Your magical "era" of gaming

I turn 30 this week, and with this “milestone” I’ve been looking back on life a bit…

Before the turn of the millennium and after, I would have possibly been considered a “hardcore gamer” - one who spent all their free time in front of a screen gaming away but since my mid-twenties my interest in computer games and the lively community surrounding them has been dwindling to near-extinction.

My father bought a PS4 and gave me a loan of it, I managed to borrow a copy of Metal Gear Solid V: The Phantom Pain from a friend. After popping it in the machine and after a few sessions I can conclude it is an amazing game featuring an expansive world and the type of thing I would sink countless hours in.

I just have no desire to play it - and with that realization came the end of computer games being a big part of my life.

But that won’t remove the memories of when computer games were at one time a truly magical and mystical thing. On the Christmas of 1995 a nine year-old me received a Sega Saturn with Daytona USA and Virtua Fighter which was a major thing - my family weren’t exactly well off and consoles back then cost more than they do now (the package bought in December 1995 cost £499 - which is apparently worth £866 in todays money).

As someone who had only ever had access to their sister’s Amiga 500+ (with a 1mb upgrade!) the world of Japanese consoles instantly captivated me. I was spellbound by Daytona USA and it’s uniquely eastern view on American stock car racing accompanied with a sunset beach day glo- almost magical coloured pallette. The upcoming section of Sega Saturn Magazine featured exotic and almost alien looking games from the land far east, the absence of internet and instantaneous gaming news feeds adding the mystery and allure.

In March 1996 my parents bought my next game, Panzer Dragoon from Beatties in East Kilbride. It cost £49.99 (£89 in todays money!) and was also my first ever time watching a FMV movie, the horns starting and then the title screen appearing are a memory that I might never forget. Later that year on my birthday I got Virtua Cop with the accompanying gun, and delved yet again into the AM2 brand of arcade fun. In 1997 I received Christmas NiGHTS for free from Dixons (I crapped it when you got Reala in the presents bit) which has became my ultimate Christmas game of all time.

Sega Saturn Magazine in either March/April gave away the first disc of Panzer Dragoon Saga, and after playing it extensively I knew straight away that I wanted to continue the adventure after I had defeated Craymen’s ship and the Atolm Dragon.

In 1998 for my twelfth birthday I got Panzer Dragoon Saga from the phone-in catalogue that constantly advertised in Sega Saturn Magazine. This was just during the summer holidays and would offer me the opportunity to play it for what I can now say was far too long for a twelve year old to be staring at a screen.

Sega ceased supporting the Saturn shortly after. Years would go by, the significance of the arcades would shrivel as home gaming caught up in terms of technology and experience. Gaming for me lost it’s magic and tragically became a crutch for me as I suffered abuse, bullying at school and generally grew into a broken human being.

Now nearing 30 I’m starting life again, I’ve almost finished many years of having to “euthanize” my former self and emerge from the remains. All my gaming/nerd stuff is gone, the only remains are a 3DS and Vita with a few select games and my Saturn - looking at it almost takes me back to years before the advent of “triple A”, “DLC” and “console wars”. Instead I think of the novelty of games on CD-ROM, playing with the pitch on the Saturn music player, the hyperactive voice announcements of Daytona USA and the genuine sense of wonder that came with exploring that excavation site and beyond.

My magical era is long gone, and I don’t mean that in a bad way - it’s just one of those things. I’m sure right now people are going through their magical gaming era and fast forward twenty years they’ll be writing a load of nostalgia ridden crap like this.

Anyway, that’s me spewed out enough. Apologies for the long post and bad structure.

I can sympathize with your story, as I’ve been guilty of escaping reality and into game worlds far too often; due to social anxiety. Being very artistic, I also found I cared more for these worlds than my own reality and have had to force myself to wake up.

When people don’t except you for who you are, they segregate you and drive you into a corner; making you feel ashamed of yourself and your interests. I’ll say It’s gotten better now, but it’s sort of like my defenses are never dropped and I’m always on my guard. I’m very rarely able to relax around other people, other then my close friends.

As far as my “magical era of gaming”, I would say it spans across multiple eras, such as: the Genesis/Playstation/ and N64 eras. I’m a big fan of the Genesis Sonic games and my childhood was filled with those fun times playing the Genesis Sonic series as well as Sonic CD.

Also, countless RPG’s from the Playstation era filled my imagination such as: Chrono Cross, Legend of Legaia, FF series, Brave Fencer Musashi, Legend of Mana, Granstream Saga, Breath of FIire 3 and 4, to name a few…

And I remember the feeling of pure bliss when I finally got my N64 on Christmas morning! Playing Mario 64 and later Legend of Zelda Ocarina of Time was pure joy!

It wasn’t much later until I discovered the Panzer Dragoon series and bought a used Sega Saturn!

I hold onto the positive and forget the negative. We can always make new memories. Still, I find that some games have timeless appeal.

