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A Personal Tribute to 30 Years of Zelda

Thirty years ago, the video game series The Legend of Zelda debuted on the Nintendo Famicom in Japan, coming West in 1987. The original Legend of Zelda was the first game to feature cartridge saves, doing away with passwords and progress-erasing Game Overs. As the first open-world game, its wild land of Hyrule had labyrinthine dungeons, tricky enemies, and more secrets than you can shake a controller at. It didn’t hold your hand. It made you earn the title of “hero,” even if the epic main theme—often considered the best video game song of all time—convinced you of it.

Zelda is… the most wondrous and enrapturing work of art I’ve ever experienced in my life. While I’ve only been a fan for half its history, it almost instantly became not only my favorite video game franchise, but a treasure map of games that I just had to find some way to play and beat over several years. After a decade and a half, I’ve played every core title, finished all but three, and own eight.

My first contact with Zelda occurred at age 9 with Oracle of Ages on a friend’s Game Boy Color. It was so engrossing to wander around a vibrant, dangerous world that I never thought twice about accomplishing essentially nothing before my friend had to go. Years later, my best friend in junior high shared his thoughts on Zelda and convinced me to play one all the way through. Upon discovering a now-defunct site with hundreds of NES games playable in-browser, I beat the first game on my own. I felt like a champion for overcoming such difficulty.

I wanted more. For my birthday, I asked my mom for “a Zelda game,” so we went to a shop and were recommended a used N64 cartridge… Ocarina of Time. I went home, put it in, and was so hooked that I played nothing else until it was done. Ocarina is a piece of art so full of life and purpose, it might as well be human. For the first time, Link the hero, Princess Zelda, and the evil Ganon had character, emotion, and fierce determination. The story and themes are equal parts down-to-earth and mythically epic. Its soundtrack and the role music itself plays in the game are phenomenal. The dungeons, items, enemies, the variety of things you can do and accomplish surpass classification. In my opinion, Ocarina of Time is the magnum opus of adventure games. Routinely topping “best video games” lists since its 1998 debut, it is one of a select few masterpiece games everyone must play in their lifetime.

Not long afterward, little me blossomed into a Zelda fan to the core. Zelda has evolved since that era, visually, thematically, and mechanically. Over fifteen years, I enjoyed the foundational A Link to the Past, the creative, back-to-basics fun of Link’s Awakening, the OraclesThe Minish Cap, and A Link Between Worlds, and the gripping story and emotion of Majora’s MaskSpirit Tracks, and Skyward Sword. I challenged my purist side with The Adventure of Link, Four Swords, Adventures, Phantom Hourglass, and Tri Force Heroes with mixed but worthwhile results. Finally, The Wind Waker and Twilight Princess proved to be much deeper games than I took them for, so they will be played again sometime this year to properly absorb. To me, that is a beautiful thing, an indicator of true art.

The Legend of Zelda has spawned a loving fanbase, a plethora of official and fanmade projects, and countless discussions, experiences, and feelings, each deeply affecting the person harboring them. Its canon is a complex web of near-religious legend, changing history, and decisive clashes of good and evil. Happy birthday, Zeruda no Densetsu. Thank you Shigeru Miyamoto, Eiji Aonuma, and all of Nintendo for creating a world I still fantasize about all these years later. I now await your next adventure, your next legend come to life.

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YIIK: A Postmodern RPG is the Nihilistic Sci-Fi Mystery You Never Knew You Wanted (Preview)

If you follow our
indie coverage here at Gamnesia, chances are you’ve heard of an upcoming game called YIIK: A Postmodern RPG. Created by Ackk Studios, the team behind action-RPG Two Brothers, YIIK is a mystery RPG set in 1999 that was inspired by the cancelled EarthBound 64.

Ackk Studio’s sophomore title is
launching in February or March on Steam, PlayStation 4, Vita, and Wii U, and they’ve supplied us with a demo of the game’s “Wind Town” setting before launch. I was intrigued by the game’s trailers, but I wasn’t quite sure what to expect. Having thoroughly played the demo, I still have a lot of questions, and that’s a good thing.

It all kicks off by introducing the playable characters — a group of internet conspiracy theorists investigating the recent disappearance of a girl. It seems that another girl has vanished under similar circumstances in Wind Town, so Alex, Michael, and Vella begin a journey to uncover the truth.

If I had to describe my first impression of Wind Town, one word comes to mind: melancholy. A sad, but mesmerizing tune plays out against dreary Fall colors, setting the mood for the town. The game’s simplistic 3D graphics style gives it an almost papercraft look. Some may find it dated, but I find it charming (giving it a classic RPG feel) and fitting. As the gang sets out to try to dig up information, you encounter the inhabitants of the small town, and the somber atmosphere begins to make sense. The town’s denizens are a parade of disheartenment, from the Underpaid Cashier to the Adolescent Smoker to the Doe Eyed Child who simply asks “What’s a foreclosure?” Wind Town is a sinkhole of depression and defeat, and I found myself entranced, wanting to explore every inch of it.

Of course, in a place like this, not everyone is happy to have you around asking questions. Any person you talk to is a potential battle, pitting you and your unlikely weapons against unlikely enemies in an EarthBound-esque fashion.

The battles themselves are more active than
EarthBound, with mini-game attacks that are closer to Paper Mario or Yo-kai Watch. The attacks range from simple ones, like pulling back the joystick and releasing it at the right time to bash an opponent with your keytar, to more complicated ones, like scratching a record at just the right moments to build up a combo attack. There’s even an attack called the Bass Drop that switches over to an 8-bit style. Even the enemies keep you active, as each defensive turn gives you a chance to earn a defense boost or completely dodge the opponent’s attack. The variety of attacks and the active battle style keep combat lively and entertaining.

The story is told mostly through cartoon-like voice acted cutscenes that give life to the characters’ personalities (as well as through brief text boxes during enemy and NPC encounters), exploring themes of philosophy, science (well, perhaps science fiction would be more accurate), Nihilism, and 1990s conspiracy-based internet forums. It’s a bizarre blend, but an intriguing one.

When the players finally track down Rory, the brother of the missing girl, the story shifts into full sci-fi conspiracy mode. It seems that a series of mysterious events have been happening all around town since the disappearance, and one of the missing girl’s toys has been discovered at the scene each time. Night falls as the group talks to Rory, and as the tone of character interactions changes from depressing to mysterious, so does Wind Town. Gone are the Autumn colors, as the town is bathed in blue under a trippy night sky with an imposing and alien-looking figure looming large overhead. Gone is the somber music, replaced by an eerie, unsettling tune that reminds me more than a little of something you might hear in EarthBound. It’s a drastic change from daytime and equally effective at setting the tone for what’s happening in the game.

After visiting a few sites around the town and politely listening to Rory struggle to try to explain his not-so-scientific theories about life, death, and the human soul, the team heads underground to find their next clue. I’d love to tell you what happens next, but that is unfortunately when the demo comes to a close.

YIIK: A Postmodern RPG is often heralded as an EarthBound successor (and even I couldn’t resist a few comparisons), but it’s far from a clone. While the inspiration is apparent, the game has its own distinct and unique feel, and it will likely appeal to a niche market. I suspect that many will find its downtrodden tone and bizarre themes to be a bit off-putting, but when I finished the demo, I instantly craved more.

Full disclosure: I have previously interviewed Ackk Studios composer Andrew Allanson, and we have remained in contact on social media since then. However, our personal interactions had no bearing on this preview. My thoughts on this demo would be same regardless of the developers behind it.

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How Pokémon Evolved My Boring World into a Vibrant, Interconnected Universe

The following is an entry in “Growth of a Gamer,” a series of articles exploring the profound ways that video games can touch people’s lives. For more information and more great content, you can check out the series’ hub page! Until then, please enjoy “Pokémon: Just Another Game.”


As someone who’s poured enough hours into video games to write several novels, it’s funny to think that I fell in love with them purely by accident. My seminal experiences with interactive entertainment weren’t particularly memorable. I vaguely recall my dad trying out an action-adventure game on our brand-new Xbox, while my six-year old self observed from afar, perplexed by the incoherent movements on screen. My sparse shelf was populated by mediocre titles such as
Superman: The Man of Steel and Zapper: One Wicked Cricket; ultimately, these hackneyed experiences aroused little more than a casual interest in gaming. If you told me that “immersive interactive experiences” existed back then, I’d give you a puzzled look and think nothing more of it.

But there was still a strange allure to the supermarket video game aisles that managed to filter past my decidedly average gaming exploits. I’d wander into these relatively abandoned spaces, enthralled by flashy box art characters that seemed all too willing to snatch me from my reality into theirs. They were quite the motley bunch—among them, a mustachioed Italian plumber, a shorts-touting fox with a ridiculous grin, and a spunky gang of Japanese teens on rollerblades.

Interestingly, these weren’t
just pretty images. On one such occasion, I caught myself staring at the box art of Pokemon FireRed Version, featuring the blazing orange dragon Charizard. I envisioned this emblematic creature soaring towards its adversaries with fiery, ambitious intent—its jaws open wide, with flames itching to escape the confines of its belly—

Hey, do you want to pick that up?” my dad interjected. Only one thought occurred to me: All the cool kids carry a Game Boy Advance around in their pockets. I’ll take it!

Ten minutes later, I walked out with my newest acquisitions: a Game Boy Advance SP and a copy of
Pokémon FireRed Version. Almost instantly, I felt like one of those cool kids. I, too, was playing with power.

It was foolishly easy to get up in the ecstasy of the moment, but in reality I hadn’t the slightest clue what kind of power I was dealing with. Deciding to shelve those doubts for the moment, I booted up my shiny new toy and became a curious observer of the foreign happenings on the 3-inch screen before me.

I’d been inundated with enough
Superman-tier video games not to expect much from these experiences, so I when found myself in the quaint little town of Pallet, an uninspired place of few people and still fewer houses, I didn’t expect much. Before long, I meandered into the laboratory of Professor Oak, the world’s preeminent authority on Pokémon. And he asked me to choose my first Pokémon.

Wait,
choose a Pokémon? You can make choices in video games? Now, Oak had my attention.

Sitting on his desk were three young Pokémon, brimming with vitality and potential. Among them was the evergreen Bulbasaur, resembling a small quadruped dinosaur with a flower bulb on its back. I’m still not sure why, but when Bulbasaur looked at me, I felt an instant connection—it was a silent euphoria as I discovered a part of myself I never knew existed. Gazing into its pensive red eyes, I felt a sense of calm and contentment, but also a tinge of something more adventurous, like a dormant bulb patiently waiting to blossom. My decision couldn’t be any clearer.

Bulbasaur, I choose you!” That’s when I became a Pokémon Trainer in earnest.

With Bulbasaur by my side, I set out on a journey of grand proportions. A journey to discover every Pokémon in existence and become the most skilled of Trainers. A journey through labyrinthine forests, pitch-black caves, haunted towers, and across majestic oceans. A journey fraught with burning rivalries, daunting criminal conspiracies, and intense battles. A journey where each turn of the corner could reveal an unfamiliar, elusive creature, or some cleverly concealed treasure. I had stepped into the world of Pokémon.

