PS4 and PC, with a helping of handhelds along the way in the form of PS Vita and, briefly, a 3DS. There were also experiences with the Nintendo Wii, original Xbox and, at one point, a rogue GameCube, but these were fleeting.
I have undoubtedly spent more hours gaming than any other activity in my time on this earth. However, there has recently been a heartbreaking exponential decrease in playing time as I find myself growing ever older and becoming more deeply integrated into this adult life we all must face. While I still play games at every opportunity, they’re few and far between, and I can’t sink time into them as I used to.
This brings me to my first point – the playing time.
I’d while away hours upon hours in front of a screen, and I thought nothing bad of it. Video games were almost an escape – a journey into worlds and adventures far beyond anything I could ever experience in real life. I’d wake up early to play games long into the day when I was young, and during my teenage years would be found locked firmly in place on my 360 into the early hours. I would truly become immersed and fell in love with each game again and again.
While I still manage to log a fair few hours, it’s more often when I take the effort to book time off of work or deliberately free up my schedule. I don’t feel I can game quite as carefree as I used to, with errands or chores hanging over me and a to-do list as long as my arm. Gone are the days when I could log ten hours straight, controller in hand.
My second point concerns the aspect of ‘simpler times’. Things were easier when I was younger: you put the disc in, you played. Admittedly, the easiest part was obtaining the games – I was fortunate that my parents bought me a fair collection of titles as I was growing up, so I never became bored with what I had. These days, although I rent my games, it’s definitely a lot harder to be an avid gamer. It always seems like there’s another AAA on the horizon, priced at £40 – £50 and there’s an air of FOMO surrounding every launch.
You put the disc in… and you play. These days, I need to install the game (usually after deliberately clearing space on my hard drive), then potentially run an enormous Day One patch. I need to ensure I’m connected to the internet to merely play a game, or to retrieve my save data. I need to part ways with regular cash to fund my online subscriptions or the monthly payments for gaming services. There are season passes and expansions, downloadable content and pre-order bonuses. It’s a harsh and complex world that’s a far shot from the one I grew up in.
Calling back to my aforementioned mentions of memories, I’d like to declare that as my third point: the memories. I’ve met some of my now-oldest friends whilst playing Call of Duty or Battlefield online. I poured hundreds of hours into exploring San Andreas, what I thought then was the biggest and most diverse world that could ever have existed. One of the first times I spoke to my now-fiancée was across Xbox Live, on Dead Island. I ran an international gaming team which, at its high point, totalled around fifty members. We’d regularly come online for lengthy gaming sessions together, smashing the competition and revelling in camaraderie. These days, I’m lucky to snatch a quick conversation while hashing out a game on Battlefield V with the one or two people I still speak with online.
I can recall so many epic gaming moments and have played so many titles that there are some I quite simply cannot name. There’s the recollection of fighting through gritty London in The Getaway, building a family in The Sims, CQB-ing through a Russian forest in MGS3 or taking down perps as the hard-ass D’Arcy Stern in Urban Chaos. It’s absolutely staggering to consider the number of games I’ve played since those early journeys across the old Sega.
However, I can’t take too much away from the current landscape. The games that come out today are phenomenal, for the most part. They’re more graphically advanced and smarter than we ever thought possible. They offer worlds infinitely bigger than what we had when I was young, and they’re often vibrant, diverse and so heavily populated with activities. I’m a keen collector of trophies and achievements, I love the Games for Gold and PS Plus systems, and finally appreciate the standard of gaming these days. The technology, the peripherals, the advancements.
Yes, I’ll never relive those days in the summer holidays where I’d wake up at 6am and turn on the PS2, those ghostly wind tones washing over me as my eyes sparkled in anticipation of the imminent adventure. I’ll likely never experience multiplayer gaming long into the early hours of the morning with people from all around the world again. And, although I still own my PS2, it’ll never be as good as it was then.
But, as the saying goes: Don’t cry because it’s over. Smile because it happened.