This past weekend, for the first time in probably half a decade, I powered up a video game system. It was an Xbox 360 I bought on Saturday afternoon, and just as years ago, I had beers, my brother-in-law hanging out, and my distracted wife. I felt, on the whole, like not much had changed in all that time since PlayStation 2 lost my interest and what little discretionary income I had was directed elsewhere.
Up to that point, I’d been a gamer most of my life. I got my first 8-bit Nintendo in 1986, a few short months before I turned five. It’s one of my earliest memories—the giant box it came in and the first time I powered up Super Mario Bros. and had at it, not knowing at first to hold down the jump button to get over that big pit on Level 1-1. These were the virtual stepping stones of my childhood. I always sucked at sports. I was never the smartest. The few friends I had were jerks. I could play video games.
So I did. I gamed my way through high school—when Final Fantasy VIII was released in 1999, I bought myself a new television to mark the occasion—and into and through college, and then I just didn’t have time anymore to dedicate to it, and that’s been the last five years or so. I had no intent when I woke up Friday of buying an Xbox on Saturday. If you’d told me (one assumes you’d do so wearing a hooded robe and in some weird prophesying voice with an echo out of nowhere) that I’d make such a purchase, my question would’ve been, “Why?” The interest just wasn’t there.
But life is weird, and there I stood, as Tom, the 20-something GameStop employee in the Boonton store, told me about the differences between the varying zombie shoot-‘em-ups and why Dead Island was the way to go for its RPG elements and open-world feel. When I played the game, it probably held my interest the least of the several I bought, but I can hardly blame that on young Tom. His passion was what sold me.
I played and drank beer for hours on Saturday, and before I knew it, the day was over. I’d dedicated several hours to Assassin’s Creed: Brotherhood and several more to Batman: Arkham Asylum, and done some time with Street Fighter IV—mostly because it was a familiar face among the many empty cases lining the GameStop wall—and eaten some pizza and there was the day. I can’t remember the last time I wasted that many hours in a row.
Not sure if I’d say it felt good, exactly, or if I couldn’t have used that time better, but I’ll say it felt like less of a loss when I checked my email before going to bed—as is my unshakable habit—and realized the whole day had only brought two new items to my inbox, one of them from eBay and the other a press release I didn’t care to read. So maybe it wasn’t such a waste of time, at least in relation to clicking “Send/Receive” more times than I did.
Somehow I doubt I’ll go back to gaming with the fervor I once had for it, when I’d knock off six or seven hours of this or that role player just to level up my guy in advance of some dungeon boss. Those days are likely over. But it was interesting to take gaming up again on a level deeper than cell-phone Angry Birds, and in a way, I feel like a patch has been sewn on a long-forgotten security blanket. Where it eventually leads me, I suppose, is secondary to that.
So game on,