Any serious gamer will tell you that gaming is not just a hobby – it’s a lifestyle. It’s not just something we do to kill half an hour; it’s something we’re more likely to do when we’ve got a solid hour to spare. Games have evolved so much over the last three decades, from geeky little time-wasters developed in someone’s garage to multi-billion-dollar blockbusters with celebrity endorsements and globally-recognised characters.
We at God is a Geek like to play games. We’re in our twenties and thirties and most of us have been gaming since we were old enough to talk – but where did it all start for us? What were our first memorable experiences with video games? What were the moments, what were the games, that made us fall in love with the medium and continue that relationship throughout our whole lives?
Read on, and prepare to drift off more than once at the mere mention of some genuinely legendary classics.
SEAN SMITH, SENIOR STAFF WRITER
A smoky converted former theatre with luridly patterned carpets and punters furiously shovelling change into fruit machines doesn’t sound like the ideal environment for a small boy to carve out the beginnings of a lifelong love of gaming, but Richmond Leisure – which still exists as a fruit machine parlour, sandwiched between a kebab house and an Iceland – was the magical den of gaming iniquity where I fell hook, line and sinker for the bright lights of the CRT monitors and the booming chiptune ditties.
My dad used to take me into this wonderful Aladdin’s cave on occasion, where I was able to plough ten pence pieces into classic arcade cabinets housed at the back of the venue, beyond the rows of fruities. Sit-down Atari Star Wars, trackball Crystal Castles, a huge Laserdisc Dragon’s Lair, and a Paperboy upright with an actual handlebar controller were just some of the delights on offer, as well as dazzling, all-time classic pinball tables like PIN:BOT and High Speed.
Spending time in the arcade gave me a furious desire to seek out arcade cabs, wherever they might be found. In the mid-Eighties, they were everywhere. It would not be unusual to find a Double Dragon in a Chinese takeaway, an errant Defender tucked away in newsagent, or a Choplifter flickering invitingly in the local greasy spoon.
Sadly, arcade culture is virtually non existent in the UK these days, apart from the old fuddy-duddies like me who would happily purchase a coin-op if I had the space. My interest in gaming blossomed based on the games I chucked my pocket money into as a kid, and even though I was lucky enough to have parents who furnished me with home micros and consoles as time went on, for many years nothing came close to playing the real deal, even the very best home conversions of arcade games were always flawed and inferior in some way. A credit registering on that title screen meant so much, made you want to make the experience last, to survive, to beat your high score. Kids today don’t know they were born.
Richmond Leisure, thanks for the memories.
STEPHEN DUNNE, STAFF WRITER
My first console was a SNES, for which I had been given a load of games. The earliest memory I have is playing Street Fighter 2 and being terrible at it. Then there was Batman Returns, which is one of my favourite Batman games to date, and Star Wars: Return of the Jedi… For a Star Wars fan, that was a truly wonderful experience, being able to play as the legendary Luke Skywalker. What a console that was. In fact, I’m off to dig it out of the attic.
MICK FRASER, DEPUTY EDITOR
I remember being around 6 years old, watching over my granddad’s shoulder – much to my mother’s dismay – as he played the ancient (and horribly violent for its time) Barbarian: The Ultimate Warrior. It was probably the first time I ever really, really wanted to play a game – just so I could cut the head off a little pixelated Conan lookalike. From there I moved on to seminal console puzzler Solstice, struggled to understand it and then played the hell out of it. They were my first ever forays into action fantasy and isometric puzzle-platformers, and they birthed a fervour in me to play everything and anything I could get my hands on, be it on Commodore 64, NES or my creaky old ZX81.
Which all ended when I discovered the fantasy RPG. Westwood Studios’ Eye of the Beholder consumed my every spare moment. While my friends were out riding bikes and playing football, I was hunched over a keyboard slaying dire wolves and margoyles, seeking out arcane treasures and growing worryingly attached to a very beardy dwarf. I knew what a Fighter/Mage/Thief did before I learned what an Orthodontist was, and it sparked a love affair with the RPG that has never been diluted. I’ve come along way from Eye of the Beholder to Skyrim, via Final Fantasy VII, Diablo, A Bard’s Tale and hundred other titles that have eaten hours of my life. My only regrets? Getting rid of the archaic Amiga and Commodore 64 that I used to cherish. Good times.