For all the realism that that these pixelated vistas afforded, the “real” world of elementary school seemed far more contrived. It was a dark age when almost everyone was trying (and usually failing) to act “grown up.” You’d think that
Pokémon had no place in this skewed social order—and in principle, that was certainly the case. It was hip and trendy to call Pokémon “that TV show for babies,” and leave it at that.

All this masquerading, however, was a guise for a counter-culture exploding to life: Pokémon were
everywhere. Kids snuck their Game Boys under desks and discussed urban legends and GameShark cheat codes in hushed undertones. There was a strange allure to joining this secret society, not unlike becoming a connoisseur of an obscure art form that escapes public appreciation. In these clandestine circles, nothing could be cooler than Pokémon.

Of course, I didn’t keep coming back just to be cool—I was fascinated by this community. Everyone had noteworthy stories to share about their own Pokémon journeys. Somebody would boast how they managed to snag an incredibly rare Shiny Pokémon, evoking wonder and jealousy alike from the rest of the gang. Another would dramatically reenact their latest showdown with the Pokémon Champion—the strongest Trainer in the region—relaying an inspirational tale of camaraderie and heightened tensions, while we chimed in with our own pointers and anecdotes. But we truly connected when somebody would bring along a Link Cable to hook our games together, and two brave souls would frantically trade valuable Pokémon until the bus pulled into the school yard, or they’d engage their monsters in fierce combat on the brink of the next class period—all to the fanfare of this ragtag group of Trainers. It’s these moments where we would compare our adventures and revel in this description-defying world that transformed Pokémon from just another video game into an endemic phenomenon.

Even beyond this magic circle,
Pokémon became my life, my soul, my muse. Every day, I’d look forward to greeting my trusted partners who had journeyed thus far with me through the Pokémon world. To outsiders, they were merely pixels on a screen. To me, they were my best friends in a distant land, each with their own idiosyncrasies and memorable backstories. As I expanded my virtual horizons, I found myself at the heart of an extended family of Pokémon whose presence I grew to cherish—especially when real life began to throw curveballs.

If someone’s ever yanked the sheets off you on a frigid winter morning, you’ve probably experienced a natural progression from feeling dazed, to confused, to the raw sensory overload of bitter, bitter cold. That’s how I felt when our family moved to a foreign land. I had grown up in an incubator of fuzzy sentiments: playing Pokémon with a common group of friends, coming home to be greeted by the same four resilient walls, and sharing family moments over the dining table. But when I relocated, that comforting blanket, which I had clung to for so long, vanished in an instant.

It was at this critical point in my life that I turned to my younger sister for companionship. It’s funny that I—a self-contained, stolid Trainer—sought her company; I doubt you’ll find two people less alike. She’s got this eclectic energy that seems to burst out of thin air and permeate her surroundings. But she’ll also dive into unpredictable moments of quiet contemplation, immersing herself in art or writing, before reverting to her usual snarky, unbridled self. This usually involves some plan for annoying the hell out of me—but hey, I suppose that’s what sisters do best.

What I find liberating, on the other hand, is sharing knowledge with others. In my spare time, I’d teach my sister amazing things that our world has to offer: science, literature, good music, fun ways to spend an afternoon, and especially
Pokémon. Before long, she set out on her own journey to conquer the land with her trusty Torkoal, a golden-orange, steam-toting tortoise Pokémon pulsating with the warmth of tender ashes. And slowly but surely, something magical began to happen.

My sister’s love of the game blossomed just as mine had years prior, and she began to unconditionally shower affection upon her Pokémon. I witnessed my golden days brought back to life as the young new Trainer and her Torkoal embarked on their journey, and the frigid mask that isolated me from the rest of the world began to thaw. Indeed, it’s through Pokémon that my sister grew to become my most treasured foil, rival, and companion. Even after all these years, I’m grateful for having passed on my love of Pokémon and video games, reclaiming my identity in the process.

Though my identity continues to evolve, I can’t ignore how important
Pokémon has been in propelling me along this path of self-discovery. It’s unbelievable how many of my formative life experiences draw inspiration from the innumerable moments I’ve spent with the series. I can’t ever forget the day I met Bulbasaur, the finishing blow that made me the Pokémon Champion, or the thrilling sensation when I caught every last one. Nor can I leave behind my exhilaration from trading Pokémon in the school yard, and the unsolicited hours I’ve spent debating the best strategies for battle. It’s been an absolute joy watching my sister grow into a competent Trainer and a wonderful person. And ever since I met Pokémon, it’s been my mission to be the very best, like no one ever was.

I carry these sentiments because
Pokémon doesn’t just introduce us to an immersive world; it has an intrinsic ability to connect people through shared experiences. It’s a series which fully embraces the idea of forging meaningful relationships beyond its digital limits. It’s the culmination of everything I’ve ever wanted from a video game, and more.

…it’s also the reason why kids should be allowed to wander into supermarket aisles.


About the Growth of a Gamer Series

Growth of a Gamer” is a series of articles exploring the profound way games and gaming can impact our lives, as told by students of the Interactive Media program at the University of Southern California. Each one tells a personal story of how a particular game or franchise molded us into the people we are today, and through our experiences we hope to shed light on the ways that these games have affected all of you as well. We invite you all to share your own stories in the comments below, or by writing your very own series entries through Gamnesia’s Journals feature. We love coming together to share in the joys that make gaming so memorable for us all, and we hope that you’ll join us!

You can find more information about these stories and their authors at the hub page for the Growth of a Gamer series, or find a particular game from the list below to jump right in!


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World of Warcraft Became Both a Blessing and a Curse for My Growth as a Person

The following is an entry in “Growth of a Gamer,” a series of articles exploring the profound ways that video games can touch people’s lives. For more information and more great content, you can check out the series’ hub page! Until then, please enjoy “World of Woecraft.”


“I_eat_suckas_for_breakfast” was supposed to be the name of the first character I ever witnessed in the
World of Warcraft. I remember that afternoon in fourth grade clearly. My friend Max had tried to give that name to a Night Elf Druid, only to discover that underscores were not valid name characters… so we had to settle for “Ieatsuckas.”

It was the spring of 2007, and the first
World of Warcraft expansion was just released: Burning Crusade. Until that afternoon, the extent of my experience with video games came from a good old GameCube, which had somehow managed to survive four years of being played for several hours a week. Now, here I was in Max’s apartment, watching him as he showed me basic combat on his Night Elf character. I watched, doe eyed, as Ieatsuckas went from zone to zone in this virtual world. There were three whole continents here: Eastern Kingdoms, Kalimdor, and Outland, each with dozens of zones to explore and endless nooks and crannies. As Max retold the events of the first three Warcraft games, my imagination ran wild. For days afterward, I would watch playthroughs and read fan theories all centered around the Warcraft universe.

That weekend, I was convinced that I wanted to play, so my father and I walked to GameStop and purchased both
World of Warcraft and Burning Crusade, with a pair of old fashioned game guides to both parts. From that moment forwards, when my parents weren’t bugging me about work or reading, I was playing World of Warcraft. Sometimes they did win the battle of wills, and so I chose to read the World of Warcraft game guides. After being informed that that, in fact, didn’t cut it for them, I would pick out another book, and then nestle the game manuals inside and read about the lore of different fantasy races, like Sin’dorei or Draenei, instead.

I was so into exploring the world of Azeroth that I ventured into a level twenty zone with my first character, a level 4 rogue. While it was exciting seeing a new zone, having enemies chase you everywhere was getting tiresome. I was promptly killed and never played that character again. But that didn’t stop me. I could not stop myself from creating new characters—for about a month, I made dozens of them. Orcs, Tauren, Dwarves, Gnomes…there were so many different races to choose from and so many new stories to unearth that I couldn’t decide on focusing on one character. My first hunter, Aamaa; my first character I hit max level with, Caaliaan; my first Horde max level, Varnilsk…

I had integrated myself with a virtual world of heroism, exploration, excitement, and kickass cinematics. But as I was discovering these in the worlds of Azeroth and the Outlands, I believed that the greatness of the real world was being shaken apart.

Around a year after that fateful day with Max, my family was thrown into financial chaos, my parents’ marriage was at an end, and I learned things about my father and mother that shook my view of them. It felt like those that had taught me what it means to be a good person had done everything in their power to not live by those same beliefs. Through all of this, the virtual world was a beacon of happiness. I learned to escape, rather than confront. It was like an ostrich sticking its head in the sand.

Over time, social interaction became much harder for me. I was timid, and I was living in a paradigm of fear. My mother blamed
Warcraft for my newfound shyness and tried to get me to stop playing video games altogether, so I lived my Orcish life in the shadows. I removed the shortcut for Warcraft from my desktop and toolbar, instead going into program files every time to start the game. I played at night while my parents were yelling at each other or whenever I was the only person in the house. To this day, I am terrified of playing video games in front of my mother, even though I am an 18 year old game design major. This war of deception provided equal parts comedy and excitement that was sorely needed during this rough patch. I found it a little humorous that I was being exposed to all of this crazy crap during my parents’ divorce, but in their minds, even three hours of video games a week literally constituted not having a life.

I never really recovered the uninhibited social spirit that I used to have, partly because I retreated to games at any sign of stress or anxiety. I worried over talking to people, so instead I would play World of Warcraft. The feeling of security Azeroth offered me ended up creating a vicious cycle. It caused me to miss social events and made it more difficult to talk to people. And despite a robust guild scene for Warcraft players to interact with each other, I never really got engaged with it. Guilds are a collection of players who play together who have similar goals and interests. I did know people in my guild, and I did talk with them, but only when we were raiding. There was a stiff, professional tone to all of our conversations—probably because we were only interested in occasionally raiding together.

For a brief moment in time in high school, however, my guild master, named Kyle, was the same age as I was and from the same state. We had begun conversing, and we shared interests in both robotics and football. It was quite surreal that after seven years in
Warcraft, I created a friendship that I hoped to bring me out of the virtual and into the real world. We were both considering attending BlizzCon (the official convention of Blizzard, Warcraft’s creators) that year, and we wanted to meet up and go together. A day later, my boarding school banned all game servers from the school’s internet. For two months, Azeroth was gone.

This just was too little too late for me though, as my guild had a strict one rule: you get kicked out after one month of being offline. Just like that, I was no longer a part of the guild’s Ventrillo server and could not get in contact with anyone I knew. Just as I was finally creating a connection and sharing experiences with these people, they were ripped out of my life.

The social aspect is just one of the ways these two realities started to bleed into each other. Recently, I’ve noticed a trend in my gameplay that is seriously atypical for
World of Warcraft players: I never continue playing as a character whose level I’ve maxed out. World of Warcraft is sold in different expansion packs, and every time an expansion comes out, the level maximum is raised. But I just couldn’t continue a max level character into the next expansion. For a long time, I just considered it part of my alternate-character-heavy playstyle, but now I believe it’s indicative of something else.

I first came to
World of Warcraft for a fresh start and a new narrative to escape into, and after every expansion release I try to recreate that feeling. I have a new place to explore and a new character to delve into each time. For me, playing World of Warcraft is all about coming back to that feeling. It rubbed off on me as much more than entertainment. The way I survived adversity was shaped and permanently affected after this game came into my life. It was both a blessing and a curse, but as long as I can maintain that feeling of wonder and excitement, I’m definitely going to play. Perhaps in several years I’ll have more of my journey to expound on. But for now, I have to go and raid with my guild.


