“The obvious objective of video games is to entertain people by surprising them with new experiences.”– Shigeru Miyamoto
Nostalgia has often served as a vehicle to allow me to peel back the curtain and explore topics like music, food, movies, and toys. Today, I do it again, but this time with a nod towards video games, which I briefly explored before. I discussed my fascination with Borderlands 3 on PlayStation in July. In A Newcomer Joins Borderlands 3, I elaborated on how my brother-in-law Kyle bought me the game, and we constantly played online throughout the pandemic and still today. Yes, we have bested the competition, crushed the newly released DLC, and go back to Sanctuary III with every expansion. Borderlands 3 has come to define what I look for in a video game.
I am not a gamer and do not pretend to be an expert. Seriously though, I am terrible at Borderlands 3, but it doesn’t matter. If I destroy ten cars and fall off every cliff, I will continue to enjoy the experience. As Kyle and I continue to explore Borderlands 3, it had me thinking; what are my favorite video games, and how do they compare to my newfound favorite? So, I chose to go back, briefly, to Borderlands 3 and explore those video games that left an impression on my gameplay as a child, a teenager, and a nearly forty-year-old adult who refuses to put down the controller. Maybe it’s the nonstop laughing, or perhaps it’s who the games connect me to, but no matter, let’s hit play.
Can’t Stop, Won’t Stop Being Nostalgic
“How often have I lain beneath rain on a strange roof, thinking of home.”– William C. Faulkner
In January 2019, my Aunt Madeline, my father’s sister, passed away. Her death was devastating. I have spoken of my aunt a few times on this blog, especially in those nostalgic conversations about food or toys. She is easily situated at the front of so many parts of my past that while illustrating my most robust sense of nostalgia today, especially video games, she is bound to appear. It might seem odd that my aunt, born in the early 1940s, is who I think of when I reflect on video games. To know my aunt, what she loved, and enjoyed, is to recognize that this checks out. I had not thought about her, as a gamer, in some time. Luckily, this blog has shown me that nostalgia is a powerful muse, and as I considered video games, I recalled my aunt’s skills.
I have lovely memories of being at my Aunt Madeline’s home, which she shared with my uncle Frank for over 50 years, to celebrate holidays, birthdays, and milestones. It was always a delightful time, and my siblings and I would typically play in the yard if it were warm or in the spare bedroom if it was dark or cold outside. The second bedroom had a television, and my earliest video game memories are those playing on the Sega Genesis hooked up to this tv. I played the 16-bit fourth-generation cartridge console, and she had the Sega Card attachment, which was referred to as the Master System, as it was the successor to Sega Genesis. This part was an add-on so that you could play both. I could slide the small flat cards into the system, play Super Tennis or Spy vs. Spy, or my favorite Gangster Town, allowing me to use a Sega Master System Light Phaser as a controller. If you wanted to use the 16-bit console to play Sonic the Hedgehog, you took off the Master System converter and used the newer system.
While it was often me, my sister, and brothers fighting over whose turn it was to play the dozens of games she had, it was my aunt who schooled us on how to play. She was incredible. No matter the game, she could bring it! I loved watching her play, and I wouldn’t say I like watching anyone play video games. I vividly remember the smile on her face, her arms swinging, as she tightly clasped the controller, dropping a Portuguese expletive, and beat one level after another. She was a boss, and when done, as if dropping the mic, she handed the game controller off to one of us as we sat in reverence. The funny part was she knew how good she was. She enjoyed showing us up, and, in the process, we sat transfixed. As I got older, I still was unable to beat her in any video games. As the technology grew more impressive and the graphics more realistic, my Aunt Madeline learned new techniques and continued as my gamer inspiration.
Thinking about my aunt, her video game ability, and the systems she played with incredible skill has since led me down another nostalgic path, this time to remind myself of those games, consoles, and moments that prove emotional. If I have said once, I have said a million times, this blog space has allowed nostalgia to take center stage, and in so doing, I have uncovered beautifully lived moments. Sure, video games might seem an odd place to transition next, after weeks spent with food, music, toys, and movies, but keeping my aunt at the center illuminates that those “gamer” moments are essential. Recalling these memories offers an opportunity to construct a fuller picture of who I am and what makes me, well, me.
Returning to Borderlands 3 without Blowing Up Cars… Well, Maybe One!
