Recently, with games like Horizon Zero Dawn and Persona 5 releasing and providing me with a fresh breath of gaming air, I paused a moment to consider the video games I have played and why I tend to lean towards certain kinds of games. This naturally led me to think about some of the games I remember most from my childhood and how those games continue to impact my choices today.What follows is a list of video games from my youth that stand out in some way. They aren’t necessarily the best games, in fact, I’m pretty sure some of them scored pretty low among critics and players, but they are some of the earliest instances of my genre preferences. The games below aren’t listed in any particular order.
Harvest Moon (1997)
From the moment I started Harvest Moon, I fell in love. I used to dream about this game. My addiction, for lack of a better word, was that bad. It sounds a bit funny to say that now; after all, Harvest Moon is fairly simple in its design, but it still managed to capture my attention.
When I first played it at my cousin’s house, I didn’t know that video games could be different—they didn’t all have to be combat-based or otherwise action-packed. I could be a farmer in a video game repairing a farm?? My little mind was blown.
Harvest Moon, a game I was never able to complete in a satisfying way due to my lack of immediate access, was my introduction to simulation RPGs. This interest culminated years later in many many hours being sunk into Stardew Valley when it first released. Nostalgia is a powerful force, but I would love to grab my own copy of Harvest Moon and play it again someday.
Nancy Drew: Message in a Haunted Mansion (2000)
In late 1999 or early 2000, my dad brought home two outdated laptops from work, and I quickly claimed one. I immediately went out and bought two games with whatever allowance money I had saved up. One of those games was Message in a Haunted Mansion, the third game in Her Interactive’s Nancy Drew series.
Full admission, I was a Nancy Drew fanatic. I was that kid who spent much of her time reading, and if I wasn’t reading, I was probably playing with Legos or building forts in the woods. Nancy Drew was my first bae. Yeah, that sounds weird…
Back to the game. Message in a Haunted Mansion is a single player point and click mystery game. Players take on the identity of Nancy Drew to solve puzzles, collect clues, and explore creepy rooms in an effort to solve a mystery. It’s fairly straightforward and formulaic as games go, but it allowed me to experience one of my favorite fictional protagonists in a more interactive form. To this day, I still enjoy getting cozy with a mystery whether it’s a movie, book, or video game.
RollerCoaster Tycoon Gold (2002)
RollerCoaster Tycoon is a classic. Developed by Chris Sawyer Productions, the gold edition released a few years after the original title and stole many hours of my life. Carefully placing a Burger Bar so guests don’t vomit coming off of rides and intentionally crashing roller coasters are just a few of the possibilities this game offers. 😉
The first RollerCoaster game is a standard in the simulation and management genres for a reason. RollerCoaster Tycoon presents various park scenarios, a sandbox mode, and plenty of room for creativity. From budgeting and managing employees to ensuring your guests are happy, RCT is flexible enough for hours of play and entertained many 90s children.
From The Sims to Minecraft and Civilization 6, my early interest in sandbox games and simulators is active. I have RollerCoaster Tycoon to thank for that.
Super Mario World: Super Mario Bros. 4 (1990)
I can’t talk about my childhood and video games without mentioning gaming’s iconic brothers. Super Mario World: Super Mario Bros. 4 released for Nintendo’s Super NES. In 2002, it released in North America for the Game Boy Advance, which is about the time that I got my hands on it.
In typical fashion, Mario and Luigi must rescue Princess Peach from King Bowser and his Koopaling minions. In this game, the brothers get to work with their buddy Yoshi as they traverse Dinosaur Land, ousting Bowser’s forces and saving the princess.
While Super Mario World is a 2D platformer, it gave me a lot of gaming knowledge that contributes to my overall interests and expectations as a gamer. It taught me about game maps, levels, combat, boss fights, and to think about strategies for play.
The Legend of Zelda: A Link to the Past (1991)
Similar to Super Mario World, The Legend of Zelda: A Link to the Past is a memorable connection of mine to classic gaming. I believe this was a game procured from those same video game loving cousins I’ve already mentioned. It released for the SNES and was eventually ported to the Game Boy in 2002.
I don’t need to talk up this classic too much, but it was my first Zelda game and another introduction to RPGs. I loved the sense of adventure, the dungeons, and the switching between the overworld where players start and the Dark World. Thinking about it now, I have the urge to find a copy and reenter that world.
Star Wars: Dark Forces(1995)
Dark Forces released for the PC and then for the PlayStation in 1996, but I’m not sure when I first had access to it. If I remember correctly, I originally played this game at my cousin’s before eventually picking it up at a yard sale for my own laptop.
Of the games on this brief list, Dark Forces is the one I look back on with the most fondness. Kyle Katarn is still one of my favorite Star Wars characters. He’s a mercenary working with the Rebel Alliance to thwart the Empire by stealing secret plans and infiltrating bases among other tasks. Kyle is a rogue who started out working with the Empire before switching sides and even went on to study under Luke Skywalker during his path to become a Jedi.
My love for Star Wars certainly contributed to why I enjoyed this game and the later entries in the series, but it was also a fun first-person shooter. In fact, Dark Forces might have been my very first first-person shooter.
Lost in Blue 2 (2007)
I played Lost in Blue 2 as a teenager, but I’m giving it a place on this list because it was one of my first adventures into the survival genre.
If I were to play Lost in Blue 2 today, I’m pretty sure the graphics and mechanics would bother me. At the time, I enjoyed using my Nintendo DS, and I’ve always had a thing for games set on islands.
I wasn’t really a kid when I played this game but it’s one of the earliest examples I can think of for my interest in survival games—an interest that has seen me through Rust, The Long Dark, Don’t Starve, and many games in between.
Ironically, my access to video games is greater now even if I have less time to enjoy them. During my childhood, I was limited in terms of money, what my parents would allow, and hardware. Regardless, my laptop, especially, became a place from which to explore and, when needed, an escape into various virtual worlds.
My continued interest in video games, specifically RPGs, survival games, first-person shooters, and sandboxes, has clear origins in my childhood and teenage game choices. I find it interesting at times to look back and trace such things to their beginnings and to see what, if anything, has changed.
What were some of the first video games you played? Do those games define what you play today?
I game. I teach. I write.
Soon to be graduate student pursuing a PhD in Rhetoric and Writing. Interested in the use of video games in education, digital rhetoric, and literacy.
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