About the Growth of a Gamer Series

Growth of a Gamer” is a series of articles exploring the profound way games and gaming can impact our lives, as told by students of the Interactive Media program at the University of Southern California. Each one tells a personal story of how a particular game or franchise molded us into the people we are today, and through our experiences we hope to shed light on the ways that these games have affected all of you as well. We invite you all to share your own stories in the comments below, or by writing your very own series entries through Gamnesia’s Journals feature. We love coming together to share in the joys that make gaming so memorable for us all, and we hope that you’ll join us!

You can find more information about these stories and their authors at
the hub page for the Growth of a Gamer series, or find a particular game from the list below to jump right in!


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Portal’s Ingenious Design is Why I Decided to Become a Game Developer

The following is an entry in “Growth of a Gamer,” a series of articles exploring the profound ways that video games can touch people’s lives. For more information and more great content, you can check out the series’ hub page! Until then, please enjoy “Portal to a New Phase of Life.


For the majority of my adolescence, I only owned Nintendo consoles and was, for lack of a better term, a complete Nintendo fanboy. The Wii was my jam. Never could I see myself owning a non-Nintendo console or playing one of those violent video games I associated with those other consoles. However, by age 12, I began to experience the more mature side of games. This is when I discovered my love for Valve’s games. Over various summers in middle school, I had taken courses at a tech camp that taught students how to use the Hammer Editor, the tool used by Valve to make levels, to create maps for
Counter-Strike: Source and Half-Life 2: Deathmatch, games that had a certain mature appeal to them at the time. This piqued my interest not only in level design, but also in Valve. The germ of an idea to perhaps one day work as a game developer had already infected my mind, but at this point, it began evolving into something more. I thought that if I practiced using their map editor to make levels and got to the point where I was as good as (or better than) my counselor, maybe I could one day end up landing a job as a game designer at Valve (forward thinking for a middle schooler, I know).

When I bought Valve’s
The Orange Box and played through Portal for the first time, I didn’t really know what to expect. But I loved it. I ended up playing through Portal many times, making it through the AI antagonist GLaDOS’s devious test chambers and Aperture Science’s abandoned research facilities with as much enthusiasm as the first time. The main hook of Portal, which can be described as a first-person platform-puzzler, is that you get equipped with an Aperture Science Handheld Portal Device (commonly known as the Portal Gun), which lets you fire an orange portal and a blue portal onto certain surfaces. When the player or any other object goes through one portal, it comes out of the other portal without losing any momentum.

This made for some very interesting puzzles, many of which involved using portals to fling things, myself included, at high speeds to reach otherwise unreachable places. As I progressed through the game, different puzzle elements, such as weighted cubes, volatile energy balls, turrets, and deadly pits of goo, were introduced to me, adding more layers and leading to more complex puzzles. With its unique mechanics,
Portal broke the tropes of mainstream video games I was so accustomed to in that, for much of the puzzle solving that makes up the game, there are no enemies to overcome. The game relies on ingenuity and logic, not violence, to make it a compelling experience.

The main character of
Portal, Chell, is a silent protagonist. This allowed me to step into the hero’s long-fall boots, and the first person view made it even more engaging and immersive. Looking through the eyes of the protagonist, I actually experienced the successes of puzzle completion along with the feeling of flying through the air, using the forces of gravity to my benefit to gain velocity as I launched through a perfectly placed portal.

Fast forward to eighth grade, middle school. I was 14 years old. Freshman year was on the horizon, and I was still quite a nerd. I don’t think there was anyone else in my class who loved video games quite as much as I did. At the time, I would play lots of action games (which typically involved shooting stuff) on my PlayStation 3. While I was quite content playing games with the likes of
Call of Duty and Uncharted, part of me wanted something different from the tried and true run n’ gun formula, something more non-traditional.

Needless to say, when I heard Valve was making
Portal 2, I was pretty excited. I would watch all the promotional material showing off the new mechanics, including these cool new gels that let you solve puzzles and traverse obstacles by speeding up and bouncing high, and the cute animated trailers that portrayed what it was like to work at Aperture Science. I was emotionally shaken by Portal 2: Lab Rat, the comic that ties together the stories of Portal and Portal 2, as I attempted to analyze the motives and psyche of this new character, Rattman. I even tried to keep up with the Potato Sack ARG about Portal 2 which took place closer to release. Fast-forward to April 2011, a month before my time in middle school was indefinitely over, and the time Portal 2 was to be released. I watched the ominous countdown on the Portal 2 website, which was spurred on closer and closer to zero by the ARG players. The game ended up being released 10 hours ahead of schedule thanks to the players of the ARG. After all of the hype, the question remained in my mind: would Portal 2 be as good as the first one? The answer is yes, and it was better than I ever could have imagined.

Portal 2 is an unconventional and original game that is designed and paced very cleverly, and at times it is even intellectually stimulating. Portal 2 introduces a ton of new puzzle elements, from lasers and light bridges to tractor beams and the aforementioned gels, all of which can go through the portals to allow even deeper puzzles than the first Portal. When all of these elements come together in one test chamber, it makes for some of the most intricate puzzles in any video game.

Portal 2’s fantastic story parodies the human fear of an artificial intelligence that matches or exceeds the intelligence of humans. Thanks to the witty dialogue penned by the writers at Valve (and the fantastic work of voice actors Ellen McLain and Stephen Merchant), the sentient robots or “Personality Cores” of Portal 2, Wheatley and GLaDOS, have more personality than most characters from other game narratives. I also admire how Valve develops the world of Portal 2 using the environment, a great example of which are the hilarious posters Valve created and hung on the walls throughout Old Aperture. Because of its dark humor, interesting characters, and phenomenal writing, Portal 2 manages to be both funny and disturbing.

The
Portal franchise’s basis of solving puzzles by oneself evokes a feeling of solitude. Portal 2’s ingenious introduction of a co-op mode adds a completely new layer of sophistication. Including another player into the formula creates an attachment to the other person which turns into a friendly rivalry. In the co-op mode, each player controls one of the two Personality Cores who make up a double act, Atlas and P-body. Both players have a portal gun that shoots two portals, which leads to even crazier puzzles because of the possibility for four portals at the same time. These puzzles can be some of the hardest ones in the game and require a lot of collaboration.

Some of my fondest memories of
Portal 2 involved going through the entire co-op campaign with my friend David. While we hardly ever saw each other outside of tech camp, we were able to connect digitally through online gaming and Steam chat. The collaborative mechanics in Portal 2’s co-op mode led to some very interesting interactions between us. Because David and I relied on each other to solve the puzzles, much unintentional (and intentional) sabotaging was done. If someone was walking on a light bridge over a pit of deadly goo, it was almost guaranteed that one of us would “accidentally” place a portal somewhere else so that the bridge disappeared out from under the poor guy, leading him to fall to his untimely, gooey doom. The developers added even more depth to the co-op mode using a gesture system. The gesture system, the best feature (or most annoying, depending on how you look at it), gave the players more ways to interact with each other. Since many of the gestures that involved both of the robots automatically activated when one of the players did the gesture within a general vicinity of the other player, David and I would use the gestures to mess with each other, such as giving unwanted high fives, challenging each other to unwanted duels of rock-paper-scissors, playfully decapitating each other, and waving to each other at random intervals.

Portal 2 literally has an unlimited replay value. Even after beating both campaigns, I was able to further enjoy Portal 2 by playing dozens of user-created test chambers and campaigns from the Steam Workshop, where creators are to this day uploading test chambers for anyone to play. I also dabbled with the in-game Puzzle Maker, which makes creating test chambers extremely accessible. Though the Puzzle Maker has a lot more limitations than the Hammer Editor, I still had a great time using it to think up and design my own test chambers for other test subjects to puzzle through, and it got me even more interested in the realm of level design.

Though plenty of people come up with good ideas, only a few can implement them as well as the developers of the
Portal series did. After playing Portal and Portal 2, I became driven to learn programming and delve deeper into level design and game creation in general, and I haven’t looked back since. The Portal series has both changed the way I look at playing games and making them.


About the Growth of a Gamer Series

Growth of a Gamer” is a series of articles exploring the profound way games and gaming can impact our lives, as told by students of the Interactive Media program at the University of Southern California. Each one tells a personal story of how a particular game or franchise molded us into the people we are today, and through our experiences we hope to shed light on the ways that these games have affected all of you as well. We invite you all to share your own stories in the comments below, or by writing your very own series entries through Gamnesia’s Journals feature. We love coming together to share in the joys that make gaming so memorable for us all, and we hope that you’ll join us!

You can find more information about these stories and their authors at
the hub page for the Growth of a Gamer series, or find a particular game from the list below to jump right in!


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The Spider-Man 2 Game Set Me Free from the Insular, Unwelcoming World at Home

The following is an entry in “Growth of a Gamer,” a series of articles exploring the profound ways that video games can touch people’s lives. For more information and more great content, you can check out the series’ hub page! Until then, please enjoy “Swinging Forward with Spider-Man 2.”


Back in 2004, my family was living in Hidden Valley, a small community in Lake County, California. It was like a wet dream for a retired dentist from the 50s; it was a small, quiet town with houses spread sparsely across the valley. Its most exciting features were simply one grocery store, two small restaurants, and a video rental store. Clearly a village so remote is a
thrilling place to live for any hyperactive child, but somehow I was not a big fan of it. There were few kids around me that I could play with, and when I could, we were still trapped by the boundaries of our homes. Even when we could escape, I never felt welcome outside. There were a few other Latino families like mine, but the town could never connect with me in a genuine way. The town felt artificial, prescribed, as if to maintain an illusion that the problems of the outside world did not apply to them.

I was abandoned on an uncharted island, and the television screen was my only portal away. I often played games based on the shows and movies that I would watch on TV. But one title helped me escape the confines of Hidden Valley into a new world of possibilities:
Spider-Man 2: The Game.

I was a huge Spider-Man fan. As a child I was instantly attracted to the fantastical aspects of this comic book character. He was bright and colorful, with cool powers, and he was snarky enough to make fun of the bad guys he was fighting. Inside, though, Spider-Man struggled with more human obstacles as Peter Parker. But it was this game that revealed to me his true strength.

I was expecting another game where I would beat up thugs level-by-level, but
Spider-Man 2 was astoundingly free. I could shoot web at any building and swing through the city boundlessly, just like he could in other media. It had a sophisticated physics system giving Spider-Man a certain resistance as he swung. If the player didn’t let go of the web at the end a swing, Spider-Man would slow down and eventually begin to move backwards like a pendulum. Learning how to use this momentum well was difficult, but it made this game so rewarding. With practice I could move quickly across the city and with ease and control. I was finally free.

The game was very much a sandbox: I could explore the city and experiment within this world. As I gained new abilities like running on walls and zipping from place to place, I found I could combine them with everything Spider-Man could already do. If I got into a fight I could creatively mix up my attacks, dodge theirs, and fire back with web techniques. I could dodge gunfire, follow up by trapping my foe with a web ball, and then finish the thug off with an uppercut that launches him in the air and beat him back down. I felt a sense of power and choice like no other game I had played.

