I often wonder how my eight-year old nephew really experiences video games. He has Playstation, PSP and Wii, which he shares with his brothers and nephews. Every now and then, he also plays games on his mom’s laptop. He’s growing up amidst a revolutionary time for games and the gamer.
When I was his age, my brother and I didn’t have any game consoles or personal computers. Our first experience with digital games came about a year or two later in the form of ‘Pyramid’ a built-in game on a black Casio digital watch. It was a gift from our Tito (Uncle) Alex working in Saudi Arabia (all nephews and nieces got one). I was thrilled not because it was ‘imported’, but because I was challenged to score higher than my brother and cousins. Yep, it was exciting for me to be able to catch the little triangles falling and make sure if all fell nicely in place to form a big pyramid. I had no idea then that Tetris existed and that I would be addicted to it in the future. Anyway, I guess the first signs of my obsessive nature started to reveal itself as it became my daily goal, wherever I was — bathroom no exception — to top the previous day’s score. I was also very pleased with myself when I discovered that pressing a hidden button gave me more chances allowing me to play longer.
Then came Nintendo’s ‘Game & watch’, handheld electronic games that were simply fast and fun to play. I can still see very clearly in mind the words, ‘GAME A’ and ‘GAME B’. These were pretty much the level of difficulties, but that was enough.
My first ‘Game & watch’ was the game, ‘Chef’. Chef had to catch the food in his pan, while a cat did its best to steal it, and a smug mouse took the food Chef spilled on the floor. The shapes of the sausages, chicken drumstick falling so fast are still imprinted in my mind, but most especially the panicky expression on the very simple and yet memorable illustration of Chef. Again, my inquisitive mind took over as I found out that if I pressed the ACL button long enough, I could get the highest score of 999
Then I moved on to the big time. Well, not me exactly, but my older cousins who bought an Atari game console. The younger batch, to which I belonged, was not allowed to play whenever we wanted. We had to be at our very best behaviour while the older ones played Space Invaders and Asteroid. And then, only after several hours of playing (if and when they took a break) were we allowed to take turns. I remember watching with awe as the boys shot the asteroids and bought down the invaders. I simply thought, ‘I could do that, and even better’ and making a mental note to pray to Jesus later on and ask for super powers in case aliens invaded the planet.
After that I was introduced to the Legend of Zelda (thanks to the same uncle who bought us the Nintendo family computer) and then there was no turning back. I can still feel the awe of holding that shiny golden cartridge in my hand: I was marked by the game-wanderlust and from then on, games would play a significant role in my life and my imaginings. For the first time, my love for storytelling was merged with the thrill of exploration, puzzle-solving and exploration. I didn’t have any inkling that such childhood experiences in digital games would someday be a part of a collective engagement with technology that would be critically studied, and will form one of the many perspectives from which to view today’s society and culture.