Nowadays my taste in games has been refined. There’s only a few games I really want to play at the moment, and many older games I missed or want to preserve somehow.

There’s nothing wrong with nostalgia if it goes beyond that. Play for the gameplay and not the time in which it was born, in my opinion. You can separate the two.

As for the real world. Wars, poverty, starvation. No thanks. Some people make escaping reality sound like a bad thing. They can keep their reality. I know how that story ends.

Sometimes the problem with older games and nostalgia is: they can, and for the most part, through strong emotions, pull you back into the past (even if you don’t want them to).

And, if that was a more memorable happy time; it can elicit even stronger emotions. Sometimes, powerful memories of that brief moment of time, are attached to those games. For instance: when you were close to friends whom now, have come and gone, still had certain loved ones around, or maybe you were just care free and not weighed down.

No doubt. But the fact remains we can’t actually go back.

I see nothing wrong with reliving timeless games though.

Many old games are still being updated as well (WoW, for example). While I sometimes wish I could go back and do things properly, I was a different person back then and have no desire to remember that. The gameplay, however, is timeless for many and millions of others.

The best advice I can give is to recreate the good times by making new memories. There will be more good times. Despite what reality has to say.

We’ll make it happen one way or another.

Interesting thoughts. For me personally, it’s certainly true that I play a lot less games. But while I spend a lot less time playing videogames, I’m now more interested in the gaming industry than ever before (starting Segalization contributed a lot to that). So as far as I’m concerned, I feel like the “magical era” is still to come. I can understand that introverts like me who used gaming as escapism growing up eventually get to a point where they feel the need to break free from that. But I’ve gotten past that point, and I can only conclude that gaming is not
something I’ll give up on anytime soon. I look at gaming very differently now, but if anything I’m interested in it more than ever. It’s no longer a means of escape, instead working in the gaming industry is something I’d actually like to do professionally. I’m not sure if that will still happen at this point, but I haven’t given up on that dream entirely either.

I suppose I was just having a sadness-induced nostalgasm, moaning that games weren’t like they used to be.

I definitely wasn’t trying to paint the mid-90s as the “golden” age of gaming, it was to me but in the grand scheme of things I am but one man. With or without me gaming will no doubt continue to advance and grow.

Of course very little is the way it used to be, I doubt anyone talks about the “good ole’ days” of medicine when there was no anaesthetic.

I’m away to take up an “adult pursuit” - like clay-pigeon shooting or pipe smoking…

To be clear, I didn’t interpret your post as something negative. I think it’s great that you feel like you’re moving to a new chapter in your life, or “starting life again”, because that’s something I’ve experienced as well. But what exactly that entails will be different for everyone. For me, it just meant I can now look at video games in a different way, but arguably with more interest than before.

Sort of a tough question for me, strangely enough, I have much nostalgia for different personal eras and hard to call just one golden. The Saturn is my golden console, no question, but for a relatively small number of games. Yet I didn’t care for many more PlayStation games, and the generation marked the beginning of real mainstream commoditization, and a loss of innocence if you will.

Even so, there was so much going on in mid to late nineties. Some of the best crafted 2D games ever were still being made, PC gaming was coming into its own as an ecosystem (much as I despise so much about the platform as an infrastructure) while Arcades were in their crescendo and consoles were showing mad fresh ideas with 3D rendering possibilities. Three distinct and equally exciting markets, all exuberant with novelty and imagination. Hard to top that ever again I think.

Maybe the industry is fine, but videogame culture is not right now. Politics and sophistry have taken hold of something that used to be a respite from all that. I’m definitely feeling curmudgeonly about it lately. So be it.

My “magical era” would probably also fall into the mid-late 90s. For the majority of my childhood, the only gaming platform I had access to were PCs and mostly DOS games. I have a lot of fond memories of Heretic, Prince of Persia, Age of Empires (trial version) and early 3D accelerated games like Mechwarrior 2. I remember the Playstation being a massive commercial force and always wanting one due to all the XTREME marketing that was being done. I was always incredibly jealous when I went over to a friends house and had the memory of Dino Crisis seared into my brain forever as the coolest game I had ever seen. Then another day, I’d go to another friends house and play Diddy Kong racing and have an entirely different experience on the 64. Every platform seemed to offer vastly unique experiences and the era that soon followed with the PS2 and after felt a lot more homogenized in comparison.

Seeing gaming evolve so much so fast was absolutely a magical experience. It feels like the industry has moved at a snail’s pace since (to me anyhow). Most of the games I play nowadays are still usually from the same time period. It’s not purely nostalgia for the era; I enjoy the unashamed simplicity of gameplay and little reliance on hours of dialogue or long tutorial levels. I still feel impressed when I see technical achievements done despite the limitations of the hardware. I might be trying to make up for lost time because I feel like I missed out on a great amount of it as a kid (or maybe I’m just hesitant to move on from anything in my life), but it does feel exciting when you discover something new from the time that offers a fresh, kickass experience that hits you as hard as it would have back then (like Panzer Dragoon did for me.)