I would spend hours just swinging around the city, playing and testing the game’s limitations. Once I spent a whole play session finding tall buildings to climb up and dive off, trying to get as much speed as I could from the fall before swinging away. Another time I discovered a series of helicopters flying above the Hudson River. Out of curiosity I tried swinging onto each of the helicopters, and before I knew it, I had crossed the sky and landed on the Statue of Liberty. These self-discovered victories became the stories that I told other people when I tried to describe such a thrill.

As I got older and learned more about the character I began to identify with Peter. He dealt with issues of poverty, school, and family life, but I also felt a parallel in his struggle to balance his life as both Peter Parker and Spider-Man. I was a first generation American, and I’d come home to a Spanish speaking household—I felt that I was living a dual life, one that existed in school and another that existed at home. I would look up to Peter as someone also living this dual life and struggling with the scarifies that came with it. In his best moments, Peter was able to draw strength from both sides of himself and find his balance.

As time progressed, people moved on from things. My family moved out of Hidden Valley and I too moved away from
Spider-Man 2: The Game. But the things that stayed with me were the tales I created from playing the game. These little stories would come back to me when I would play something else or watch a movie. They reminded me how much Spider-Man 2 could liberate me from Hidden Valley. I wanted to learn more about the choices that the developer made and how they were inspired by the world of Spider-Man, and studying these two different interests made me appreciate them both so much more.


About the Growth of a Gamer Series

Growth of a Gamer” is a series of articles exploring the profound way games and gaming can impact our lives, as told by students of the Interactive Media program at the University of Southern California. Each one tells a personal story of how a particular game or franchise molded us into the people we are today, and through our experiences we hope to shed light on the ways that these games have affected all of you as well. We invite you all to share your own stories in the comments below, or by writing your very own series entries through Gamnesia’s Journals feature. We love coming together to share in the joys that make gaming so memorable for us all, and we hope that you’ll join us!

You can find more information about these stories and their authors at
the hub page for the Growth of a Gamer series, or find a particular game from the list below to jump right in!


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Pikmin Taught Me to Love the Unlovable, Because it’s the Little Things that Matter Most

The following is an entry in “Growth of a Gamer,” a series of articles exploring the profound ways that video games can touch people’s lives. For more information and more great content, you can check out the series’ hub page! Until then, please enjoy “Pikmin: On the Importance of Little Things.”


The DK Nature Encyclopedia wasn’t exactly a classic of children’s literature, but I would spend hours flipping through its pages all the same, tracing glossy photos of star-nosed moles and rock hyraxes and blue-footed boobies. (The book was, as the name suggests, a nature encyclopedia and not much else.) The bugs never bothered me—I liked the beetles the best, noble creatures with horns like antlers and chitin like black armor—but I remember how I used to avoid the section on plants and fungi. If I close my eyes, I can still see the swollen corpse flowers, the Venus flytraps, and the carnivorous pitcher plants. Spores and fruiting mycelium haunted my nightmares, and after a time the pages in that section started to stick together, since I refused to open them.

I carried this book everywhere, including on my monthly sojourn to Blockbuster (a now extinct specimen of video rental store). There, the flashiest games would croon at me from their shelves, their titles so full of energy they looked ready to burst with excitement:
Super Smash Bros. Melee! Mario Kart: Double Dash!! Sonic Adventure 2 Battle! Wham! Ka-pow! Wowza! But one month, with my encyclopedia tucked firmly in the crook of my arm, I wandered away from these brighter and bolder titles and towards the sale bin, unsure of what I was looking for until I found it. The game should have been buried under the riot of color surrounding it, but my eye slid to it the way a stone might roll into the valley between mountains. No corona of light crowned it as I dug it out. No fanfare erupted as I turned it over in my hands. It just smiled, the ways games smile, and showed me a name written in flowers: PIKMIN.

I went back home, popped the disc into my console, and waited for the Nintendo logo to fade as I hugged my encyclopedia to my knees; I would need it, if I encountered something strange on my journey. This was new, uncharted territory, and I had to be ready for anything. I pressed START.

Then without preamble I was hurtling through the sky, my spaceship fragmenting into pieces as I rocketed through the atmosphere. Lethal quantities of poisonous gas—oxygen, deadly oxygen!—choked this foreign planet, and when I picked myself up from the wreckage I realized my life support system would last only thirty days before I suffocated and died. I was Captain Olimar, an alien no bigger than a quarter, and if I did not escape soon I would never see my wife and children again. On my own, I had no hope of recovering the lost pieces of my ship, let alone of surviving the night when the nocturnal predators woke.

But I was not alone for long. I found a sprout, peeking out the ground, and as soon as I pulled, the strangest creature popped out. It was not so unlike me: two hands, two feet, two eyes, with a leaf growing on its head where I had an antennae on my space suit. As soon as it emerged from the ground, it tottered after me like a duckling after its mother. I had met my first Pikmin, and its siblings followed soon after.

I admit, the Pikmin gave me pause. I braved the plants section of my book, flipping quickly past the rafflesia (ugh) and the mushrooms (ew), but I found nothing at all that resembled these “Pikmin.” I anticipated a trick, for all carnivorous plants have a lure, but even though I expected the trap, the Pikmin caught me all the same—not with sugar, and not with sweet scents—they trapped me with an adorable idiocy. And I will testify to the effectiveness of this survival strategy, because as soon as the Pikmin won me over, I made a decision: I wasn’t going to let any of them die. Not one.

This was more difficult than it seems. Imagine, if you will, a game where you had to babysit an infant who was doing more or less everything in its power to kill itself, as infants often do. Now imagine that this kid has ninety-nine twin brothers and sisters, all of a similar age with similar inclinations. Now imagine that you’re in a sweatshop. Not only are you trying to keep these babies alive while they navigate the dangerous machinery and cramped quarters, but you’re also trying to keep them productive. Now imagine that the sweatshop is run by the Mafia, and if you don’t meet your production quotas by the end of the month then a gangster will choke you, and all your child workers, to death.

Hold this image in your mind.

This is
Pikmin, a real-time strategy game that plays like the ultimate challenge in micromanagement. The Pikmin were the babies and I the babysitter, and if the Pikmin games have taught me anything it’s that a child is not worth it unless you really need someone to carry something for you.

The game had two time limits: I had only thirty days to escape the planet, and each day played in thirteen-minute segments. My goal was to recover all the lost pieces of my ship to make it space-worthy again, but in order to do that I had to break down walls, build bridges, bolster my numbers, and of course take down any predators that wandered in my way. One man alone could never do that, but a man with a horde of Pikmin behind him? Who needs shovels or pickaxes when you can bang your head against the rocks until it breaks? Who needs weapons when your men are living projectiles themselves? Like ants, the Pikmin scurried industriously through their little world, wielding numbers as their greatest strength. But one misstep—

And suddenly my squad was being eaten alive—
And the other squad was intercepted by an enemy swooping from the sky—

They’ve lost their cargo—

Knocked into the water—

Drowning—

Now there are
BOMBS
And night is coming—

Ten seconds to rally my scattered army—

NIGHT IS COMING

And that was usually the point where I reset the level. Every decision counted, because every decision could prompt yet another genocide. And when, at the end of the day, I escaped to the lower atmosphere of the planet in my sputtering ship, I couldn’t bear to see the final summary of the day’s progress have a death tally more than zero. I wasn’t just going to escape the planet. I was going to do it
right, because it’s the little things that matter.

But even as my hands shook in fear, even as I brutally executed anything that stood in my way, I fell in love. I studied my enemies, maintaining notes in my nature encyclopedia on every single one. I had always liked bugs and monsters, and the creatures of
Pikmin were no exception. They were colorful, oftentimes goofy, and charming in their own way. I adored them even as I killed them—and that was okay. Pikmin showed me how death fed life. It was funny, and sad, and honest.

Thirty days passed, and not only did I survive, but all my Pikmin did too. That, more than anything, put a smile on my face. It’s the little things that matter.

When I went to Blockbuster again, picking out my next game was the easiest decision I had ever made, and it didn’t take me long to find the only other title written in flowers.

Desperation gave way to ambition in Pikmin 2, as I returned to the planet in search for treasure. But was I looking for gold? Fine silks and furs? Prizes of topaz, jacinth, and emerald? Not at all: I wanted bottle caps, and broken pencils, and bird feathers. While the original had turned horror into serenity, the sequel focused on seeing wonders in the mundane. Linoleum bathtubs and children’s playpens became the arenas in which my Pikmin fought bloody wars, while I looted a hoard of knick-knacks and doodads from this foreign world.

I was hooked by then, I admit it, utterly and hopelessly addicted to this franchise. A third game was but a rumor on the wind then, but I had an unshakeable faith that one day I would see a flowery
3 as well. If anything, the previous two games had prepared me for the wait: I was patient, ever vigilant for the tiny signs, never letting my frustration get the better of me. I waited, with my encyclopedia opened wide, as if it too was hungry for more. I waited, mind abuzz with feverish imagination and new possibilities. I waited. And waited. And waited.

For nine years, I waited.

I tried going onto fan forums to scratch the itch, although they became ghost towns as passion waned. I spread the gospel where I could, and played the games over and over again, with new restrictions, new tactics, and new challenges, but eventually I too had to move on. As I grew older, I played many games that gave me potential to be cruel, that gave me a thousand different tools to kill and hurt and abuse, but I always remembered
Pikmin as the game that gave me potential to be kind. The game invited its players to care for minions that were as indistinguishable as Stormtroopers and just as expendable, and while no one had to take that invitation, so many people did.

Pikmin taught me that “expendable” was an illusion. Just one more helping hand can touch a thousand small tasks, the same way one little act can have a thousand cascading consequences. Because if I hadn’t gotten that encyclopedia…

If I hadn’t discovered
Pikmin
If I had never seen the calmness at the center of fear…

The beauty of the ordinary…

If I had never waited…

Hadn’t spent nine long years waiting and imagining and creating and wondering…

Then I would be somewhere, or someone, entirely different. I wouldn’t recognize the wonderful paradox that is nature. I wouldn’t know how to love that which I destroy, and that which destroys me. I wouldn’t see all the ripples radiating around me, from each of my day-to-day decisions, and I wouldn’t see any of the ripples coming towards me either. But I do, and I think I always will; because after all, every decision counts, and it’s the little things that matter.


About the Growth of a Gamer Series

Growth of a Gamer” is a series of articles exploring the profound way games and gaming can impact our lives, as told by students of the Interactive Media program at the University of Southern California. Each one tells a personal story of how a particular game or franchise molded us into the people we are today, and through our experiences we hope to shed light on the ways that these games have affected all of you as well. We invite you all to share your own stories in the comments below, or by writing your very own series entries through Gamnesia’s Journals feature. We love coming together to share in the joys that make gaming so memorable for us all, and we hope that you’ll join us!

You can find more information about these stories and their authors at
the hub page for the Growth of a Gamer series, or find a particular game from the list below to jump right in!


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Articles Columns Features PC PlayStation 3 Xbox 360

The Original Mass Effect Taught My Brother How to Smile Again

The following is an entry in “Growth of a Gamer,” a series of articles exploring the profound ways that video games can touch people’s lives. For more information and more great content, you can check out the series’ hub page! Until then, please enjoy the story of how Mass Effect influenced Justin’s life.


