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Lost Childhood
by Amos Parker

The 80's and early 90's were my best years as a video game player.

I'm not talking about talent here. I almost wish I were. I'm talking about a love of playing, my ability to sink into a game as if it were another world, and feeling like I really want to be there and no where else. That sense of sitting down on the couch with the greatest games and knowing that controller is tuning me in to pure magic, school forgotten, people forgotten, life forgotten.

I almost never get that anymore, and not for a lack of trying. It's not because games are worse. It's because, I believe, the imagination and wonderment of my childhood is gone from me. At least the youthful kind. I'm 22 now, and like everyone else, I miss some of my younger days.

I remember my glory days in the late 80's with games like The Legend of Zelda, or games like Out Run in the arcade. I remember being completely fascinated. School would end and my brothers and I would play all weekend. We'd march through cycle after cycle after cycle of Kid Icarus. No one ever said "I'm tired of sitting in front of the tv. Let's go do something". It bothers me to hear that phrase. Sitting at home watching TV or movies is just what I want to do. But I can't help but understand them when they're talking about video games.

When I was a kid, my fascination wasn't just when I was playing either. Games had a hold of my imagination whenever I wasn't playing. I remember trying to read back then and having Link prance across the page, poking his sword at the words, taking out one, two, or four letters depending on which sword he had. Or maybe the puzzle-like Sega coin-op Pengo. Kicking those ice blocks around and making little enemy pancakes was just begging my imagination to latch on.

And the way that they held my imagination was infinitely different then. The imaginings held together in a magical way, as a world, as a life, fleshed out and full blooded. Now all but a handful feel like computer programs, entertaining to varying degrees but largely diversionary and distant from my ideal of a free time filler. Alas.

And playing games, or fantasizing about playing, wasn't the only thing I had when I was a kid. Being of limited income then.... (Well, I still am of limited income, but I juggle credit cards now) ....I had my video game magazines, and the instruction booklets that came with the games. I took those mags everywhere and fantasized about every picture, about how cool the game might be, about every quirky nuance of the cartoony drawings. The whole experience created a tangible feeling that I feel echoes of even now, when I look back at the magazines. I flipped through each page, backwards and forwards, over and over, for hours on end. It never felt like a chore. It felt like perfection.

All of that was strong when I was younger. And now that I have access to some money, I've gone and tracked down every game that I could in an effort to play each one that was ever connected to a photo, drawing, or paragraph that held my interest. Little known NES and Genesis games from the early days that were supposed to be cool.

But what I've gotten from each of those games hasn't been much more than a marginally diverting romp for five minutes or so. It's symptomatic of what has happened to me. I still happily pay attention to the video game world with more interest than anything else, but great game after great game is either disappointing or not the kind of thing that I want to be spending time on when good television, magazines, books, or walks in the forest can be had. It's all more intellectual now, less emotional.

The worse all of this has become, the more afraid I've been at times. What's it mean when the video game tent pole in my life, stable for a decade and a half, doesn't hold up the fort like it once did? Can your opinion be taken seriously as a gaming thinker when you don't play the greatest games, and don't even really want to? Not because of a lack of time, but a lack of practical fascination? What's my opinion mean when I'm less and less a genuine "gamer"? Am I just becoming a cynical adult who has a hard time loving things? Where'd the innocent wonderment go? What a tragedy that life takes life out of you....

But I always have my magazines. And the Internet. Reviews, photos, all of that lets me imagine games, and those imaginings are great. The feeling is different in fascinating ways, though. Why doesn't the playing hold up? Is it because I have in me the ability to design games, and because the ideas as manifested by others aren't up to my standards? Is it because pure imagining is most of what I have left to love video games with, since I can get the closest to my lost childhood that way? I don't know. But all of this isn't to say that I never enjoy games. True, I go back to The Legend of Zelda and Pengo with little but waves of nostalgia that break on the banks of adult reality. They're cool, but I have better things to do. Not that I don't wish I didn't feel that way. Some games like Tetris Attack, Super Bomberman 2, Wipeout, and others on occasion can pull me in and make me genuinely happy. But it's rare. And many of those require friends around who have a lot of talent, who can turn it all into a social experience. Those friends are far away from the forests that I live in.

One of the things that I tell myself is that I just want more of my art now. I've come to be a person that likes examining the human condition. Movies can do that in a great and established way. TV can do that. Books can do that. More can do that. But video games haven't gotten to that point yet. They're not human, character-driven experiences 99.9 percent of the time. And when they are, it's in cut scenes that are essentially film. Nevertheless they can do what I want well, theoretically. Not well now, but well eventually, with creativity and work.

Right now video games have the capacity to lead me to pre-made humanity of any kind. Walk along whacking enemies in FFVIII and come to a non-interactive filmic cut scene. But that's not a video game. Maybe I'll need to forsake most video game playing until that kind of humanity can be made interactive in some way. Or maybe I can get passable doses of what I want pasted on to a distracting and non-essential traditional video game element. One movie moment in FFVII did bring me close to tears.

I don't have to stay away from all of it, as games like Powerstone hold a nice charm now and again. But I don't want to spend the bulk of my time doing that sort of thing when I can be philosophising and expanding my mind. For thinking and learning about people in the video game world, there's not much to do besides read the good magazines and such, looking for the very human interpretation and words in the articles there. And I very much want to do that because of the potential video games have. Right now, the actual playing has little for me but the seeds of infinite potential.

While I wait for the potential to ripen, I'll just have to keep telling myself that I'm not losing my spark of life. The sparks just changing.

You may contact Amos, he would love to hear your comments and opinions.

Visit Amos' other Website: Sega Web


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