We all have a “first game,” we all have a “favorite game,” we all have a “favorite franchise,” but what is the game that made you a gamer? Maybe it was your first game, maybe it was your hundredth but at what point did you play a game and realize there was no going back, you were hooked?
Let me preface my story with a bit of background on my gaming history. My lifelong relationship with video games has existed for as long as I can remember. My brother and I received our console baptism with our uncle’s old Atari 2600. We spent hours playing Tanks, Space Invaders, and Pitfall. My fathers PC provided some of my earliest gaming memories as well. I still remember sitting on his lap and playing Lemmings and Mad Dog McCree. But the two games that excited me most? The two games that I couldn’t wait to play when my dad finished his work and finally left his office? The two games that now that I look back were completely inappropriate for a 5-6 year old to play? Doom and Mortal Kombat.
Like many others, Doom was my first introduction to first person shooters as we know them today. It simultaneously fascinated me and scared me shitless. I will never forget the feeling of vulnerability the Doom gave me, that scared feeling looking at the bottom of the screen and seeing the bloody beat up face of the unnamed protagonist marine and knowing that I still have a room full of monsters to try and kill. Likewise, I’ll never forget the completely awesome feeling I would get when we finally entered the cheat codes to unlock all the weapons and invincibility. There was something empowering about starring down at that unnamed marine’s face that was so often grimacing in blood and seeing a pair of glowing yellow eyes and an expression that said, “Don’t fuck with me.”
Mortal Kombat will alway have a special place in my development as it was the game that taught me the difference between right and left. As a 2D fighter it may seem obvious how MK would teach a young child the difference between right and left but the truth is far more embarrassing. One afternoon as our father vacated his office giving us the green light to finally play Mortal Kombat my brother and I ran down the hall. During this run down what was no more than a 30 foot hall (but the kind that feels like miles when you’re a kid wanting to play games) my brother exclaimed “I’m on the right side!” (my brother and I would share our father’s office chair and he was in fact referring to which side he would be sitting on) to which I shouted, “I’m on the wrong side!” As I mentioned above, I can’t believe my father let me play the game responsible for the creation of the MSRB and one of the most violent shooters of the early 90’s while I was still in Kindergarten, but nevertheless I have fond memories of both games.
In the years that followed my bother and I finally joined the contemporary gaming landscape when we received a Nintendo 64 (and later a Playstation) for Eid. We had the typical 90’s kid experience with our N64. We poured hour and hours of sleepover nights into the canonical N64 games: Goldeneye, Mario 64, Mario Kart, and Super Smash Bros. We put in months and months into playing out the exact same match in WCW vs. NWO but as far as I am concerned this was all par for the course.
For me it wasn’t until the PS2 that I realized I was in deep. It wasn’t until I got my hands on one of PS2’s launch titles, the incredibly underrated Summoner, that I was hooked. My brother and I had hopes of getting a PS2 at launch but as is often the case, a 9 and 13 year old with little money and no access to the internet could only dream. My uncle, on the other hand had managed to acquire a launch PS2 and with it Volition’s Summoner. I had watched him play it and played a little myself and realized that this was the game for me. It is a bit ironic that I never actually owned Summoner at any point in time, I only ever borrowed it from my uncle. Our PS2 came with Madden 2001 and SSX, both great games but I only had eyes for Volition’s RPG. As soon as we had our own PS2 and I had my very own memory card, I asked my uncle if I could borrow Summoner. What began was an experience that shaped my entire life.
Summoner was the first console RPG I had ever played and it blew my mind. The world was huge, the musical score gives me chills to this day, and the story was mature and took 60+ hours to beat, this was all brand new for me. One of my favorite mechanics in video games is building a party in RPGs (something Bioware games do an excellent job of) and Summoner was my first experience accumulating party members to fight by my side. There was nothing I didn’t love about the game. The locations were exotic, the enemies were varied, and the fighting system was a mixture of live action and turn based that was very deep at the time. While I loved every aspect of the game, by far my favorite feature came from the games’ namesake. The games’ protagonist, Joseph, was a Summoner, using special rings he could summon a wide array of fantastical creatures to aid him in battle. Not only were the creatures helpful in battle but they were just straight up badass looking (shoutout to the Red Minotaur, a creature so badass that Volition put it on the box art). I had never played anything like Summoner before. For me, it defined what a games should and could be—a medium that one can truly lose themselves in. I had officially drank the proverbial kool aid. While I no longer consider Summoner my favorite game, it will always hold a special place in my heart as the game that made me a gamer.
What game made you a gamer?