I imagine there are tons of great games we’ve missed. I wonder how many hidden gems I will uncover in the future. Like I said before, I find that some games have timeless gameplay (for me anyway). The past is actually a good safe haven from the divisive politics that have invaded the games industry. But at the same time, I refuse to be anchored to a different time.

I am trying to take the positives out of everything at the moment. I really miss WoW. I’m always amazed by how the developers can breathe new life into an ancient graphics engine. Stories of knights and justice and eternal wanderers exploring new worlds is something that never gets old for me. It’s an infinite universe full of endless possibilities.

I’m listening to A Perfect Circle - What’s Going On at the moment. While the song definitely reminds me of a different time and could even drag me back to the past if I allowed it, it’s still a beautiful song in the present. New Tool album inc soon. I can’t wait to hear what magic Maynard dreams up in the future.

You were right about this forum being an oasis, Heretic. If this were anywhere else people would be tearing each other to pieces already.

I would have to say I have two real ‘golden eras’ of gaming in my life.

My first consoles were a Game Gear and a Mega Drive, both previously owned by my older brother. As much as I enjoyed the games on these (Sonic, Jurassic Park, others…) it wasn’t until I received a Saturn for Christmas 1996 that I truly fell in love with games.

It started off mostly with driving games; Sega Rally, Daytona USA, Need for Speed. I really enjoyed the environments in these games, and even though they were linear experiences I loved the exploration. I played them so much that I would continually notice new things along the road side. The 3D graphics were such a step up that I was really immersed in these worlds.

But then I actually started to play some adventure games, with great stories and memorable characters. Tomb Raider, NiGHTS, Shining Force III, and of course the Panzer Dragoon series. As these were all graphically and artistically spell bounding, I was drawn in by just how much atmosphere could exist in these worlds, I never wanted to leave. Everything was so life like but so much more interesting, be it the ancient locales or the characters I could actually care for. This is when gaming really became a medium of escapism for me, to rival films or books.

But it was all a very solo experience. Even when the Dreamcast brought online play to the table, there were very few games that took advantage of it, and none that tickled my fancy. This stayed the same until the explosion of Xbox Live and, more specifically, Halo 2 in 2004.

I’d had a few small LAN nights with my friends on the original Xbox with Halo the previous year, and we were all looking forward to Halo 2. I could never have been prepared for what a social experience it turned out to be though, and I played for years with both old friends and new. With the advent of online play I made dozens of new friends over Xbox Live, forming long lasting bonds and even a relationship.

It wasn’t just Halo though, but Counter Strike, Ghost Recon, Rainbow Six, Gears of War, Splinter Cell… there were so many fantastic multiplayer games released during this period, and each one had its own unique gameplay that made them unmissable, innovative experiences. Be it fighting monsters or my fellow man, on Earth or lands distant, my love for exploration and adventure was now joined by a love of doing this with a friend or two.

However, as my friends moved on and real life took over, there were less and less people on my friends list, and I had to learn to play alone again. These days I only really have one gaming buddy, and although we play when we can I mostly look for special single player experiences these days.

I do really miss the simplicity of 1996-1999, or always having someone online between 2004-2008, but gaming is still about adventure, exploration, and escapism for me. Life isn’t fantastic, unless you’re really lucky, and so having something else to pour my time into is vital for my sanity. Perhaps that means I have avoidance issues, or trouble coping with the real world, but it makes me happy and life is too short to not do the things that you enjoy.

The Saturn era for sure, bookended by the Megadrive and Dreamcast. In those days, innovation and imagination were commonplace in high budget titles. These days, creativity tends to be left to the indie titles; the mechanics of full priced games are more or less defined in set genres (with the occassional exception), as risk averse publishers opt to go with bigger and bolder versions of the same.

I will likely always be a gamer in some form, but I share some of the sentiments raised in this topic. As with others here, I’m more selective about the kinds of games that I play these days. I typically don’t play multiplayer anymore (even though I have some great Halo memories), and I’ve all but given up on RPGs (besides the open world ones). I’m more interested in trying games that do something a bit different - usually indie games - than playing yet another AAA action game.

@waoko’s strategy of limiting himself to handhelds is a good one. You can still be a gamer without games filling up your entire life; reducing the range of systems that you play on to help with that goal isn’t silly. While I used to own a lot of systems, these days I mainly play games on my laptop. The PC’s extensive catalog has more than enough games to last a lifetime, with new indie games coming out all the time that often don’t require the continuous upgrading of hardware. The mainsteam genres don’t change that much (even graphically, the shift is slower than it was), so if you stick with one or two systems there should always be an option to play X type of game on whatever system you choose.

I’ll finish with a final thought: it’s interesting how escapism is often labelled in a negative light, yet many of the real things that people pursue are far more detrimental to our societies and world. What’s more of an escape: deliberately escaping into a fantasy world or the creating a story about the value of real activities that may not hold up on closer scrutiny?