For most of my childhood, the three main activities were reading, sports, and video games. In the eyes of my parents, one of those things was awesome, one was healthy, and one was an embarrassing waste of time. What could I say? I liked what I liked, and what I really, really liked were the cutting-edge-for-their-time, 8-bit translated Japanese RPG’s.
I picked up Shining Force randomly at the local rental spot (Before Blockbuster, just somebody’s personal VHS rental business, remember those?) when I was maybe 8 or 10 years old. It was a revelation. I kept renting and returning and renting and returning this game, praying each time that my save file would still be on the Sega Genesis cartridge. Even as an adult, in terms of story and world-building and character development, in terms of sheer inventiveness, I’ve seen it surpassed only once, and that was by its incredible sequel. These games were big, and dark, and complex, with every bit as much depth as a grand fantasy novel, and what’s more, they were interactive. The memory of those characters, that experience, is emotionally resonant to a degree it’s hard to explain. They were important to me.
Every art form has something it can do that others can’t, and for video games it’s the personal involvement you feel when a story runs directly through you. It engages the imagination a thousand times more than passively watching television. And sure, times have changed, and continue to change, as new generations grow up with interactive storytelling as a matter of course. It’s becoming normal. These few paragraphs already are sort of a throwback to a time that children today won’t understand. But we lived through the beginning, and it was weird, and nerdy, and the generation that raised us had been raised on baseball, and bicycles, and neighborhood-wide games of hide-and-seek. They had no idea how to classify this phenomenon except maybe as, “dungeons and dragons shit.”
To this day I still carry a sort of embarrassment for playing video games, a reflexive sense of, “you’re wasting your life inside, playing on that thing,” that was shamed into us early and often; and sure, everything of course in moderation. But there is also a part of me that knows and always knew the truth: It isn’t that video games are changing; it’s that perception is finally catching up to reality. This is, and always has been, an artistic medium. All those little unlined faces, sitting cross-legged in the glow of the television, unfolding a living adventure to Motoaki Takenouchi’s piano compositions? They knew it was beautiful; it didn’t matter that nobody else understood. There’s a moral in here, somewhere, about giving a fuck what other people think.