This article was featured in the Winter issue of qmunicate.
I got my first video game device when I was 8 years old. It was a GameBoy Advance XP and I had begged my parents for one for months. Not that knowledgeable about video games themselves, and with a love for a bargain, they got me a variety of cheap games cartridges (probably second-hand off ebay). These were games like Sims: Bustin’ Out, the licensed game for The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe, and “Dogz”.
Classic staples of 00s video gaming they were not. The controls were terrible, the game-play repetitive, and each game seemed to be chock-full of bugs. But still, on long journeys, I’ll find myself reaching for my Gameboy (which still works – these things were built to last), and trying to finally complete the forbidden forest level of Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire.
As you can see, I did not grow up with the classic games most gamers look back on fondly. My dad would bring home random game consoles from his work for weekends at a time, so I’d only get to play for a brief amount of time before they vanished again from my life. My gaming experience has always been fragmented; a snapshot of random levels or random games based off of kids films. I was never talented enough to go beyond the first couple of levels, but I still delighted in playing the same tutorial levels again and again. The soundtrack to the opening level of the A Bug’s Life game still takes me back to afternoons spent sitting in the computer room trying to navigate the giant plants and bugs that made up the game.
Eventually, while my parents did not “get” video games beyond Wii sports, they would still indulge my sisters and me by getting us the latest games a year or so after they were released. Second hand. These used games often didn’t have the old save files deleted, so we could see the fingerprints of the person who had abandoned this game. Our Nintendogs game had the abandoned dogs of the former user who couldn’t even be bothered to delete their save file before selling it on. Too attached to fictional dogs made of code, I could not even consider deleting them, and so alongside my own puppies, I, fed, walked, and looked after them. It was my duty.
Video games are a very good vehicle for nostalgia as there’s more to them than simply watching them or reading about them, like a book or film. Video games are tactile. You spend years practicing on exactly how to beat that rhythm mini-game or memorizing the pattern to overcome that section of bullet-hell. I have the answers to the “riddle challenge” in Sims: Bustin’ Out burned into my brain, just in case I ever have to talk to that ghost NPC again, or if anyone needs to know how many sides a circle has (the answer is 2: an outside and an inside). Video games not only imprint on your memory, but the ghost of the repeated movements still linger on your thumbs, promising that if you picked up that game again, you’d automatically know what to do.
I suppose that is why I still reminisce about those long car journeys playing the licensed game for A Series of Unfortunate Events. It was time spent practicing over and over, dedicated to learning every inch of a level, finding all the cheats and secrets that the game promised. The combination of catchy chip tunes, repetitive game-play, and dodgy visuals meant that each game I spent hours playing has stuck with me. Even though I was absolutely terrible at these games, I still look fondly back on my continued attempts. Despite attempting the same level more times than I can count and getting nowhere, I always tried again. I would always return to these games, and still occasionally do, because despite not being that good, they all stuck with me physically and mentally.
I know not everyone shared my experiences with video games as a kid. I’m sure not everyone is super nostalgic for these very niche and (probably rightfully) forgotten games. But everyone’s experiences are different. While some may have grown up with Pokémon, Mario, and Rock Band, I didn’t. And while I cannot join in on nostalgic conversations about those games that did stand the test of time, I can still look back on my weird childhood gaming experience, dodgy second-hand cartridges and all.