“Life is a video game. No matter how good you get, you are always zapped in the end.”– Anonymous
Video games are a crucial link with my Aunt Madeline, and since I can no longer share that enjoyment with her, the memories will have to suffice. The pandemic has exasperated the need for nostalgia, this necessity to explore my video game past and make sense of my video game present. Where my Aunt Madeline’s game skills transition to legacy status and memories of her become comfortable, quiet moments of solace, centered in my present video game world is Kyle. As I mentioned earlier, this is not my first video game-related post. In July, I wrote all about my newfound affection for the Borderlands 3 video game. Since then, I have continued to play and learned of a Borderlands movie in pre-production directed by Eli Roth and starring Cate Blanchett and Jack Black.
Kyle and I devoted dozens, if not, hundreds of hours to Borderlands 3 gameplay, discovering new extreme guns, and doing so as I often blew up our modes of transportation and fell off cliffs, thus constantly delaying our progress. Playing Borderlands 3 helped to ease my anxiety about the pandemic and find a sense of calm during a turbulent time. Since Kyle and I completed the game, we have returned to Borderlands 3 on a couple of occasions, I came back alone one additional time, and each time we return, our antics are the same. I blow shit up for no reason, and Kyle figures out what we need to do to survive and make it to the next level. One might assume I would improve with time. But the truth is, as they say, not that simple.
While playing the DLC Guns, Love, and Tentacles, I enjoyed the storyline requiring me to assist two characters, Sir Alistair Hammerlock and Wainwright Jakobs, get married, even as their ceremony gets attacked by a cult who worship a giant tentacle monster. I still acted as haphazardly as I did in our first go-through, though. Kyle always tries to help and offer suggestions about how I might improve, but I can’t help myself, and I will fire my gun carelessly, and in the end, I fell off a ton of cliffs and blew up numerous cars. Continuing with our beloved characters, I played as the vault hunter Amara the Siren, and Kyle maintained his role as Zane the Operative. Like our first time playing, even as we battled new enemies, I found new guns and treasures but never ceased using my Lob gun, which is my apex mountain of Borderlands 3 weapons. The Lob is a shotgun that blasts Cryo, Corrosive, Radiation, Shock, and Incendiary orbs – all rated “Legendary,” meaning for the Borderlands novice MUST HAVE!
This past October, I returned to Borderlands 3 again, on my own, to take on “Bloody Harvest,” a special Halloween event for Borderlands 3. It was fun, allowed me to get into the spooky season, blow up vengeful ghosts and angry pumpkins, and battle, in “boss level,” the skull-headed Captain Haunt. It was intense, and since I was alone, I stuck to the script. I followed the mission closely and armed with my trusted Lob gun; I completed the task within an hour. I enjoyed playing the “Bloody Harvest” and defeating the spooky character with my Lob gun. Even so, as I continued to play, I realized that I enjoyed playing Borderlands 3 because I wasn’t alone. It was slightly different without Kyle, even if the game itself is incredible. Completing the DLC and then “Bloody Harvest” made me nostalgic for those hours I played with Kyle as I passed through lockdown, which put my mind at ease. We recently purchased a new DLC, Bounty of Blood, and will tackle that mission soon. I think it is clear how it will go. More use of the Lob gun, plenty of falling off cliffs, additional cars exploding, and tons of laughing. So, as I think of my aunt and her gameplay on Sega Genesis, or playing Borderlands 3 with Kyle, it has made me contemplative about the games I played throughout my life.
Computer Games, ColecoVision, Atari, Nintendo & Sega Genesis
“Video game ruined my life. Good Thing I have two extra lives. ♥️ ♥️ 🤍”– Anonymous
I recently recalled the youthful adventure depicted in The Wizard, starring Fred Savage as Corey Woods, who, with his brother, runaway to compete in the ultimate video game championship. The Wizard movie premiered in 1989, and I was close to age to the characters, so the antics of the characters were on par with what I found entertaining. The fact the film centered around a video game championship, when I was discovering my love of video games, made it a perfect movie for the time. As is apparent from my previous nostalgia-related posts, the 1980s were a decade I not only grew up in but one I constantly enjoy reflecting on.
