Sunday, March 22, 2009

Twenty Years Ago, A Shift In My Gaming

An important personal gaming anniversary passed almost unnoticed nearly two weeks ago. It was on March 9, 1989, somehow twenty years back, that I made a major gaming shift and purchased a Nintendo Entertainment System. After six years of gaming exclusively on personal computers, I shifted my gaming focus to consoles once again.

Since the summer of 1983, at the height of the Great Videogame Crash (where the Atari - Intellivision - Odyssey - Colecovision console market crashed ), I'd been gaming on Commodore computers. First with the low-powered but great-for-gaming Vic 20, and then with what I consider one of the greatest gaming machines of all time, the Commodore 64.

Although the Nintendo Entertainment System was released in 1985, it took some time to catch on. I had noticed it at Toys-R-Us early on, but dismissed it as a kids' game playing machine when I saw it packaged with that silly-ass robot peripheral. There was a little snobbishness on my part there, I admit. The games coming out for the C64 at that time were state-of-the-art sophisticated, including stuff like Bard's Tale, Skyfox, and Ultima games, so playing one where a toy robot stacks plastic cylinders seemed a bit lowbrow.

I first took notice when a roommate's friend brought one over to our apartment. I wasn't there when it was hooked up, but I looked at some of the games he had sitting there, and again dismissed it. I mean, Goonies II? Hmmmph.

Later, there was a drunk night at another friend's house, where I crashed in his basement rather than drive home. He had shown me a little game called Castlevania, and for the first time, I was impressed. My friend passed out and I stayed awake all night playing that awesome, moody action title.

Most of that era was about adventure games for me, and I had a subscription to a newsletter called Questbusters, which had news, tips, and even walkthroughs for many adventure games out at the time. One article mentioned a game called The Legend of Zelda, and after reading about that game, my course was set.

Money was tight at the time, and the girlfriend I was living with was not very tolerant of my game habits, so it took a tax refund in early 1989 to give me the ability to get my hands on an NES. There was one more obstacle, though, and that was the same one that has been a thorn in the side of many consumers seeking Nintendo's current console, the Wii. NES consoles were flying off the shelves and very hard to find.

I called around town and searched far and wide before finally finding one in, of all places, a local Anderson's General Store. And although Zelda was an immediate purchase, I was also enthralled by the pack-in game, Super Mario Bros.

Buying my first console since my Odyssey 2 didn't put an immediate end to gaming on the Commodore 64, as I picked up many great games and many used/bargain games for years after that. For the next nine years, however, most of my gaming was spread out across that NES and seven more consoles, as well as three handheld systems. In 1998, when I got my modern PC and Ultima Online, things shifted back again.

Currently, with my PC aging and PC gaming mostly relegated to crappy MMOs, consoles are once again my gaming platforms of choice. Will it shift back again? Beats me. Twenty years ago the NES changed everything - what games I was playing and how I played them. My philosophy has always been to go where the games I want to play are, so I really don't have the slightest idea where my focus will be in twenty more years.

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