When I was a kid, I was a gamer. I was voracious - my NES, Genesis, and Game Gear were all played until the controllers broke; JRPGs like Final Fantasy, Phantasy Star IV, and Defenders of Oasis took up most of my time and have most lodged themselves in memory. I also had a decent PC for the ‘90s, and have incredibly strong memories of using the Microsoft Flight Stick to play TIE Fighter for hours at a time, blowing off steam by blowing away bad guys. I played with my mom, too - she liked puzzlers like Tetris, Dr. Mario, Columns, and Lemmings. I played HOURS of Warcraft II online, using Kali and, later, Microsoft’s online gaming portal that let you emulate a LAN over the internet.
But in high school, for some reason, things changed for me. My brother got an N64, but I never really played it. My friends got Playstations, but not me; while others in my gamer category were blown away by Final Fantasy VII, I never even played it, and I still haven’t. I switched my PC over to Linux, and suddenly my brand new original GeForce video card and AMD Athlon processor were mostly good for TuxRacer - not exactly a mind-blowing experience. The one game I really remember playing and loving in late high school was Jedi Knight (which was, and still is, amazing), but I never played Doom, or Doom 2, or Ocarina of Time, or Half Life, or any other milestone games from that era. I did play a lot of online spades.
I still liked games, and playing games. But I lost the thread of the culture. I fell behind. I was no longer “a gamer” in any meaningful, cultural way.
I played five games in my four years of college. I borrowed a friend’s PS2 and played Final Fantasy X to about the halfway point. I also played a lot of Amplitude and a bit of Karaoke Revolution. I then ordered an original Xbox with a modified chip with the primary purpose of running Xbox Media Center, but I did play Knights of the Old Republic on it as well (and got killed 30 times in the first level of Ninja Gaiden before giving up).
I feel like this college experience cemented me, for a long time, as a “casual.” Sitting down with any of the true gamers to play a game was intimidating. I had no interest in online gaming, and that seemed to be where everything was moving. I felt out of place in the gaming world, and I basically stopped trying to learn what was going on.
My return to games has been a long time coming. I played some Call of Duty 2 (about four years after it came out) with coworkers in the faculty lounge at my school. I installed Dragon Age Origins (about three years after it came out) on my MacBook and played it at 20 fps to about the halfway point - enough to know I liked it, but then life got in the way. I bought a used PS2 and played a lot of Rock Band and about half of Final Fantasy XII. I enjoyed all of these experiences but they always faded - I never had an experience that really pulled me back in.
Then I built a really basic “gaming” PC and played Portal (again, years after it came out) and Portal 2. Those games grabbed me in a way nothing had in a long time. But then there was another cold period. I played some Mass Effect... meh. I played some The Witness... meh. I played some Knights of the Old Republic 2... meh. I just couldn’t find the mojo. Was it over? Was I simply doomed to not finding the passion for gaming again?
But then, last year, I played Dragon Quest XI, because I like JRPGs, the Tim Rogers review was cross-posted to i09 and it’s graphically light enough to be fully playable on a decent business laptop (Dell XPS 15).
Reader, Dragon Quest XI brought me back to gaming. I played that game for over 200 hours. I never did beat the final boss (despite getting every character to level 98 or higher) but playing that game gave me magic feelings. It made me subscribe to Kotaku. It made me listen to Splitscreen. It made me buy a Switch “for my son.” I have spent more time playing and really thinking about games in the last year and a half than in the ten years prior. I have played Outer Wilds (not done no spoilers!) The Witcher 3 (not done no spoilers!), Arkham Asylum, a bit of BotW, Monster Boy and the Cursed Kingdom, Baba is You, CatQuest, Overcooked (with my wife, who is not a gamer at all!), Pokemon Go with my kids, Mario Kart 8, Just Dance, Fitness Boxing, Hollow Knight, Mario + Rabbids Kingdom Battle, Unraveled 2 (with my son, great co-op game) and probably dabbled in other games, all in the last year. I am regularly thinking about and reading about games for the first time in two decades.
I am still not playing a lot of AAA mainstream games (haven’t played Fortnite or anything primarily about murdering others). Plenty of people would still say I’m a casual. But they’re wrong. In the ways that matter to me, I’m a gamer again.
It’s good to be back.