My first gaming memory may be playing Oregon Trail, released in 1982, at school. I loved this game, although I died every single time. I don’t think I ever succeeded in completing the game. I was reminded of my fascination with the game when watching “OreTron Trail,” episode 11 from season 13 of American Dad. In the episode, Roger, the alien, becomes worried that the Smith family will die or outlive him, so he imprisons them in the computer game Oregon Trail. The episode ultimately flows into a perfect montage with the family constantly dying in ways reminiscent of how characters died in the original game. A funny episode that shows American Dad writers reside in a nostalgic world, like most from the 80s and 90s. Of course, when thinking about or considering games played on computers in school, Where in the World is Carmen Sandiego, released in 1985, is another game I remember fondly. But computer games at school paled in comparison to what I played at home.
The first personal gaming system I owned was a ColecoVision and then Atari 2600. Looking back on those afternoons and evenings playing in the sunroom, I laugh, as an adult, about how awkward the graphics of the games were as a kid. But, at the time, I enjoyed the entertaining aspect of both systems. Whether it was playing Pac-Man or Space Invaders on Atari or Donkey Kong and Rocky Super Action Boxing on ColecoVision, these systems offered incredible fun that I have never forgotten. Sometimes, I can’t help but wish I had those systems today. You know, a little retro gameplay. In the end, Atari and ColecoVision proved short-lived in our home. Instead, we upgraded to Nintendo.
I remember being in our living room when my parents came home with a “gaming” surprise for me and my siblings. The four of us waited as they set up the Nintendo. When they revealed the system setup, we were amazed. The classic Nintendo console is the only Nintendo system I owned, excluding my Nintendo Wii, which I am sure most people bought. For a few years in the mid to late 1980s, my siblings and I played Nintendo constantly. We didn’t have a ton of games, and lots of times, I traveled to a friend’s home to play their assortment of games. But the games we had were fun, nonetheless. Sure, we had the classic 1980s games like Mario Bros., Donkey Kong, Excitebike, Mike Tyson’s Punch-Out, Duck Hunt, and Contra, but more popular games Zelda never made their way into my rotation. We had our Nintendo console longer than our Atari or ColecoVision, but it was Sega Genesis that captured our gaming loyalty.
As I alluded to, my Aunt Madeline introduced me to Sega Genesis. She played the earlier iterations of Sega and owned the most updated version by the early 1990s while I was still playing Nintendo. When we made the switch from Nintendo to Sega Genesis, I felt it offered much smoother gameplay. Sure, games came and went, but games like John Madden Football ‘94, NBA Jam, NHL ‘94, Tony La Russa Baseball, other EA Sports games and Street Fighter II, Streets of Rage 2, Mortal Combat, and Sonic the Hedgehog were those that quickly came to mind.
Fighting games and sports-themed games were some of my favorite on Sega Genesis, and if you read my “The Raid: Redemption” post, this makes sense. Both genres easily allowed for two players. If I weren’t going head-to-head against my brother Jeff, I would go against friends. If not in the mood for a baseball or football game, we selected various badass characters in Mortal Combat, epically with MKII. For hours we discovered new unique and graphic ways to battle to the death and “finish him.” After the cinematic release of Mortal Combat in 1995, this game and its subsequent iterations gained more popularity in my home. Still, while Sega Genesis provided some incredible gameplay, it was PlayStation that soon won me over.
Most Nostalgic & Favorite PlayStation Games
“🍴Eat, 💤 Sleep, 👾Game, 🔁 Repeat”
While I have had my fair share of handheld gaming devices, like Gameboy by Nintendo, or Jurassic Park on Game Gear by Sega, I have yet to get a Switch, which Kyle has told me to consider. Even so, I probably won’t, not because it’s not good; instead, by this point, I am pretty set in my ways as to the type of system I own. For the last, let’s say, twenty-five years, I have played games almost exclusively on Sony’s PlayStation, and I can’t complain. Although I am sure Switch is fun, my video gameplay remains on PlayStation.
Many games enjoyed on Sega Genesis carried over to PlayStation. EA Sports produced sporting games like Hockey, Football, and Baseball were some of the best games that I continued playing. Hours spent with friends and siblings, playing these games, night after night, and with victory came bragging rights. The same is true for Mortal Combat, which was on Sega Genesis and one of the first games I had on my PlayStation console. With each update, the graphics improved, the intensity heightened, and the battles ridiculous. I am sure many games made their way from Sega Genesis to PlayStation, but games like Madden and Mortal Combat proved most memorable. Therefore, which PlayStation games have thus become grounded in my inherent nostalgia for all things past?