As a child, I had a lot of different ideas about what I wanted to be when I grew up. “I want to be President, I want to be an astronaut, I want to be a veterinarian,” and so forth. But once I reached adolescence, I decided I wanted to be a game designer. My logic was impeccable: I thought it would be awesome to get paid to play with games all day long. When I got my first computer as a pre-teen, I immediately began to build small platformers and shooters. They were nothing particularly special—just a few primitive builds that would amount to little more than demos today, but it was work that I enjoyed nonetheless. Social pressure and the fear of joblessness, however, eventually convinced me to abandon my “naïve” childhood dream in favor of pursuing goals that seemed more practical, like law school… That is, until one game convinced me that creating games was how I wanted to spend my life and that doing so would be well with the risk. That game was Mass Effect.

It was early December when my brother Andrew came home to visit me for the winter break. As Christmas began to draw near, it came time for me to choose an appropriate gift for him, something that would help him blow off steam after what had been a long and stressful semester. I quickly decided that his present should be a game, an experience we could share and let him blow off steam. I was searching for something that fit these criteria when I stumbled upon an article praising
Mass Effect‘s soundtrack. It didn’t say much about the actual game, merely that it was science fiction, that it was an RPG, and that the scoring was positively sublime. But apart from raving about Mass Effect‘s electro-rhythms, it also mentioned that the game had a unique narrative freedom. At the time, I thought that meant it was a sandbox game, like The Elder Scrolls, which was an addiction Andrew and I were coincidentally both recovering from. Though I knew it could mean falling into relapse, I began playing the game over the weekend in hopes that I had found the gift I was looking for.

Mass Effect put me in control of Commander Shepard, an up-and-coming officer in the Alliance, the international governing body for humans throughout the galaxy. As Shepard, I was assigned to a newly designed space-warship, the Normandy, and then dispatched on a covert mission on behalf of the Citadel Council, the multi-species galactic government for spacefaring races. At first the task seemed simple: I was supposed to retrieve a lost artifact that only I could be bothered to pick up. But things quickly became more complicated. The mission turned bad, my favorite character was betrayed and shot in the back of the head, and after a few more twists and turns I was off to save humanity from a threat to all life in the galaxy.

Mass Effect was nominally a third-person shooter based around taking cover behind doorways, chest-high walls, and similar obstacles. Unfortunately, the system for taking cover was completely broken; I can’t even begin to count the number of times I found myself mashing the ‘E’ key only to watch Shepard stubbornly continue to stand out in the open and soak up fire. Later on this was offset by some RPG elements, which made the gameplay significantly more palatable. They gave you some choice in deciding what special abilities you wanted to advance and what new mods and upgrades you wanted to get for your guns and armor. When it came to missions, you were always working with squad-mates, and you could direct them on orders for strategic movement across the battlefield. Personally, I opted to take the “Operation Human Shield” approach most of the time, and just sent them charging in front of me after I realized how hopelessly broken the cover system was.

What made Mass Effect the most fun, despite all this, was what went on outside of combat—by which I mean the story and my ability to affect it. You see, in Mass Effect you have to make choices which dramatically impact the plot, which for me was something refreshingly new. Some of my favorite choices were, “Do you destroy the insect, alien-queen whose children have been attacking you on sight for the last few hours, or do you instead let her go to try and start new, gentler family?” and “Do you release this female alien prisoner who was mind-controlled by the villain to try and kill you, or do give her a Dirty Harry-style shot to the back of the head?” Others were less ridiculous, but nonetheless engaging. For example, fairly early on I got roguish ex-cop as a companion. Over the course of his story arc, I had the choice of either persuading him that it’s better to stick to protocol because, hey, rules exist for a reason, or alternatively encouraging him to get results at any cost, even if it means shooting prisoners in the back of the head. I chose the latter, because, hey, it was fun. But all these decisions led to benefits and consequences that usually ended up taking the story in completely unexpected directions. This dynamic narrative drew me in so deeply that I kept replaying it throughout the entire Christmas vacation, each time making slightly different choices as I tried to complete every branching storyline.

Ultimately, Mass Effect captured my interest far better than any other game I’d ever experienced. Though I had previously played and loved other games with copious levels of freedom and exploration, Mass Effect’s unique ability to let me shape the narrative of the game pulled me into its world in a way that I had never before expected, nor thought possible—which was precisely what my brother and I needed. In the prior semester, Andrew had tried and failed to commit suicide, a sad reaction to losing his girlfriend of several years. He only seemed to get worse when he came home, acting thoroughly depressed. For nearly a week I was quite frankly terrified that he’d succumb entirely and I’d lose my brother forever. But Mass Effect gave him a way to escape from these tragedies, forget his worries, and instead experience the wonder of the game. By the time he went back to school, he’d recovered from his depression and was ready to move on with his life.

It’s thanks to this escapism that I am able to appreciate the importance of games, a realization that prompted me to return to my childhood dream of designing games—as I personally feel I can use such interactive narratives in order to enrich people’s lives. But I no longer pursue the dream for childish reasons. Playing games all day long is fun, but affecting a positive change in people’s lives… what could be more worthwhile?


About the Growth of a Gamer Series

Growth of a Gamer” is a series of articles exploring the profound way games and gaming can impact our lives, as told by students of the Interactive Media program at the University of Southern California. Each one tells a personal story of how a particular game or franchise molded us into the people we are today, and through our experiences we hope to shed light on the ways that these games have affected all of you as well. We invite you all to share your own stories in the comments below, or by writing your very own series entries through Gamnesia’s Journals feature. We love coming together to share in the joys that make gaming so memorable for us all, and we hope that you’ll join us!

You can find more information about these stories and their authors at the hub page for the Growth of a Gamer series, or find a particular game from the list below to jump right in!


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How the Classic Pokémon Gold Version Unleashed My Imagination and Redefined Who I Am

The following is an entry in “Growth of a Gamer,” a series of articles exploring the profound ways that video games can touch people’s lives. For more information and more great content, you can check out the series’ hub page! Until then, please enjoy “Pokémon Gold Version: Where Dreams and Adventure Await”


Welcome to the world of Pokémon,” I heard. In truth I deciphered these words from a few crude pixels on a strangely-upscaled Game Boy Advance screen, but to the little boy playing Pokémon Gold Version for the first time, they meant something. I was no longer sitting on my blue-striped couch trying desperately to find the right balance of soft light and harsh glare from the lamp above to illuminate the screen. These words and the three square waves accompanying them had served their purpose so well that they transcended their very existence. They were my transports to Johto, the world of Pokémon, and Professor Oak made sure I felt welcome.

Pokémania was on the downswing back at school—it was, after all, 2002—but my small circle of friends and I were still fully invested. We loved watching the TV series, some of us had a few of the trading cards, and we’d all fight over who could get our school’s copy of The Official Pokémon Handbook during the daily “Drop Everything And Read” class period. But Houghton was the one who was the most invested, thanks mainly to the copy of Pokémon Silver Version that the Tooth Fairy so kindly exchanged with a chunk of dead face she found under his pillow.

He had learned, by this point, what the
Pokémon games were all about: you explore a world and encounter wild creatures with fantastical powers like fire breath and electric sparks. You collect them. You battle with them. You learn with them, grow with them, bond with them, and you do it all alongside others doing the same. Some trainers may lounge on the docks all afternoon and catch Qwilfish, while others may compete to become the best in the world. There’s as much diversity in people’s lifestyles in the world of Pokémon as there is in our world’s, and it’s your aspiration, as the player, to try all of the above.

While we were all watching
Pokémon on TV and looking at cool pictures of them in this handbook, he was experiencing this journey of a Pokémon trainer for himself. Even though I only knew a handful of the 251 creatures and watched the show when it happened to come on, when I learned I could set off on a Pokémon journey of my own, Earth came to a halt. I had to find a copy.

When I did, and when Professor Oak’s words echoed in my mind, a fantastical world of dreams and adventure unfolded before me. Ironically, a real frontier was right outside my window, where I’d spent a lot of my even-earlier childhood romping around. We had a big, beautiful yard with wooded groves surrounding most areas and guarded by a tall fence; they belonged to our neighbors.

My grandparents were shocked, and I believe somewhat disgusted, to keep hearing that I would now hole myself up indoors with a stupid viddy-oh game. This screen, they accurately noted, displayed just a handful of dull squares and uncomfortably geometric landscapes. How could I abandon my duty to myself, as a child, to explore the play, the curiosity, and the enrichment of the world around me? But I saw on that screen an expanding horizon and terrain even more colorfully inhabited than that outside my window. I was bringing all the wonder I enjoyed from playing outside into this game and believing in an outdoors even more playful, even more curious, and even more enriching than the one I’d grown used to—and here, the woods were mine.

What I didn’t realize, in that first moment, is that entering the world of Pokémon didn’t mean I was joining Houghton in controlling a fun video game. I was joining him in Johto itself. We may have been playing from our separate homes and experiencing our own adventures, but every time we stepped outside the world of Pokémon and came back to school, another piece of Johto came back with us. We could talk and laugh and regale each other with new stories. We could link our games together to trade and battle Pokémon with each other. For years to come, I met some of my best friends through
Pokémon, and moments like these were some of our most meaningful. Maybe we couldn’t hug our Pokémon or find new ones to befriend in our backyards, but this world wasn’t a fiction. We were Pokémon trainers.

It’s one thing to watch Ash Ketchum catch ’em, battle ’em, and rise to the top. But this magic, this fictional world that transcends its own boundaries and permeates ours, touched me because of these games, and that would have been impossible without the deeply personal experience they let you create.

I could (and did) name my trainer “COLIN,” after myself. I had COLIN choose Totodile as his partner, because this water-type crocodile Pokémon was the perfect mix of cutthroat and cute. I nicknamed him “HAMBOZO” after a running gag in one of my favorite shows at the time, and whenever COLIN sent him out in battle, the game would call him HAMBOZO just the same. It asked not that I attack enemies, but that I command my Pokémon to do it, thereby giving me the exact same agencies in my world as COLIN had in his. When COLIN was exploring a cave and found special items in hidden places, Colin was the one who felt rewarded. When COLIN battled Team Rocket’s ragtag leaders and thwarted their efforts to reunite, Colin was the one who felt the triumph. When COLIN played slots in Goldenrod City, Colin was the one who felt forever doomed to waste the money he was saving for cool new furniture on rigged machines. The myriad of fun times and tough challenges the world of Pokémon presents were mine. Not Ash Ketchum’s. Not even COLIN’s. Mine.

This total immersion I found so long ago is no longer with me. I thought I’d be at least as old as my parents before I saw the same uncomfortable geometry in
Pokémon Gold Version that my grandparents criticized, but when I return to Johto, I just can’t see those beautiful horizons or the colorfully-inhabited terrain. The Pokémon I catch feel like points of data, and my journey from a humble New-Bark-Towner to the Champion of the Pokémon League feels like a distraction from what’s important in life, rather than a life of its own. It’s become the video game the grown-ups saw.

But when I put down the game and instead try to picture Johto, I once again believe in a vivid world sprawling out before me. I now bring my experience romping through the world of Pokémon back into the real world and create an outdoors as playful and curious to my adult mind as the game was then. Though I may not know yet exactly how I’ll do it, every day it inspires me to pass along the same pageantry, friendship, and joy however I can.

