The Video Game Ghost of Christmas Past
Hey there. How are you doing? You feeling comfy? It’s important to relax in times like this. I would offer you a drink, but I’m afraid we can’t stay long. I have so much to show you.
Oh, I’m being quite rude, aren’t I? I haven’t even introduced myself. However, you were told of my arrival. You may not know who I am, but you know me as well as I know you. I was handcrafted by all of our video game experiences from ages past. My brain consists of all of your save files long forgotten and overwritten. My clothes are mended by tangled masses of cords from several console generations. Every surface of my body is cut from the many different screens you’ve used to play your video games. You see, I am the Video Game Ghost of Christmas Past. But more than that, I am your Video Game Ghost of Christmas Past.
You know why I’m here and the purpose of this visit. You were told earlier that I was coming. I am here as a helpful guide, one of three. The things I have to show you belong at varying stages of your life. We haven’t much time now, so let’s begin. There is so much to see before I can bid you farewell. Buckle up, if appropriate, and get ready. It’s going to be a bumpy road at times.
Our first stop brings us far back, right to the beginning. To the first time you unwrapped an NES, Genesis, and even the Atari 2600 on Christmas morning. There’s no real limit to the console itself; a gamer’s origin can take many forms. Some found solace in arcades while others had to wait for the Xbox 360. Whatever platform you unwrapped that day makes no difference. Because no matter where you found your start, your faces were all the same. There is a sense of wonder to playing Super Mario Brothers for the first time. There is also unease. The first games you picked up were challenging and intimidating. They dared you to be at your very best. And without proper skills, mindsets, or reflexes, you failed. You failed over and over again.
Sometimes you yelled. Sometimes you cried. It was the most frustrating experience of your life so far. So why did you keep playing? Why continue holding onto the controller? Even when you did stop, it was never for long. You kept coming back. Every time, you had that look of wonder again. Even though the games were so simple and crude back then, you fixated on them.
It didn’t stop there. Let’s look at another time in your Christmas past. Before long, you found others who found video games as well. While other children were hunting and playing basketball, you and your friends were racing in Mario Kart. During Christmas break, you would take turns visiting each other’s house to play together. And, for many of those nights, Golden Eye for the N64 was the game of choice. A peculiar choice, if I say so myself.
It is odd to think of the hours spent on Golden Eye. The controls were so blocky. They were so hard to deal with, looking up or down was such a chore. But there you were, playing it with delight. It’s even stranger that you brought friends over to play. The multiplayer in Golden Eye was incredibly unbalanced. Between Oddjob and the Golden Gun, it’s insane to see how much fun you were having.
Did you not notice the flaws? Did you not feel the controls? Maybe not then. However, let me show you one more thing. As the years passed, something did happen. Those friends you shared gaming with started to get busy. You yourself started to get busy. School projects, extracurriculars, and work started taking more free time than you thought you had. You still made time for video games, though. They had been a part of life for years by then. They were familiar and fun.
Something was different, though. As your free time was short, so was your patience. Fun and quirky games sat untouched in lieu of the biggest AAA titles. You didn’t have time to dive into a huge JRPG story, did you? You didn’t have the peace of mind to learn the mechanics of an eccentric title. That was all well and good by your standards. You had Halo. You had Call of Duty. You had Half-Life 2 and Madden. They were polished and straightforward. The controls were easy and carried over to countless sequels. You didn’t have to relearn anything at all. You could jump right into the action. So what if Ico collected dust? Perhaps you would get to it next Christmas break.
But here’s something you may not have known. Your Christmas past doesn’t just affect you. You weren’t the only one to notice this change in your habits and outlook. Tucked away in a boardroom inside a game studio, developers sat around a table to pitch new ideas. Many different new and exciting ideas were pitched. The developers would snowball an idea around the room in glee before the truth sunk in. Those kinds of games don’t get played anymore. Not much, anyway. Sure, some got developed in the following years. But if they did, there wasn’t much room in the budget. Ingenuity had to take a back seat to nostalgia and instant gratification, because that’s exactly what you wanted.
I’m afraid my time has run out. I apologize for leaving so soon, but the Christmas past is surely past. Don’t fret, though. You have another guest coming soon to pick up where we left off. Until then, try to enjoy yourself this holiday season.