Well, first, there is Twisted Metal, a game that dwells in the fighting genre like Mortal Combat, Street Fighter but mixes in the use of insane, weird, and over-the-top cars. Premiering in 1995, Twisted Metal came out when I was a teenager and I felt its effect immediately. As stated on the fandom page, the game’s concept is a “Twisted Metal competition, a demolition derby that allows the use of ballistic projectiles, such as missiles and machine guns. The contest, run by a mysterious man named Calypso, grants the winner one wish that has no limits on the prize, size, or…even reality.” So, each level is a vehicular combat tournament, and driving the cars around while attempting to destroy your opponent made this tantalizingly fun. My friends and I played for hours, refusing to enter the mission, instead simply dueling each other the entire time.
Those teenage years often required weekly “walking” journeys to Blockbuster Video to rent video games, searching for the next best fighting or sports-themed game. Still, as I aged and became an adult, I constantly looked forward to participating in a solo gaming adventure. Playing adventure games like Assassins Creed III, which explored the American Revolution, or Assassins Creed: Black Flag, which placed you in world of Piracy, are more my type. During my twenties, I rarely played video games. When I returned in my thirties, adventure games offered the most nostalgic connection to what made video games fun. Don’t get me wrong, I still play Madden, but as you see from Borderlands 3, an adventure game, I am most at home when video games provide a compelling narrative.
As a historian, I love historical adventures similar to those depicted in films like Indiana Jones. If allowed to participate in a constructed experience with historical connotations, I was, and am, all in. Video games with adventuresome themes provided a far more inward gaming activity. I was content with not sharing the PlayStation remote with someone else as I solved the puzzle, beat the bad guy, or observed incredible graphics of places I could not conceive existed. The adventure game, as a genre, can easily encompass a giant sloth of territory, but I do have a couple of favorites. Each has a unique style and offered me a new gaming encounter. In the end, other than Borderlands 3, I thought of these games excitedly and inspired me to seek out games like Black Flag, not the other way.
Medal of Honor (1999)
One of the first PlayStation games that moved me, and to be honest, floored me, was Medal of Honor—created simultaneously as the film Saving Private Ryan. Similar to the film Steven Spielberg wrote this game’s story and was a Dreamworks’ production. The gameplay takes place towards the end of WWII, and you play as a Lieutenant Jimmy Patterson, who works for the OSS, going on missions to support the Allies against Germany. While I remember the gameplay and completed the game, I still think about the music score and game soundtrack. Composed by Michael Giacchino, who I mentioned in “Nobody Does It All Alone”, he wrote the beautiful music for the show Lost. The tempo and emotional power of a full orchestra are incredible for a video game from 1999. The music, attention to detail, and history are what I remember about Medal of Honor. Recently Call of Duty: WWII has mimicked the feelings I had about Medal of Honor.
Call of Duty: WWII is a game that I have recently started playing and is incredible. I have not played a “war” game since my teenage years playing Medal Honor and its subsequent sequel. I am not a massive fan of simulated war, but as a historian whose studies have brought me to explore World War II history, I wanted to play the game and explore my feelings about this medium. It is impressive, and I have enjoyed the campaign-style since I began playing during lockdown last summer. I see various similarities between my nostalgic recollection of playing Medal of Honor, and this new war game, Call of Duty: WWII, nearly two decades later. Both showcase narratives of bravery, courage, and the horror of war, but rather than construct a fictional representation, which games like early 1980s’ Wolfenstein are known for doing, they sought a realistic approach. I was appreciative of that and why I decided to play the most recent iteration.
Resident Evil (1996)
As you might have learned in my post, Horror Genre & My FIVE Favorite Scary Movies, I enjoy frightening films. Maybe not ultra-violent or unnecessarily or gratuitously violent, but I support a good horror film. Therefore, it makes sense that one of, if not my favorite video game of all time, is a survival horror game called Resident Evil. Released in 1996 by Capcom for PlayStation, the game allows you to play as Chris Redfield or Jill Valentine, members of S.T.A.R.S. elite police squad, as they investigate strange occurrences in Raccoon City. Soon, trapped in a creepy, never-ending mansion, infested with creatures that come after you, you must survive and uncover the mystery of what has transpired and why.