During a recent trip to the aquarium, my mind flooded with images of Dewgong and Mantine dancing in the sea. I was totally absorbed in the splendor, and I yearned to recreate these visions somehow for others. My sister caught me with a goofy, rapt smile beaming across my face far wider than was situationally appropriate for an aquarium, and asked, “Colin… what the hell are you doing?

I paused for a moment, caught red-handed and now charged with the task of leaving Johto while she awaited my answer.

…I’m imagining that there are a bunch of Pokémon here,” I bashfully admitted. We shared a laugh, as she knew there wasn’t an ounce of dishonesty in my words. So I turned back to the fish tank and stepped once more into the whimsical, wonderful, world of Pokémon.


About the Growth of a Gamer Series

Growth of a Gamer” is a series of articles exploring the profound way games and gaming can impact our lives, as told by students of the Interactive Media program at the University of Southern California. Each one tells a personal story of how a particular game or franchise molded us into the people we are today, and through our experiences we hope to shed light on the ways that these games have affected all of you as well. We invite you all to share your own stories in the comments below, or by writing your very own series entries through Gamnesia’s Journals feature. We love coming together to share in the joys that make gaming so memorable for us all, and we hope that you’ll join us!

You can find more information about these stories and their authors at the hub page for the Growth of a Gamer series, or find a particular game from the list below to jump right in!


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Nintendo Should Embrace Mods Like Project M and Use Them to Achieve Even Greater Things

Project M was an incredibly popular mod of Super Smash Bros. Brawl that shut down development recently due to growing fear that Nintendo was planning to take decisive legal action in the near future. We thought this raised an important issue, so we made it our discussion segment for this week’s episode of Nintendo Week, our Nintendo-themed podcast here at Gamnesia. After briefly reviewing Project M‘s cancellation, we turned to the bigger question: what should Nintendo do when faced with situations like these? Check out the discussion video above for our full thoughts, or keep reading for a brief, brief summary.

The answer we all land upon is that Nintendo should absolutely be okay with projects like these! It’s shown for years that it only affects a small number of Nintendo’s most dedicated, passionate fans, and it isn’t at all hurting what Nintendo does with their officially-sanctioned titles. Moreover it’s important for Nintendo to keep their goodwill in an era when they’re frustrating YouTubers with their copyright policies and losing a good amount of the positive sentiment they previously had.

Alex takes the conversation much deeper, though, and argues that Nintendo should take inspiration from the PC space and actively embrace projects like these—some of the world’s greatest and most popular games exist only because modders worked their magic and the copyright holders approached them positively about it. One need look no further than
Dota 2, one of the most popular games in the world right now, which Blizzard spawned off of a fan-made mod. Furthermore, when passionate content creators get scared away from creating games that benefit Nintendo, they’re going to make games that take attention away from Nintendo instead. Given that it holds the most beloved IP in the industry, Nintendo’s going to be the source of a lot of creative inspiration, and the more they let people like that slip away to create competing games, the faster Nintendo’s grasp on the industry will slip away.

Of course, this is only the tip of the iceberg. For more discussion, and a lot of elaboration on the points described above, be sure to listen to the discussion in the video above, or check out this week’s episode of Nintendo Week, which is embedded in the blue player below.


If you like this discussion, you can
subscribe to Nintendo Week on iTunes, where we release new episodes every Wednesday. If you don’t like long-form podcasts, you can subscribe to us on YouTube, where our discussion segments are uploaded on Thursdays, and these select snippets from the rest of the podcast—which we call NWC—are uploaded throughout the week. If you like what you hear, we’d love it if you leave us a review on iTunes, where you can find episodes covering tons of other subjects, or send us your feedback! We’d love to know what you think of the show, and how you think we can improve it.

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If you like this discussion, you can
subscribe to Nintendo Week on iTunes, where we release new episodes every Wednesday. If you don’t like long-form podcasts, you can subscribe to us on YouTube, where our discussion segments are uploaded on Thursdays, and these select snippets from the rest of the podcast—which we call NWC—are uploaded throughout the week. If you like what you hear, we’d love it if you leave us a review on iTunes, where you can find episodes covering tons of other subjects, or send us your feedback! We’d love to know what you think of the show, and how you think we can improve it.

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Famitsu Will Publish News About The Legend of Zelda for Wii U on November 5th

UPDATE: Looks like it may be a false alarm, folks—while initial translations asserted there would be an interview highlighting Zelda U, NintenDaan says there is nothing indicating this. We’ll keep you updated as we find out more.

Earlier today the Japanese gaming magazine Famitsu revealed that on November 5th they will be publishing an interview with Eiji Aonuma, Shiro Mouri, and Hiromasa Shikata. The interview is focusing on the upcoming
Zelda title, Tri Force Heroes, but it was specifically mentioned that it would briefly touch on news for other Zelda games in development for Wii U. This includes Zelda U, as well as whatever will come for the 30th Zelda Anniversary. Who knows what could be revealed, but until November, we can only speculate.

What do you think the news will be? Let us know in the comments!

Source: Zelda Informer

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Nintendo NX Doesn’t Need to be as Powerful as PlayStation 4

Earlier this year Nintendo revealed that they’re hard at work on new video game hardware code named “NX.” There are lots of rumors swirling around the future Nintendo console, but concrete details are scarce, as the Big N won’t make any official statements until 2016. With Wii U trailing substantially behind PlayStation 4 and Xbox One in terms of power, many are wondering what kind of engine NX will have under the hood — a subject with two potentially conflicting reports.

A few months ago, Unseen64’s Liam Robertson stated that a Nintendo employee says NX is not looking to compete with PlayStation 4 in terms of power. More recently, The Wall Street Journal reported that NX will feature industry-leading chips, although that term is pretty vague. We can’t know for sure right now whether or not NX will be as powerful as PlayStation 4, but a better question is does it need to be?

When it comes to power, Nintendo doesn’t really need to have top-of-the-line tech to make games that look and run great. Wii U makes this obvious by having quite a few beautiful games itself even though its hardware is outclassed by Sony and Microsoft. While Sony and Microsoft create a lot of detailed, realistic games, Nintendo games have always been a little simpler and more stylized in nature, making them less taxing on the hardware. It takes a lot less to make a Mario game look smooth and beautiful than games like Uncharted or The Last of Us. That’s not to say that Wii U has plenty of power or that NX doesn’t need to top it; Nintendo’s next console could definitely use a boost to keep everything running at a smooth 1080p and 60fps, and a little extra power can go a long way in improving things like enemy AI while also making things a lot easier on the development side. However, NX doesn’t need to top PlayStation 4 to deliver great first-party games.

That said, the issue of power isn’t really about Mario, Zelda, and Donkey Kong. If Nintendo is looking to bulk up on the hardware, it’s because they need to do so in order to appease third-party developers. Nintendo’s third-party support has been severely lacking for years, and Wii U was supposed to rectify that situation. But it’s simply not powerful enough to handle many of the most popular games in the industry. If Nintendo wants to reverse this trend with NX, they need to make sure that it’s at least powerful enough that popular game engines like Unreal Engine 4 and the latest iteration of CryEngine can easily be scaled to run smoothly on the console. Keeping NX at least in the same ballpark as PlayStation 4 and Xbox One will also make it more likely that developers will be willing to develop exclusive games for the console, as Wii U’s hardware is far enough behind in terms of power and different enough in terms of architecture that developing for it can be both costly and a hassle.

One final thing to consider is the price tag. While it might be tempting to create a machine that outshines the competition, that also means high production costs. Nintendo fans are conditioned to expect lower prices than fans of other companies, and many balked at the $300 – $350 price tag that Wii U sported at launch. You also have to consider that Nintendo has strongly hinted at both home console and handheld versions of NX, and a high price point can be even more damning to a handheld (as evidenced by Nintendo slashing the price of 3DS by $80 just months after it launched due to poor sales) than to a console. If Nintendo opts for high power over a low price tag, they may find themselves trying to compete much more directly with Sony and Microsoft than ever before. Sony and Microsoft have been in the business of marketing powerful, expensive consoles for a decade, and Nintendo could end up losing more fans than they’d gain. Giving third-party partners more power to work with is great, but low sales are just as big of a deterrent to developers as a low specs.

Wii U faces a lot of criticism for its underwhelming hardware, and some developers have even stated that they don’t consider it part of the current console generation, so it’s understandable that a lot of fans want to see Nintendo create NX as a total powerhouse. But the risks outweigh the benefits if surpassing PlayStation 4 means pricing themselves out of competition. NX needs to offer developers enough power that it’s not a nightmare to develop for, but it also needs to be affordable. Nintendo is faced with a tough task, and I look forward to seeing their solution.

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Naughty Dog Hit a “Really Dark” Time while Developing the Original Uncharted

Even with the huge amounts of success Naughty Dog still receives today, like any studio they have had their highs and lows during the development of their games. Naughty Dog’s lead animator Jeremy Yates discussed on a GamesRadar livestream about one of the studio’s greatest low points, when over thirty developers left the company during the production of the groundbreaking Uncharted: Drake’s Fortune.

Prior to Drake’s Fortune, Naughty Dog had hired animators based on their ability to do more cartoony and stylized art and animation. But when plans for Drake’s Fortune were released, they needed to hire people who were able to render more photo realistic characters and environments. Unfortunately, many of these new people didn’t understand how Naughty Dog operated, making it an awkward time for everyone who worked there.

A year after the release of the first trailer for Drake’s Fortune, the studio worked on a vertical slice called “Jungle A2.” During this development period, many team members quit, making it a “really dark period” for them. People had rarely ever quit before, but this time around one person per day was leaving.

When Drake’s Fortune was into its second year of development, much of the new staff began to lose faith, saying that they were “screwed” and that they had “bit off way more than they could chew.” During that time of lost faith a developer was quitting every day, and over a few months over thirty people had left the studio. Luckily the studio veterans helped to pull the studio through. They knew it was going to be a rough ride going into the PlayStation 3’s life, but those who persevered since the beginning helped to shape their company and the seventh generation of consoles.

Thank you for your perseverance and dedication over these thirty years Naughty Dog, and here’s hoping for many more years and memories.

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How the Classic Pokémon Gold Version Unleashed My Imagination and Redefined Who I Am

“Welcome to the world of Pokémon,” I heard. In truth I deciphered these words from a few crude pixels on a strangely-upscaled Game Boy Advance screen, but to the little boy playing Pokémon Gold Version for the first time, they meant something. I was no longer sitting on my blue-striped couch trying desperately to find the right balance of soft light and harsh glare from the lamp above to illuminate the screen. These words and the three square waves accompanying them had served their purpose so well that they transcended their very existence. They were my transports to Johto, the world of Pokémon, and Professor Oak made sure I felt welcome.

Pokémania was on the downswing back at school—it was, after all, 2002—but my small circle of friends and I were still fully invested. We loved watching the TV series, some of us had a few of the trading cards, and we’d all fight over who could get our school’s copy of The Official Pokémon Handbook during the daily “Drop Everything and Read” class period. But Houghton was the one who was the most invested, thanks mainly to the copy of Pokémon Silver Version that the Tooth Fairy so kindly exchanged with a chunk of dead face she found under his pillow.