MIKHAIL MADNANI, CONTRIBUTOR
I started gaming at a really early age. My dad had a computer in the early 90s and I played quite a bit of Prince of Persia on it when I was about 6 years old. That, Round 42 (r42), Jill of the Jungle and Alley Cat were the first games I played that I can remember – but Prince of Persia is the one that stuck with me the most. I still struggle with the 12th level – it’s just too confusing. I even navigated that stupid glacier in Final Fantasy VII in one try; Prince of Persia’s 12th level is just plain mean.
Gaming on DOS was basically how I started out, and I eventually discovered some great games through shareware demos distributed with magazines in the early 90s. Games like Jetpack and eventually my favourite 90s hit, Jazz Jack Rabbit, form most of my early gaming memories. In fact I remember spending about 4 hours in a department store, playing the full version for the first time. Wow.
ADAM COOK, EDITOR
A tricky one, but I think it was P.O.D. on the Commodore 64. My dad had bought me the c64 and I was more excited than I’ve ever been for anything before or after.
It was a basic game: the screen was a grid and enemies could move along the lines coming toward you, as you did the same to shoot them. It got faster and more frenetic, until you died. Nobody seems to remember this game and I can’t prove it exists, but it’ll always be my oldest memory of a video game. My dad played the game with me, too, and I’ll always remember that.
MIKE STUBBSY, STAFF WRITER
My first gaming experience is one of the earliest memories I have. Cast your mind back to the late 90’s, let’s say 1998 as I’m not sure when it actually happened. Whilst some of you were probably out being rebellious teens I was three, and generally incapable of remembering anything apart from one thing: the bear game. Some years later I came to the realization that ‘the bear game’ was in fact one of the early Tomb Raider titles on the PS1. Being three, I was unable to play it, but I distinctly remember spending a lot of time sat on my parents’ bed watching my dad play the bear game. Looking back, he must have been awful at it, as every time I watched he would always be trying to kill that same damn bear.
ROBIN PARKER, SENIOR STAFF WRITER
It’s hard to remember the very first time I held a game pad or joystick in my small, sweaty hands as a child – but the most vivid early gaming memories I have are of the BBC Micro computer. Whether it was at my friend’s house at the weekend, or in the classroom during break time, I whiled away many hours playing the unforgiving text adventure Merlin’s Castle.
When one imagines a text adventure, Merlin’s Castle is as close to the stereotypical perception of the genre as you can get. “You see a stream in front of you”, “go North”, “take ladder”, and so on – until you inevitably die an unpredictable and sudden death. Trial and error really had to be employed, and even after careful mapping and note-taking it would throw a new random game over situation your way.
Merlin’s Castle taught me at a young age just how frustrating some games can be, and how some developers seem to revel in making things hard for the player. Some much-needed lessons for surviving all of the early Nintendo and SEGA gaming that I was soon to discover.
DAN NAYLOR, STAFF WRITER
My first gaming experience was on my seventh birthday when my parents gave me a PlayStation. I wasn’t expecting it, but I fell in love immediately. I remember playing the demo disc that came with the console – I think there was a Hercules trial on it – before trying the original Crash Bandicoot. I was amazed that he could move in three dimensions, and it remains one of my favourite games to this day – even if I only finished it for the first time a few years ago…
LEE GARBUTT, ASSISTANT VIDEO PRODUCER
My first ever gaming experience was at around the age of 3, when my Dad brought home an Amstrad CPC 6128. With a whopping 128k of memory and a disk drive, I cut my teeth on games like Daley Thompson’s Supertest, Hunchback, Roland In Time, and a few educational titles too. Oh, and those teeth ended up breaking a joystick by actually chewing through the cable. Well, I was only 3 years old.
But it was my first experience with a NES at age 4 that cemented my love for the medium. Playing the system on a NES M82 Demo Kiosk, it took half an hour for my young mind to grasp that “up” on the D-Pad didn’t make Mario jump. Flicking through games such as Castlevania, Super Mario Bros. and Zelda stirred a passion in me that lives on nearly three decades later.
HOW ABOUT YOU?
What are your first gaming memories? Maybe you spent hours in Vagrant Story, lost your childhood to Final Fantasy, or cut your teeth with Asteroids? Hell, maybe you’re young enough that your earliest memories are of the PS2 or the Xbox – perhaps you’re old and creaky enough that you Pong was the first thing that ever blew your socks off. Dig out your rose-tinted glasses and let us know in the comments section.