Sunday, November 7, 2010

Kinect Review: Part 1: "I have measured out my life in...video games."

I can measure my life in video games. Some of my earliest memories revolve around that simple, gray brick called Nintendo, a pair of plumber-brothers, some ducks desperately attempting to escape the flash of my plastic death-dealer, and a handful of uneasy wild gunman. I would sit in a dark room in the first house I remember living in, three years old, excitedly tapping A to propel Mario over that next obstacle, timing the jumps perfectly so that he could latch onto the flagpole at the highest point to earn me the best score.

And then, along with my life, video games evolved. I can recall the Super NES and a new, exotic land for Mario to roam, Link's journey into the past that I simply could not complete, the red and green shells of Mario Kart, reliving the adventures of Luke, Han, Leia and the rest of those far away characters from my favorite childhood films in Super Star Wars: Return of the Jedi. I remember Streetfighter II, The Adventures of Batman and Robin, my heart racing as I leaped from rooftop to rooftop in pursuit of Catwoman. I remember when there was no such thing as a save game. I remember when you rarely played video games by yourself. I remember when it was fun to watch someone else play and to learn how to overcome the game's obstacles together. I remember renting games. 3-days. Late fees.

And then again, things changed, drastically. The two dimensional worlds that had trapped our beloved gaming mascots suddenly and shockingly expanded into the third. One of the most vivid memories I have was after getting N64 and powering up Mario 64. Mario's 3D face juts out at you and he proclaims "It'sa meeee, Mario!" and it was as if we had never seen him before. "Oh my God!" my brothers and I said, huddled round the television together in awe. "It's like virtual reality!" This seems so naive now, but then, having never seen anything like this before, having only experienced games that scroll from left to right, up and down, this was a revelation.

And then there was the first time I ever became truly lost in a video game world; The Legend of Zelda: Ocarina of Time. The land of Hyrule and its inhabitants moved me in a way I had never experienced in any book or film. Riding my trusty steed Epona from Temple to Temple, agonizing over the puzzles, watching my brother figure them out, marveling at the beauty and depth of the story, I became aware of and fell in love with the artistry of video games. While I was cognizant of Playstation, I simply wasn't fortunate enough to have one. So the years that followed the N64 were somewhat dissatisfying for me. But I made the most of it. I discovered the world of PC gaming and recall many a happy hour spent in the dark and mature worlds of Thief, Diablo, and Deus Ex. This is when my desire for deeper, more intellectual experiences was born. It was nearly impossible to find such on The Gamecube until the release of one of the first truly next-gen games Resident Evil 4. Never had I actually seen a video game that looked and moved quite so well before. With rumblings of a new generation on the horizon, the inevitable Playstation 3 and the supposedly destined to fail X-Box, Resident Evil gave us the first taste of what to expect in the way of next gen shooters. The simple act of peering over Leon's shoulder, seeing the world from this perspective, was as jarring and refreshing as moving Mario through a three dimensional space for the first time.


And then there was Halo. I had renounced Nintendo's childish ways and graduated to a world from which I will not return. Though the Halo franchise has soured a bit for me, at the time, the first Halo game for the original X-Box was every bit a revelation as Zelda and Resident Evil 4. I was a junior in high school by the time I was able to play it, and I found that this big black box appealed to my sensibilities. Whether it was the Chief, Sam Fisher, or the world of Morrowind, I found Microsoft had crafted a console that contained the intelligence and depth I craved. Then came Halo 2, and I discovered, for the first time in my life, that I was better at a video game than my brothers. I took them online and beat them and I was proud. I took this pride to college where I discovered the world of online gaming. I would spend days with my newfound friends, our bond forged by a common interest, a common love, and deal out death, joy, and frustration in the glorious maps of Halo 2 multiplayer.

And then there was Xbox 360, and it was good. The new generation had arrived and with it came unparalleled graphical quality and potential for new, powerful stories. Finally, I had my own Xbox 360 and I could play with my friends online in the wonderful world of Xbox Live. Demos, Arcade Games, voice-messages, video chats, parties, and the like completely altered my video game life. No longer would I just toil for hours alone in dark rooms pushing levers and earning XP. I would also take to the virtual world with friends, working together, forming strategies, and laughing endlessly in the pursuit of victory and recapturing that very simple, childhood need for joy; the thing which began all of this. Halo 3 would be released in one of the most aggressive and epic marketing campaigns in history and for three years following its release I would return to its online component in search of a higher rank and better abilities night after night.

But my video game life seemed incomplete. I had still never experienced what the Playstation had to offer. Then came the summer of my junior year at college. Finally, I saw what I had been missing all those years, and my eyes were opened even wider yet again. I immersed myself in the role of Snake for two weeks straight and had one of the most pleasurable, seamless gaming experiences of my life thanks to Metal Gear Solid 1, 2, & 3. Then came Ico and Shadow of the Collosus, the only video games I have ever played that have actually incorporated Zen into their worlds.

There are a host of other experiences worth noting, blips on the radar of my gaming life that forever alter how I perceive this medium. BioShock was one such experience that ushered me into its world and convinced me there is no question of whether or not games are art. The "Would you kindly?" reveal is one of the few moments, in any entertainment experience, that has caused my jaw to literally drop.

Whether it's Link, Snake, The Chief, or Andrew Ryan, Nes, SNES, N64, Playstation, or Xbox, I can easily recall how these devices and these games have impacted my life. It is almost always positive and worthwhile. I had thought that my future gaming life would only be punctuated with a few, small revelations in the way of excellent gaming experiences such as Red Dead Redemption. I did not believe that the fundamental way I played games, thought about games, or enjoyed games would evolve much further.

But it has, yet again...thanks to Kinect.

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