He had learned, by this point, what the Pokémon games were all about: you explore a world and encounter wild creatures with fantastical powers like fire breath and electric sparks. You collect them. You battle with them. You learn with them, grow with them, bond with them, and you do it all alongside others doing the same. Some trainers may lounge on the docks all afternoon and catch Qwilfish, while others may compete to become the best in the world. There’s as much diversity in people’s lifestyles in the world of Pokémon as there is in our world’s, and it’s your aspiration, as the player, to try all of the above.

While we were all watching Pokémon on TV and looking at cool pictures of them in this handbook, he was experiencing this journey of a Pokémon trainer for himself. Even though I only knew a handful of the 251 creatures and watched the show when it happened to come on, when I learned I could set off on a Pokémon journey of my own, Earth came to a halt. I had to find a copy.

When I did, and when Professor Oak’s words echoed in my mind, a fantastical world of dreams and adventure was unfolding before me. Ironically, a real frontier was right outside my window, where I’d spent a lot of my even-earlier childhood romping around. We had a big, beautiful yard with wooded groves surrounding most areas and guarded by a tall fence; they belonged to our neighbors.

My grandparents were shocked, and I believe somewhat disgusted, to keep hearing that I would now hole myself up indoors with a stupid viddy-oh game. This screen, they accurately noted, displayed just a handful of dull squares and uncomfortably geometric landscapes. How could I abandon my duty to myself, as a child, to explore the play, the curiosity, and the enrichment of the world around me? But I saw on that screen an expanding horizon and terrain even more colorfully inhabited than that outside my window. I was bringing all the wonder I enjoyed from playing outside into this game, and believing in an outdoors even more playful, even more curious, and even more enriching than the one I’d grown used to—and here, the woods were mine.

What I didn’t realize, in that first moment, is that entering the world of Pokémon didn’t mean I was joining Houghton in controlling a fun video game. I was joining him in Johto itself. We may have been playing from our separate homes and experiencing our own adventures, but every time we stepped outside the world of Pokémon and came back to school, another piece of Johto came back with us. We could talk and laugh and regale each other with new stories. We could link our games together to trade and battle Pokémon with each other. For years to come, I met some of my best friends through Pokémon, and moments like these were some of our most meaningful. Maybe we couldn’t hug our Pokémon or find new ones to befriend in our backyards, but this world wasn’t a fiction. We were Pokémon trainers.

It’s one thing to watch Ash Ketchum catch ’em, battle them, and rise to the top. But this magic, this fictional world that transcends its own boundaries and permeates ours, touched me because of these games, and would have been impossible without the deeply personal experience they let you create.

I could (and did) name my trainer “COLIN,” after myself. I had COLIN choose Totodile as his partner, because this water-type crocodile Pokémon was the perfect mix of cutthroat and cute. I nicknamed him “HAMBOZO” after a running gag in one of my favorite shows at the time, and whenever COLIN sent him out in battle, the game would call him HAMBOZO just the same. It asked not that I attack enemies, but that I command my Pokémon to do it, thereby giving me the exact same agencies in my world as COLIN had in his. When COLIN was exploring a cave and found special items in hidden places, Colin was the one who felt rewarded. When COLIN battled Team Rocket’s ragtag leaders and thwarted their efforts to reunite, Colin was the one who felt the triumph. When COLIN played slots in Goldenrod City, Colin was the one who felt forever doomed to waste the money he was saving for cool new furniture on rigged machines. The myriad of fun times and tough challenges the world of Pokémon presents were mine. Not Ash Ketchum’s. Not even COLIN’s. Mine.

This total immersion I found so long ago is no longer with me. I thought I’d be at least as old as my parents before I saw the same uncomfortable geometry in Pokémon Gold Version that my grandparents criticized, but when I return to Johto, I just can’t see those beautiful horizons or the colorfully-inhabited terrain. The Pokémon I catch feel like points of data, and my journey from a humble New-Bark-Towner to the Champion of the Pokémon League feels like a distraction from what’s important in life, rather than a life of its own. It’s become the video game the grown-ups saw.

But when I put down the game and instead try to picture Johto, I once again believe in a vivid world sprawling out before me. I now bring my experience romping through the world of Pokémon back into the real world, and create an outdoors as playful and curious to my adult mind as the game was then. Though I may not know yet exactly how I’ll do it, every day it inspires me to pass along the same pageantry, friendship, and joy however I can.

During a recent trip to the aquarium, my mind flooded with images of Dewgong and Mantine dancing in the sea. I was totally absorbed in the splendor, and yearned to recreate these visions somehow for others. My sister caught me with a goofy, rapt smile beaming across my face far wider than was situationally appropriate for an aquarium, and asked, “…what the hell are you doing?”

I paused for a moment, caught red-handed and now charged with the task of leaving Johto while she awaited my answer.

“…I’m imagining that there are a bunch of Pokémon here,” I bashfully admitted. We shared a laugh, as she knew there wasn’t an ounce of dishonesty in my words. So I turned back to the fish tank and stepped once more into the whimsical, wonderful, world of Pokémon.

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Nintendo’s New President is Uniquely Qualified to Fix One of Their Biggest Problems

Nintendo was struck by tragedy in July when President Satoru Iwata passed away at the young age of 55. After two months of searching, Nintendo officially announced that
Tatsumi Kimishima would be filling his shoes and taking over the company. Based on his moves so far in Japan, we think he’s a great short term choice for candidate, but he also has the potential to fix one of Nintendo’s biggest and longest-running problems.

Nintendo is an international video game company, but they are almost entirely centralized in Japan. The Western markets (and in particular the North American market) make up a larger portion of sales than the Japanese market, but Nintendo’s non-Japanese branches have virtually no decision-making power. Dan Adelman served as Nintendo of America’s Head of Digital Content and Development for nearly a decade, and he frequently found himself unable to push ahead with ideas that the North American market wanted (including an end to region-locking and more indie-friendly development rules), because he was vetoed by Nintendo of Japan. As he describes it, even Nintendo of America President Reggie Fils-Aime lacks the power to make actual changes and can only make suggestions to the executives in Japan.

“I’ve had many meetings with Reggie about topics like this. Unfortunately, there are limits around what Nintendo of America, as a subsidiary, can impact. Reggie and others at Nintendo of America may provide a list of changes they’d like to make, but all of the actual changes would need to be made in Japan. Nintendo Japan is very open to feedback, but ultimately that’s where the final decisions get made.”
— Dan Adelman

In Adelman’s case, he was eventually forbidden from having public social media accounts or giving interviews because he publicly supported changes that Nintendo of Japan had turned down. Last year, he chose to leave the company and continue to do a similar job independently of Nintendo.

Nintendo of America’s lack of real power is becoming a bigger issue over time, because the Japanese dedicated gaming device market is shrinking at a rapid rate. Mobile games sales in Japan have increased substantially every year since 2010 while sales on dedicated gaming platforms have steadily declined. Last year, Japan’s mobile revenue was nearly double the revenue of its dedicated gaming platforms at $5.8 billion to $3.2 billion. The latter figure marks the lowest revenue from dedicated gaming platforms in Japan in a decade, and it’s not likely to improve.

While the mobile game surge is felt everywhere, its impact is much weaker in the West. Home consoles are essentially a thing of the past in Japan (and handhelds are losing popularity as well), yet PlayStation 4 is breaking sales records. PlayStation 4 has sold over 25 million units worldwide in less than two years, but just 1.5 million of them have been in Japan. The message is clear: if you want successful consoles, you need to focus on North America and Europe, not Japan. With this in mind, there’s good cause for optimism towards Tatsumi Kimishima.

Over the past couple of years, Kimishima has been serving as Managing Director of Nintendo Co. Ltd, putting into motion some changes within the company that came to fruition with the massive company restructure announced on his first day. Kimishima has been focused on re-tooling the Japanese teams to improve efficiency (unlike Iwata, his background lies in business rather than game development), but most of his time at Nintendo has actually been spent in North America.

Kimishima began his video game career as the Chief Financial Officer of The Pokémon Company in 2000 and then the President of Pokémon USA over the next two years. During his tenure, Pokémon Gold, Silver, and Crystal were released, and his talents caught the eye of Nintendo, prompting them to hire him as President of Nintendo of America in 2002. Four years later, he was promoted again. Reggie Fils-Aime replaced him as President, and he became Reggie’s boss, serving as Chief Executive Officer and Chairman of the Board for Nintendo of America.

When Kimishima took over Nintendo of America they were firmly in third place in console sales, as GameCube was lagging slightly behind Xbox and massively behind PlayStation 2. However, under Kimishima’s leadership as President and then CEO, they bounced back strong with incredible marketing campaigns for DS and Wii that were extremely successful in North America, pushing them both to the top of the charts.

One of the big success stories from this era was the development and launch of
Twilight Princess, which only happened because Nintendo of Japan chose to listen to the wisdom of Nintendo of America. Zelda producer Eiji Aonuma had his team working on a sequel to The Wind Waker, but after consulting with Nintendo of America, plans changed.

“At one point, I had heard that even Wind Waker, which had reached the million mark in sales, had become sluggish in North America, where the market was much healthier than in Japan. I asked NOA why this was. What I was told was that the toon-shading technique was, in fact, giving the impression that this Zelda was for a younger audience and that, for this reason, it alienated the upper teen audience that had represented the typical Zelda player. Having heard that, I began to worry about whether Wind Waker 2, which used a similar presentation, was something that would actually sell. In addition, because we knew how difficult it would be to create an innovative way of playing using existing GameCube hardware, we knew what a challenge it would be to develop something that would do well in the Japanese market, where gamer drift was happening.

“That’s when I decided that if we didn’t have an effective and immediate solution, the only thing we could do was to give the healthy North American market the Zelda that they wanted. So, at the end of 2003, I went to Miyamoto and said, ‘I want to make a realistic Zelda.’ ”
— Eiji Aonuma

There are some fans who may have preferred a Wind Waker sequel, but from a sales perspective, this was an incredibly productive decision. Wind Waker originally sold less than 5 million copies (it has broken that mark with the HD remake on Wii U) and Twilight Princess sold close to 9 million copies. Only Ocarina of Time has sold more copies (due to multiple re-releases and a 3DS remake), and no Zelda game since has even come close. Both in North America and Europe, Twilight Princess sold around twice as many copies as Wind Waker, and (alongside Wii Sports), it was one of the titles that helped Wii get off to an almost unbelievably successful start just five years after GameCube failed to make a dent in the market.

While we don’t know how involved Kimishima was in that decision (although as President he certainly had a say), we do know that he personally advised Nintendo of Japan against Wii U, warning them that it was too similar to Wii and would be a commercial failure. This time, Nintendo of Japan opted not to heed his words. Kimishima’s predictions were accurate, and Wii U is unfortunately on pace to be Nintendo’s least successful home console of all time, both in terms of console sales and software sales.

Tatsumi Kimishima has well over a decade of experience in overseeing the North American video game market, and along with Nintendo executive Genyo Takeda, he’s aiming to make Nintendo’s leadership future-proof. With the rapid decline of the Japanese console market, there’s no better way to promote a good future for Nintendo than to give more power to the North American market. Kimishima is uniquely qualified to handle such a transition, as he spent a decade on the other side looking in.