Resident Evil was first introduced to me when I was a teenager by my brother Jeff, and I fell in love with it immediately. I could not stop playing. It helps that I am terrible at gameplay, and it took me months to finish. The game ultimately inspired tons of sequels, side storylines, reboots, remakes, and several major motion pictures. Recently, I learned that they are rebooting the franchise cinematically, with Resident Evil: Welcome to Raccoon City, slated to premiere in 2021. Directed by Johannes Roberts, this film will supposedly, and thankfully, be more loyal to the original game.
I remember Resident Evil using real actors at the beginning. I loved it, and it was terrifying. The game did this throughout the entire narrative to represent breaks in the play and then immediately shift back to your control, using third-person action to continue exploring, solving puzzles, and relying on your inventory of health and weapons to take on zombies or monsters that lurk around each corner. There is way too much to say about this game, and this is not a review. Playing this game at night used to terrify me, and I remember having a friend sleepover, and we would play this into the early hours of the next day. We could not get enough of it, and I do feel it was the first game that allowed me to interact with the terrain, world, or backgrounds as much as any other. It was impressive and sure, while not historic, got the horror aspect right. While I was terrified to open every door, I still did and was constantly entertained by what I discovered.
Over the last twenty years, I have played and completed every Resident Evil franchise game, excluding maybe one or two. All of them are fun, time-consuming, terrifying, and heart-pumping. Still, none of them match the first Resident Evil in terms of originality, creativity, and well-developed and structured puzzles, and throw-in jump scares for good measure. Maybe it was the use of actors throughout that connected with me, or the first minutes of the game when I took control of the character, usually Jill, and solved my first puzzle, which initiated a zombie attack I had to fend off. My fascination with the horror movie genre possibly started as a result of playing this game. I don’t know for sure, but it’s feasible.
The only game that I feel has ever truly rivaled Resident Evil, besides Borderlands 3, is Uncharted. It mixed history, adventure, comedy, and likable characters. While it wasn’t about monsters, it had its reasonable share of terrifying moments. Developed by Naughty Dog, the Uncharted series is in my top three game franchises of all time. I won’t go over each game. Doing so would require multiple posts, but I will say that this is a fantastic video game series. With a brilliantly written narrative, the graphics are unmatched, the game music profoundly moving, and the characters developed a comedic and emotional presence. The hero, Nathan Drake, is a treasure hunter who seeks to uncover historical mysteries. Drake is similar to Indiana Jones, who must shoot, fight, and use puzzle-solving skills to move from mission to mission and level to level. Known for his jumping, incredible hand strength, Drake has both central tasks and side endeavors that make it a traditional action game but enhanced by the inclusion of various terrains and secondary characters that help push the story forward.
Kyle introduced the first game to me while living with my wife and me for a short period several years ago. He told me he thought that with my background, types of movies I enjoy, and games I play, this was the game for me. He got it exactly right! Together we played for days, switching who was playing and enjoyed as, together, we completed each level, constantly, with a craft beer in hand. Uncharted provided hours of enjoyment, and with a total of four games, I was a newcomer, but I quickly made up for the lost time. Although more recent, not as current as Borderlands 3, the memories associated with the game hold a powerful emotional presence for me. The feelings are not necessarily associated with the game or storyline, but who joined me on those Uncharted adventures.
“You have died of Dysentery.”– Oregon Trail (1982)
Kyle might have introduced me to the world of Borderlands, but he first guided me to Uncharted. In so doing, he changed my entire perception of “gaming” in my adult years. I thought that my years of playing video games ended, but Kyle assured me, years ago, there is no time like the present, and it’s filled with games like Uncharted. Since then, I have played games like Assassins Creed III, 2009’s Batman: Arkham Asylum, 2011’s Batman: Arkham City, and 2013’s Batman: Arkham Origins. I have enjoyed video games as an adult, and, like LEGO, these adventures offer me an opportunity to decompress, relax, and for my mind to stray into the tale. Like several points I made about toys in a previous post, video games, while not offering the same creative inspiration, provide a chance to explore new themes and new adventures.
In the end, this post is about pondering and evoking my video game origin story. It began with watching my Aunt Madeline slay it on Sega Genesis. By taking this opportunity to reflect on video games, I remember several long-forgotten moments about her that now, since her passing, provide feelings of happiness. Today’s post was about video games, sure. Yet this post is, more importantly, about the people I associate those games and systems with; my aunt Madeline with Sega Genesis, Jeff with Resident Evil, friends with EA Sports Madden, and Kyle with Uncharted and returning to Borderlands 3. Who knew that video games could be about sentimentality? Who knew, indeed.