I remember it like it was yesterday. My mom walked into the living room carrying a large worn box. She thumped it on the coffee table and began rummaging through its contents. Despite the ruckus, it barely registered as background noise to my brothers and I who were sprawled out on the carpet, eyes glued to the boxy television. A commercial break cleaved our concentration from the Saturday cartoon marathon long enough for us to notice the now empty box, the mound of hand-me down clothes stacked in a haphazard pile, and next to it, the metaphorical ring to rule them all, the console that would inspire a lifelong love affair with video games, the Nintendo Entertainment System.
It was the first console I ever owned, my first exposure to video games, and the catalyst to a hobby that has survived, no thrived, for two decades. It’s not the only one mind you—I still love to cozy up with a good book and I cherish the opportunity to flex my culinary muscles in the kitchen—but gaming is one of few passions to remain constant through the riotous passage of childhood to adulthood.
Let’s take a trip down memory lane
I remember playing the original Legend of Zelda: cluelessly wandering the map, chasing after rock-spewing Octoroks, essentially walking in circles really. My 5-year-old self didn’t understand the concept of the game, what exactly I was supposed to do, and I certainly didn’t know who Zelda was, but playing it—with our shoddy secondhand NES and all—was transformative. I didn’t know what I was doing, but I wanted to find out, to learn more about my first digital world and well, I did. I played until I memorized every inch of the map, until I saved the realm from the evil Ganon, until I was hooked and ready for my next gaming adventure.
The trip down memory lane stirred more than just nostalgia, it brought about a few questions; why do some hobbies last longer than others? Sure our interests change, we grow up, we become busy adults, but for the things we love, we tend to make time for them. So why out of all the embarrassing fads, ridiculous trends, and temporary pastimes did a love for video games remain? I wanted to explore this dynamic. Delving into my earliest gaming moment was the first step, but it’s such a narrow view, and certainly far too small of a sample size so, the next logical course of action was to reach out to others like myself.
I talked to some longtime players, a number of video game writers and critics, and even a few industry developers to better understand the kind of early experiences that made leisurely gaming essentially, stick. Not necessarily players’ first gaming memory, although for many it was, but the impactful experience that triggered lasting fandom. I figure the best way to present my findings isn’t in an elaborate chart or graph, but through a few samples of their stories. I introduce to you, a glimpse into the lives of avid players and the moments that would transform them into lifelong gamers.
Every journey has a beginning…
“When I was six years old, I remember renting the first Resident Evil on PlayStation. I was so excited to play it. I got about five minutes in, and as soon as the first zombie popped up, I turned the game off. I was like NOPE, too scary. I told my mom that I was too freaked out to play and instead of returning the game, she took me to the store and we bought the strategy guide.
We went home and my mom took the helm, she started playing. My sister and I wrapped ourselves in a big blanket and watched her play for hours. I fell asleep eventually, but my mom, she played all night. I guess my love for video games is in the blood.”
- Chris S., Veteran player
“I think what turned me from a casual fan of video games into a lifetime fan was the Sony PlayStation 1 and Namco Museum. Before the first PlayStation, I didn’t understand that there were different generations of consoles. I grew up during the Genesis and SNES era and there were other more expensive platforms at the time, so I thought there were cheaper consoles and high-end consoles or ‘rich boy’ consoles, as I used to call them.
So when my family was able to buy a PlayStation, I rented the second volume of the Namco Museum series. The game had a virtual museum where you would walk around and look at old advertisements and designs of old Namco games. This taught me that not only were there new generations but there were PAST generations. I used to rent that game over and over again and just learn about those games; I was enthralled. I wanted to learn more. I wanted to know more about video games, because they went far beyond what I knew. That’s the moment I feel I became a lifetime fan of video games.”
- Esteban C., Video game journalist
“My parents are the best. My brothers and I begged them to buy us a Nintendo 64 when it came out, but we were told to wait until Christmas. To our surprise, the next day a brand new N64 was sitting in the living room and we went insane. We had a lot of fun playing it together but that wasn’t what triggered my deep love affair with video games. No what did it for me was the moment I beat my first game from beginning to end, entirely by myself.
As I mentioned, I have two brothers and we played a lot together. I was the puzzle-master so they typically handed me the controller on the tricky sections. Most of the time though, I watched from the sidelines, passing the controller to my oldest sibling on the hard parts. I was nervous to play by myself, scared to mess up or fail. But one day I put in Yoshi’s Story on N64, and despite the voice in my head that told me I couldn’t do it, that I would need help to beat it, I breezed through the whole game. I remember thinking to myself, ‘that’s it, that’s what I was scared of?!’ I got over my fears that day and trying something new boosted my confidence. That’s when I knew video games weren’t going anywhere.”
- Alexis R., Blogger
“The game and system that sealed the deal for me was the Super Nintendo and The Legend of Zelda: A Link to the Past. Not only has Nintendo been my all-time favorite gaming company since then, but I have also developed somewhat of an unhealthy obsession with The Legend of Zelda. From there, I had to have every Nintendo console, no ifs, ands, or buts. Once I was later into my teens, I finally got my hand on a PS1 and PS2. Then soon after, an Xbox.
As I sit here in my happy home, age 30, mother of two, mind you… I look over at my most prized possessions – my PS3, PS4, Nintendo Switch, Wii U, Wii, GameCube, Xbox 360, Retron III, N64, 3DS, and PS Vita. And would I ever have it any other way? No. No I would not.”
- Felisha S., Owner of video game fansite
We come from vastly different worlds, but we share a love of video games
Based on my conversations with video game fans, I’ve come across a few common themes pertaining to the transformative shift from momentary fandom to deep-rooted enthusiasm. Many of the participants focused strongly on their initial rendezvous with video games and how they were exposed to them. They often spoke in terms of ‘firsts’—the first console they ever owned, the first title they played—nearly everyone I met with was introduced to video games and never looked back; they were hooked at first play.
Those inceptive video game experiences also typically began in complete inexperience; parents who knew nothing about video games bought consoles for their kids who knew nothing about video games. Yet when describing their childhood memories, there was a sense of excitement in the unknown. Video games were new and unfamiliar, and what kid wouldn’t want to figure them out? Young people love innovation like the Internet loves corgi butts and cat videos after all. Considering the average gamer is 35 years old and home consoles were newer technologies in the 1980’s and 1990’s, it’s no surprise that we latched onto gaming in our free time.
There was also an overwhelming sense of nostalgia in most of the accounts which aligns with what you’d expect. Many of the anecdotes were told by gamers who have been playing for 10+ years so it’s sensible that these experiences were clad in such warm, fuzzy wistfulness. I too find myself bubbling over with sentimentality when it comes to the games of my youth, especially in contrast with how amazingly far games have come.
I thoroughly enjoyed this little experiment. Honestly, the happy memories and enthusiasm, it was infectious. While each of us has our own unique moment, or even a collection of experiences that forms the foundation of our gaming past, I’d like to think that our shared hobby and the passion we have for it gives us some semblance of a bond.
Can you recall the moment that turned you into a life-long video game fan? We’d love to hear your story, shout out in the comments below.