When I try to boil my life down to its most basic elements — the most consistent and everlasting parts of what make me — I come up with two things: I’m introverted and I’ve always liked stories. Knowing these two things are probably the most persisting parts of myself, I’m forced to wonder what sculpted me to be that way.
The Introverted Reader
The introversion is the easy one to figure out. My parents never encouraged me to spend time with friends (in fact in some of the darker years of their marriage, before their divorce, I was actually forbidden from having friends over). On top of that, as I got older, I always preferred alone time. Spending time with friends was good and all, but it always felt so draining. I was always the one to plan things, to organize things, to be the driving force behind things (at least it felt that way), and it just wore on me to the point that I decided I would be better off investing the time in myself. So I stopped sp
ending all that energy on others and turned it inward.
My introversion led to me become an avid reader when I was younger. I remember anxiously awaiting the release of new Goosebumps books, my drive to read them often keeping me up far too late to find out how the kids would escape the dangerous game of tag in The Beast from the East, or how the other kids would deal with the camera that spit out dangerous and prophetic images in Say Cheese and Die!
And then, I clearly remember the day that my mother accused me of wanting to read Goosebumps books because they were “too easy for me to read.” She was implying that I wasn’t actually enjoying the books, that I was just reading the books because they were simple. This couldn’t have been further from the truth, but it still shook me to the core. I began to wonder if I was reading the Goosebumps books because they were so easy. I wasn’t, but I couldn’t convince myself otherwise. My mom seemed to know so much more than me, so she had to be right. I tried reading some other books, too. I particularly remember reading and enjoying the Redwall series by Brian Jacques (hurr hurr moi zoup!), but they didn’t attract me like Goosebumps had. My love for storytelling was pushed into a corner and grew feeble.
Alternative Story Consumption
I was probably about twelve when the husband of my mother’s friend introduced me to the real time strategy game Warcraft II. I loved the game. I suddenly found myself waist deep in a rich and involving storyline that I had a hand in! I was controlling racial figureheads like Zul’jin and Uther Lightbringer. My love for storytelling peeked its head up, intrigued by this new mode of delivering a story, but still not fully convinced that it was the best one.
And then my brother brought home a copy of Final Fantasy VII. This was a video game designed to deliver the experience of telling a story. The characters in this story were developed, they had flaws, they did heroic things, they made sacrifices, I watched them grow and I cared about them. Maybe I fell a little in love with Aeris Gainsborough. Maybe I identified with Cloud Strife. Maybe the idea of a living planet that we were sucking the life out of resonated with me. It was so long ago, and I understood so little about myself at that point in time that I honestly could not tell you. But the important thing is, the weak and fragile thing that my love for stories had become was hooked.
I played through Final Fantasy VII three or four times within the first year or so of owning it, making sure I used every character and played every side quest so I knew everything about those characters. The meek thing that my love for stories had become was awake and hungry. I needed another fix, another story with characters with minds I could invade. My introverted self was infatuated; I could live and experience so many different lives without ever needing to leave the comfort of my home.
Giant Robots are Inspirational
The next game that clocked me in the face with story and characters I could not ignore: Xenogears. The story in this game was much more “human” than Final Fantasy VII’s. Instead of fighting to save the world from man’s greed and the insanity of a super human, you were dealing with issues like oppression, identity, love, and religion. (Also there were giant robots that you piloted and fought in; giant robots have always gotten me faaaar more excited than they should, so I do have to admit I was a bit biased towards the game). Either way, Xenogears struck home with me in a way that Final Fantasy VII only dreamed of. It influenced my views on how best to live life, how to treat other people, and on my religious beliefs. (I know it sounds a bit silly, my personal religious dogma being influenced by a videogame, but it happened and I’m not afraid to admit it.)
I was so enamored and in love with the story this game told that I didn’t even care when I got to the second disc and large chunks of game play were replaced with just direct storytelling (As in, much less running around on robots and kicking faces in, a great deal more text scrolling across the screen revealing secrets about the characters I so dearly loved.). I didn’t need to control these characters anymore to want to know about what made them tick. I just needed to know. I didn’t realize it then, nor would I for many years to come, but I was reading what was essentially a book and I was VERY much enjoying it.
Xenogears did me in, my love for storytelling had become addiction again, and I was ravenous. I found all the elements of reading a book in digital format that also provided me with (for their respective time) stunning and unique visuals. Over the course of the next several years I kept consuming any role playing game my friends would suggest to me, and many of them had very significant impacts on me:
The betrayal and concept of power not being innately evil or good in Final Fantasy Tactics.
The powerful love and sacrifices that bound two souls into existence across time and space in Final Fantasy X.
The mind blowing concepts intelligent life existing within a video game that Star Ocean: Till the End of Time introduced me to.
The brilliantly constructed time travel tale that Chrono Trigger told.
The myriad of branching character paths and seeing the world from your enemies eyes that Chrono Cross laid upon me.
The endemic anger and brilliantly woven tapestry of Greek mythology and original story that God of War threw at me.
The complete and total mind fuck experience of playing Bioshock (Would you so kindly go play that game?).
The massive and desperate effort to save a world rife with choices that the Mass Effect games presented me with.
I could probably spend a couple of pages just listing out video games and their prospective story and character elements in the above format, but I’m fairly certain you get the point by now. Each brought something new to me, introduced me to a new concept, gave me a new set of characters to relate to. Each of these games challenged my mind and stoked my love of stories to even greater heights, until eventually, through the influence of my girlfriend, I found my way back to books. I am eternally grateful to very large number of Japanese men (and my girlfriend) for rekindling a key part of myself that I almost lost.
That part of me now burns so brightly that I want to share its light and warmth with everyone else. Have you ever played a game that enthralled you like those I mentioned? Maybe you think I’m crazy for allowing video games to influence things like my religious beliefs? Share what you think.