My life as a gamer is a difficult thing for me to describe. This is due in large part to the fact that I not only view games as a form of entertainment but also as a form of artistic expression. I was born with Cerebral Palsy, and as such have limited fine-motor skills, but my mind is unaffected. Growing up in the 1990’s I was fortunate enough to not only have the original Nintendo, but also the Super Nintendo thereafter. Naturally, the existence of both these consoles made me ecstatic. Their simplistic design not only made it fun but it was accessible. The Super Nintendo in particular brings to mind some of my fondest memories. Grabbing a cape for the first time in Super Mario World for the first time, and hearing the sound of Mario transforming into a mustachioed superhero felt incredible. The adrenaline rush that came on as I hoped Mario had built-up enough speed and momentum to fly was exhilarating. It is a feeling which at least for me, is unrivaled to this day. Another game from that era that evokes strong memories for me is Donkey Kong Country. This game is the earliest instance in my life that I remember being truly immersed in. the pseudo 3D graphics gave a detail to characters and environments that wasn’t present in the sprites of any Mario game I had ever played. The music of the game was pure auditory bliss, and it is from this that my appreciation for atmosphere in games was born. The music found in Donkey Kong Country and its sequels is so enjoyable that I still find myself returning to Youtube to listen from time to time. Hothead Bop and Gangplank Galleon are particularly noteworthy.
With the arrival of 3D Graphics technology came a massive boost in the popularity and capability of computers as gaming devices. In January of 1996, what is generally considered by many to be one of, if not the greatest First-Person Shooter of all time was released in Duke Nukem 3D. I was eight years old at the time, and still vividly recall my older brother coming home from a friend’s house and how excited he was describing Duke’s one-liners, or how Duke’s boot would actually be shown when he stepped on aliens after shrinking them, leaving a bloody footprint in his wake, it was like nothing I had ever heard of, and I NEEDED to have it! My brother received it for Christmas that year and I was blown away. Duke not only spoke, he stood out to me because he was loud, lewd and unapologetically violent. I will never forget starting the first level and hearing Duke quip “Damn those alien bastards are gonna pay for shooting up my ride!” or blowing a group of aliens into bloody chunks with the RPG and hearing “Hehehe what a mess!” Duke Nukem 3D quickly became my favorite game of that time, because he was like the amalgamation of Arnold Schwarzenegger and Clint Eastwood, both of which I grew up watching but duke was memorable because he fulfilled the power-fantasy I had of actually BEING an action hero like in the films I found so endearing. For a brief moment at least I didn’t have a disability.
The two most important aspects that make a game great for me are its story, and element of choice. I am particularly fond of role-playing games because of this, and the Mass Effect and Witcher franchises are two of my favorite examples. Mass Effect is a space opera made in the vein of Star Wars, I connected with it due to an unprecedented level of choice. Even small decisions had a fair bit of weight, and I absolutely loved this because it felt like a world that was my own with a character I had created. If a character I liked was killed, I was racked with guilt knowing that it was MY decision that lead to their demise. I was emotionally invested, a feat no game before Mass Effect had ever accomplished. This is what made Mass Effect Truly special for me. Where The Witcher differs from other RPG’s like Mass Effect is in its willingness to subvert RPG tropes. The story revolves around Geralt of Rivia who searches for his missing surrogate daughter named Cirilla. There is an undeniably realistic maturity and human element to the story, despite it being a fantasy. As a person who would do anything to keep his loved ones safe, or go to any length to please them, I found Geralt’s tale immensely relatable. One scene in particular in which Geralt grieves over Cirilla’s lifeless body is especially potent because loss of a son or daughter is never truly surpassed. Despite not having children of my own, playing The Witcher made me appreciate the family I do have so much more. Unlike in Mass Effect, where players are presented with a clear sense of right and wrong due to a binary morality system, choices presented in the Witcher are anything but binary, good intentions do not always yield the best outcomes nor does the hero always prevail. The most memorable example is during a quest called The Bloody Baron. The game’s dark world is one where most situations don’t have a clear-cut good and bad outcome. This moral ambiguity forces me to question right and wrong and is why The Witcher is my favorite RPG of all. Emotional investment has become one of the most prominent reasons I play games, being disabled can sometimes make me feel like an outcast. With the witcher being an outcast himself, I can relate, and it is a pleasant reminder that others understand what it’s like being in my shoes.
I am also quite fond of games that apart from telling a good story, stimulate critical thought. The original Bioshock is a favorite of mine, because it poses the question of whether or not free will exists in games. I prefer to play on the PS4 due to ease of access and a tendency to favor story-driven experiences in games. Games like The Talos Principle are puzzle-based and keep me mentally stimulated, proving rewarding when a puzzle is solved. While games like the Last of Us and Uncharted keep me invested with likeable characters and well-told tales, providing me with much-needed reprieve from my disability.