I love video games.
Seriously, if you were to open up my heart (which would be gross) you would most likely see a bunch of pixels. For almost as long as I can remember, I've always played and loved video games. Chasing high scores, embarking on epic journeys, and challenging all sorts of vile enemies are just a few of the reasons why I love them. However, over the past couple years, video games have transformed my life. Unfortunately, in order to tell that story, we need to start by going back in time to an era before there were HD visuals, wireless controllers, or overpriced DLC. Actually, I take back that whole "unfortunately" remark. We could all do without overpriced DLC.
It was the 90's, and my life was about to change forever.
My Dad, being the sly devil he is, waited late one night for my Mom to go to bed, and then came into my room to wake me up. There was a surprise waiting in the living room, but I had to be quiet. Being the little five year-old kid I was, I followed him out with a sense of excitement and confusion. What could the surprise be, and why did we have to be quiet about it? Sitting next to the TV was a small grey box with a little red light, and on the actual television set was a plumber named Mario.
This was the night that my Dad introduced me to the wonderful world of gaming.
We only played for a little bit, but I can still recall that night quite clearly. Learning how to hold the controller, stomp Goombas, and collect coins is something I'm always going to remember. My Dad also tried to teach me how to grab the flag from the top of the pole at the end of each stage, but I couldn't quite get the hang of it. Sadly enough, almost 20 years later, I still struggle with that pesky flag. We can't all be perfect.
Over the next couple months, my Dad shared some of his other favorite games with me. We shot down ducks in Duck Hunt, died repeatedly in Contra (a game that I was and still am horrible at), adventured through the dangerous halls of Gauntlet, and even threw some turnips in Super Mario Bros. 2. In all honesty, I have my Dad to thank (or blame, depending on who you ask) for my love of gaming. If he hadn't busted out the NES when I was young, played through so many games with me, and let me occasionally stay up a little later to get through a tough level, I probably wouldn't be the same person I am today.
As I got a little bit older, my parents picked up a Super Nintendo for the family, and I got a GameBoy Color for my birthday. Not only could I now play newer and better looking games on our television, I could play them when we traveled too! If I wasn't playing Star Fox or Zelda on the SNES, I was probably catching Pokemon on my GameBoy. Well, there's also the possibility that I was running around our apartment complex with a plastic lightsaber and pretending I was a Jedi, but that's a completely different story for a completely different time.
My family snagged a few more consoles over the following years (N64, PS1), but it wasn't until the the early 2000's when we got an Xbox that I had my next gaming revelation.
Halo: Combat Evolved was my first M-rated video game.
I had to get my parents approval in order to play the game, which thankfully wasn't that hard of a task. My Dad even played a little bit of the game, before deciding the controls were too complicated. It's okay, I still love him. Anyways, Halo was probably the most badass video game I had ever played. It introduced the tough-as-nails Master Chief, a multitude of aliens races collectively called The Covenant, and (although I wasn't aware of its importance at the time) proved that first-person shooters could find a home on console.
I fell in love with the story of Halo, its awesome lead character, and killing scores of aliens with incredible weaponry. However, it wasn't until I started playing the multiplayer of Halo with my friends that I realized how great the game truly was. Learning the layout of each map, coming up with strategies for different weapons, and running my friends over with a tank became second nature. I probably put hundreds of hours into playing Halo multiplayer with my friends, and I could easily go back and put in more.
While my Dad passed his love of gaming on down to me, my Mom gave me a deep respect and love for Star Wars. Between my Mom and I, we have almost 100 Star Wars novels, so trust me when I say I'm an enthusiast about that galaxy far, far away.
Halo was an excellent video game, and it's the one responsible for opening my eyes to the wonder of multiplayer, but my favorite Xbox game will always be Star Wars: Knights of the Old Republic. As a Star Wars nerd, KOTOR was a delight, but as a fan of video games, it was something magical. I'll write about it at length in a future post, but I still stand by the fact that KOTOR has one of the best stories ever told in a video game. It showed how games could be used to tell an interesting and complex story in a way that no other medium could. By making so much of the game revolve around choice, you got to shape the journey into your own story. KOTOR is a game that made me laugh, cry, and feel like I was part of something far bigger than myself.
As I write this, I'm remembering all of the characters you meet, all of the twists that take place, and the locations you travel to and explore. I think it might be time to give it another run...
After the Xbox, I got a PS2 and Xbox 360.
These systems had fantastic games that I really loved (shout out to Kingdom Hearts and Gears of War!), but they didn't have much that grabbed me in the same way the previous games I've gushed about did. Thankfully, when I finally got around to picking up a PS3, I found the next game that would change me, and change was exactly what I needed.
I was at a point in my life where I didn't know how to proceed.
I was stuck in a job that left me unsatisfied, my friendship with my best friend was starting to crack, and I was watching everyone around me move on in life and succeed while I seemed to be constantly failing. I wanted to find some way to turn my passion for video games into a career, but I had no idea how to make that dream a reality. Then I discovered Uncharted. I thought the first game was a fun Indiana Jones-like romp, but the second entry completely blew my mind.
Here was a game that understood how to develop characters, write an engaging story, and amaze you with its visuals and scope. I had never played anything like it. However, it was the now famous "Sic parvis magna" quote from the series that changed me. This is a quote that pops up throughout the series, but really hit home to me during the second installment. It's a Latin phrase that can be translated to "Greatness from small beginnings". This game, well, technically this quote, inspired me to finally do something about my passions.
I started a blog and began writing non-stop about video games.
Now, after years of writing, I've been able to find some success. Whether it's creating a Daily Question series for IGN's community section, helping friends with their podcasts, or doing freelance video game reviews and news pieces for smaller sites, I've slowly been making something out of my dreams. I still have a way to go in order to make a full-time career out of this, but I'm getting there. Greatness from small beginnings, right?
Unlike the old man in The Legend of Zelda, I can't provide you with a sword.
However, I can give you advice. If you're reading this, it's probably because you too have a love for video games. If so, you've probably considered pursuing something in this industry. I want to help you.
I didn't have anybody to help me get started in this crazy world of games writing.
I struggled for a long time before I started seeing any success, and I don't want you to have to face the same struggles. I want to know why you're passionate about video games, what games are your favorite, what games have impacted you, and if there's anyway I can help you with your content.
Thank you for taking the time to read my words. I had a lot of fun writing them, and I hope they were entertaining for you. Feel free to leave a comment and let me know what you thought. Or feel free not to. I'm a big boy, I won't cry...too much.
- Zack Burrows