Many of you out there have probably heard the song Life is a Highway. If so, then you probably also understand its meaning, that life is like a road that keeps going and whatever road(s) we take help shape us into who we are. This is true in not just life, but in many of our hobbies and activities that influence our lives. Many times it is the stops we make along these roads that mold us into what we are and put us on the path to where we are now. I thought I would take the time to explain how my favorite hobby, video games, has influenced me. Many of you have read my Top Ten Favorite Games post and learned a little bit of what and why I like. I thought for this one I would get a bit more personal and tell you just how I came to be where I am with video games today; why I love video games so much, why I want to have a career in video game journalism, and even why I find games fun at all. I'm going to talk about the video games that have influenced me the most and why (my "stops" along the road to where I am). I hope you enjoy.


"Hey! These video game things are pretty fun!"

My "road" began back in 1994 at the tender age of 4. My older brother had just returned home from his mother's house where he had been all summer. What he brought back with him would forever influence what I would want to do with my life (and most of my time). His mother had bought him and Super Nintendo Entertainment System (or, Super Nintendo, as we would all call it) with the game Super Mario World along with it. I know I was a little late to the party, but better late than never.

I had watched my brother play Super Mario Bros. on his old Nintendo Entertainment System (we referred to it as the "Regular Nintendo" since it was not "Super" like the new one) for a couple of years and I remember thinking that it looked fun, but I never really got a chance to play it, what with all the busy things a young 3 or 4 year old has to do, bedtime being the most pressing and time consuming. However, when the Super Nintendo hit the television, after my brother played it for a while, I grabbed the controller and tried my hand at it. I was blown away at how much fun I derived from this simple, "run left or right" adventure. The levels, the mechanics, the controls, the boss fights, the secrets (oh the secrets), everything about Super Mario World fascinated me beyond belief. I was only 4 at the time, so I thought all I was doing was just having fun. I wasn't conscious of the fact that I wanted video games in my future.

Eventually, I became even more skilled than my older brother at Super Mario World and ended up beating 100% of the game before anyone else. However, that didn't mean I was finished. There were more of these video games out there and now I wanted to play them, if for nothing else, then to just take up some time and have a lot of fun.


The Art of Storytelling

After Super Mario World turned me on to the world of video games, I acquired an insatiable appetite for games. I wanted to play all of them. However, coming from a family with little money was quite a road block (see what I did there....yeah). I bought what I could and rented whatever else I couldn't purchase. This gave me access to a few games, but mostly only the most popular since I didn't really have any resources to research or find out anything. Also, I wasn't even in my teens yet, so I probably didn't care. I just wanted to play.

It was around this time that I discovered pawn shops and the treasure trove of video games they had just waiting to be pillaged (figure of speech, I legally purchased everything). This gave me access to a whole surplus of games new and old, mainstream or overlooked, since I could trade in the games I had for new ones.

This method of trade, play, trade, play continued for most of my grade school and junior high gaming life. During this time we acquired a Playstation system from one of my brother's friends (seems my older brother had a lot of influence over where I am. You could say he filled up my car with gas a few times, possibly even bought me my first car....I'll try and stop the road metaphors now). This allowed me to move on to a new system and a whole new world of games.

In must have been about 1999. I walked my 10 year old self into a pawn shop I had found that had quite a collection of Playstation games. Having already played Crash Bandicoot and Crash Bandicoot 2 (probably several other games but that was a while ago) I was anxious to dig into more games. It was here that I found a thick game case with no instruction booklet. It had three discs, which blew me away. I didn't even think games to be that long. I looked to the disc for a name; Final Fantasy VII (again, late to the party). "Hmmm," I thought, "sounds interesting." I had heard the name before but nothing else. I figured I'd give it a go. What a journey it turned out to be.

Final Fantasy VII opened up a whole different realm of gaming for me. Before, I played games strictly for fun and wasn't really aware that they were anything more than games. This changed all of that. Final Fantasy VII thrust me into a story deeper and more emotional than anything I had ever experienced in gaming. I was floored by the sheer magnitude of the story. The character development and storytelling had me enthralled for dozens of hours and the gameplay was something I had never seen before.

Not only did the story open up something new for me, but the complex materia system showed me that video games could require planning, tactics, and could give you more than just running and pouncing on enemies' heads (which is still fun). It was here with this game that I knew video games could tell a story worthy of anything a book could give me. It was also here that I grasped for the first time that I truly wanted to do something with video games in the future, but I was still not sure what.

With this new knowledge of how truly different and complex games could be, I began to look not just for gameplay, but for story and for characters. I was now able to appreciate games more for what they were: not just games, but a form of media, of storytelling. This was probably my first foray into the world of RPGs, which would be one of my favorite genres from that point on.


A Raised Sword and a Guiding Light

After I played Final Fantasy VII, I began to play more games than ever before. I also started to play more complex games and, since I was getting older, started thinking about them in deeper context than I used to. I thought of them like I thought of books I had read and movies I had watched; what is the meaning of these scenes? Is there a bigger picture? Blah, blah, blah. Basically, I began to think more critically of games the more I played them. It was also around this time I started writing more. Not about video games, just papers and essays for schools, stuff like that, and I found I enjoyed it. However, it would take me a few years to connect the two and realize I could do something with both if I was lucky.

The year was 2007 and I was smack in the middle of my senior year in high school. I had acquired a great many friends who enjoyed playing video games and we would often sit and talk about them as we played (or when we weren't playing). It was around this time that I saw a game I had heard great things about in a bargain bin outside of a store. The title was Shadow of the Colossus. I decided I had to have it and bought it immediately. Sitting down to play this game would slowly put everything I wanted to do into perspective.

Shadow of the Colossus amazed me on so many levels. Not only was the gameplay some of the best and most exciting/cinematic I've played to this day, but the story and the characters were both puzzling and so intriguing. However, what was probably the most interesting was that the lack of a story and character development actually enthralled me that much more. This was the first game I had played that forced me to draw my own conclusions. I found myself analyzing that game from all different angles as I played it. Lessons we learned in English class about literary theory and critical thinking kept entering my mind as I wondered why Wander was on this journey, what were the significance of the colossi, was the deity calling the shots really evil, and many more. It also intrigued me that a game could make me fill so much by giving me so little to go on.

Shadow of the Colossus was the first game I wrote about and it inspired me to keep writing about video games. It is definitely the reason I started writing about video games as well as thinking about them in more ways than just gameplay and story.

Many games have influence me in different ways, but these three have pushed me forward more than any others I have experienced. Super Mario World introduced me to the world and showed me that video games are great fun.  Final Fantasy VII introduced me to story in games and showed that a game can make you feel sadness and even feel sorry for a character. It showed me that video games were more than just games. Shadow of the Colossus showed me that as well, but also made me realize that games can sometimes make you unsure of how you feel and give you reason to analyze and to think. Without each of these games, I probably wouldn't be as interested in video games as I am today. Thankfully, I had the privilege of playing them, and hopefully I will have the privilege of experiencing even more groundbreaking games in the industry and watching them shape, not only my road, but the roads of others.