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Nintendo’s New President Looks Like a Great Short Term Answer, But He’s Not the Future

Beloved Nintendo President Satoru Iwata tragically passed away in July, and Nintendo was tasked with appointing a new head of the company. As we learned yesterday, that new leader is Tatsumi Kimishima. Kimishima has an impressive resume that includes President of The Pokémon Company, President of Nintendo of America, and Managing Director of Nintendo Co. Ltd. Most people agree that he’s a safe and smart choice for the job, but is this really a new era for the company or just a transition phase?

As we reported earlier, Kimishima has, for now, only been hired on for
one year. This is normal, as Nintendo votes on whether or not to re-elect their Directors every year. What’s a little abnormal is that Kimishima brought this one-year agreement up himself in his first interview as President, and then said that he doesn’t know what will come next. Odder still, he went on to say that he’d be open to outsiders (non-Nintendo employees) running the company in the future. None of this is what you’d expect to hear from a corporate President with his eyes set on big plans for the future.

A second factor to consider is Kimishima’s age. At 65, Kimishima is right around the age when most people would be retiring or possibly taking a reduced role (as Shigeru Miyamoto appears to be doing) in the company, but Kimishima is taking the top position. As we learned yesterday, he was not Iwata’s favorite choice for the job. Japanese publication Nikkei reports that Nintendo wanted a younger President, but they lacked the personnel. Normally when one President steps down, there is plenty of time to groom a successor. Unfortunately, Iwata (just a year after successful surgery) fell ill very quickly, and Nintendo did not have adequate time to prepare for his loss.

That brings us to Kimishima’s announced plans so far. First, he has reassured fans and investors that he won’t change the basic strategies put in motion by Iwata. Secondly, he massively overhauled the company’s internal structure. These two things may seem like contradictions, but they’re not. Iwata’s plans (such as the mobile game partnership with DeNA and the theme park partnership with Universal) will continue on, and as part of the restructure, Kimishima even created a new branch to oversee these types of operations. As for the rest of the restructure, it’s actually in line (and was possibly already set in motion before Kimishima’s appointment as President) with previous statements made by top executives in the company.

Earlier this year, Shigeru Miyamoto stepped down from hardware development and spoke about handing over decision-making power to people 20 years younger than him. Shigeru Miyamoto and Genyo Takeda, Nintendo’s top executives after Kimishima, have been talking about shifting the balance of power towards the younger generation for a few years now, and Kimishima’s restructure is set up to do exactly that. Both formerly in hands-on General Manager jobs, Miyamoto and Takeda have turned over division management to others in the company, and they now serve as “Fellows,” or senior advisors. The mantra of the big three at the top has been that Nintendo is aiming to establish future-proof leadership in the company.

Kimishima’s other moves (combining Nintendo EAD and SPD into one new division and doing the same for Nintendo IRD and Nintendo SDD) are about streamlining and simplifying the company’s structure, making it easier to balance the video game business and the non-gaming ventures set in motion by Iwata. This isn’t so much a new step for the company, but a re-organizing to carry out the old plans more efficiently. Nintendo just turned things around financially after three years of operating losses, and now they have to deal with the loss of their President, prepare to launch a new piece of hardware (possibly multiple pieces of hardware), enter into the mobile market, and launch other non-gaming ventures all in a short period of time. Kimishima has the experience and the business savvy to guide them through this time in a smart and efficient way, but he’s not likely the company’s long term answer at President.

So how will Nintendo deal with potentially having to choose another President in the near future? With Miyamoto and Takeda no longer in General Manager positions, they (along with Kimishima) should have the ability to begin mentoring and grooming younger Nintendo developers and executives for the future, passing on the torch. However, Kimishima has already considered the possibility that this might not produce a suitable President, which explains why he brought up the potential for outside management coming in and taking over in the future. In this sense, Kimishima can be seen as a transitional President. He’s carrying out Iwata’s plans, guiding the company through a challenging time, and preparing them for a new leader to take over for the future, whether that leader come from inside or outside the company.

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Here’s Five Reasons to be Excited About Nintendo’s Mobile Game Plans

Investors have been pushing Nintendo to tap into the mobile market for years now, and early this year, Nintendo officially announced plans to team up with DeNA and release games for smartphones and tablets. Many fans are skeptical, but a lot of questions should be answered
when DeNA announces their plans for the first game soon. In the meantime, looking at what Nintendo and DeNA have said so far reveals five reasons to be excited about the potential of mobile gaming under the Nintendo brand.

Breaking into new markets

Like most companies, Nintendo is always on the lookout for new markets. Despite Nintendo’s size and popularity, there are still many countries where they have a limited presence or no presence at all—countries where characters like Mario and Donkey Kong don’t have nearly as much brand recognition as they do in North America, Europe, and Japan. The biggest of these regions by far is China, which only recently lifted a ban on foreign video games and consoles.

Naturally, Nintendo wants to tap into the Chinese market, but it’s not that simple. The amount of time and resources that Nintendo would have to dedicate to research, analyze, and market in a country that hasn’t allowed outside consoles and games in 15 years would be quite expensive. Speaking of quite expensive, that’s exactly what Wii U and 3DS would have to be in order to
attempt to make a profit back on that investment. Xbox One tried launching with a hefty price tag in China, and as a result, you could still get a Day One Edition of the console eight months after launch. This led to Microsoft drastically slashing the price of the console, making their China experiment one big flop.

To avoid a similar fate, Nintendo had decided not to release Wii U or 3DS in China. Instead, they planned to design
brand new hardware that would be less expensive. We don’t know what this hardware would have looked like or what kind of games it would run (and we probably never will, since Nintendo scrapped the idea), but it really only substitutes one problem for another. By creating a new, cheaper device for China, you don’t have to charge above and beyond what people can afford, but now you’re spending even more resources on a risky China investment, because you have to research, develop, and manufacture a brand new piece of hardware in addition to Wii U, 3DS, and the upcoming NX. That’s a tall order.

With the DeNA partnership secured, Nintendo’s new plan is to “test the waters”
in emerging markets like China not by releasing a new, cheap console, but by releasing mobile games starring Nintendo characters. Instead of investing millions into new hardware and marketing, Nintendo can establish themselves in China with virtually no financial risk. Sure, it won’t be the full Nintendo experience of a console, but if Nintendo attempted to launch new hardware in China right away, there’s a very good chance it would fail. China had over 700 million smartphone users in 2013, the highest number in the world and well over twice the population of the entire United States, and that number is always growing. Once Nintendo has millions of Chinese mobile gamers hooked on its games and characters, then they can much more effectively decide if and how they should release a dedicated gaming platform.

Catering to a wide range of fans

We don’t know what Nintendo characters we’ll be seeing on smartphones and tablets or what kinds of games we can expect, but we do have a pretty good picture of the schedule. Nintendo’s first mobile game will launch later this year, and a total of five mobile games will be released by March 31st, 2017. More interestingly, each of the five games will be a different IP in a different genre. DeNA West CEO Shintaro Asako said this decision was made because he understands that there are many different types of customers with different gaming needs. Specifically, Asako mentioned that some people like RPGs while others are more “casual.”

DeNA and Nintendo are hoping to make games that appeal to gamers of all different skill levels and interests. No, they won’t be the same as a console or dedicated handheld game, but Nintendo has proven beyond a shadow of a doubt that they can make touch screen gaming fun with DS and 3DS, and there are plenty of titles (especially in the previously mentioned RPG genre) that don’t require traditional controls. This strategy introduces non-Nintendo fans to multiple characters and franchises (potentially interesting them in buying dedicated hardware to experience more) and presents a number of opportunities for existing Nintendo fans to try out new versions of their favorite games.

Affordable pricing

A major, understandable concern shared by many gamers is that Nintendo will go the way of many other mobile publishers and churn out cash-grabbing mobile games with little content and a heavy focus on microtransactions. Until Nintendo and DeNA officially reveal more details we can’t say for sure that this isn’t the case, but every indication says Nintendo knows better. In fact, prior to his tragic death, former Nintendo CEO Satoru Iwata repeatedly told investors that it wouldn’t be the case.

Mobile games are particularly popular in Japan, where
revenue generated from smart phone and tablet gaming is nearly double that of console and handheld gaming. Unfortunately, the practice of locking content behind microtransactions is also very popular in Japan. However, Iwata made a point of telling investors on several occasions that Nintendo will not copy the pricing models of Japanese mobile publishers, as these methods are bad for business in the long term and won’t work in Western markets and emerging markets.

“My understanding of how to succeed in the Japanese market now is to find a limited number of generous consumers who are willing to spend a lot and analyze what encourages them to spend. However, if we did that, I don’t think that we would be able to entertain hundreds of millions of consumers all around the world or to produce large and long-lasting achievements.

“A key term should be “wide and small” rather than “narrow and large.” The basis of our strategy will be how we can receive a small amount of money from a wide range of consumers.”
— Satoru Iwata

Instead of creating games that cater to the small groups of people that are willing to spend a lot on mobile gaming, Nintendo wants to attract as many people as possible and charge them each only a small amount. DeNA President Isao Moriyasu echoes this broad approach, saying he hopes to attract
hundreds of millions of players to Nintendo’s mobile games. Low prices coupled with a wide range of characters and genres could really help Nintendo establish a widespread presence on the mobile market, making the venture profitable without frustrating fans.

Games as service

For Nintendo’s “wide and small” strategy to work, they have to keep customers interested. If millions of people download a free Nintendo app, but barely play it and move on, Nintendo won’t be able to make any profit. Nintendo has taken this into consideration too. They don’t just want players to try their games; they want to keep people hooked and coming back for more every day by making their mobile games an ever-evolving service.

“Nintendo, through experience in the dedicated game system business, is good at making traditional game products. But for smart devices, in addition to the “product” aspect of a game, the aspect of an ever-evolving “service” is very important—a service that encourages consumers to play every day even for a short time.”
— Satoru Iwata

To get an idea of what Nintendo means, look at the way they’ve extended the “service” of some of their recent games.
Splatoon is regularly updated with new weapons, maps, and game modes. Super Smash Bros. has received multiple new playable characters, an avalanche of new costumes for Mii Fighters, a handful of new stages, and more. Mario Kart 8 received two sizable DLC packs that added in new tracks, racers, and karts. The last case is especially notable, as Mario Kart producer Hideki Konno is in charge of Nintendo’s mobile division. An ever-evolving mobile experience is a great way to keep the content fresh for old fans and to attract new fans, helping them reach that “hundreds of millions” goal.

Turning a competitor into an ally

The biggest reason to be excited about Nintendo releasing mobile games, even if you will never play a single one of them, is that ignoring the mobile market is simply foolish at this point. While Nintendo firmly stated that mobile games weren’t hurting their sales for years, the evidence is pretty clear. The console market has shrunk to almost nothing in Japan, and the handheld market isn’t anywhere near what it used to be. The changes are slower on a global scale (where home consoles are still selling healthily), but mobile revenue has been outpacing handheld revenue for years, and handheld sales are rapidly declining.

3DS is on pace to be the lowest-selling handheld in Nintendo history (excluding the Virtual Boy, if you can call that a handheld), and Wii U is on track to be the lowest-selling Nintendo console of all time. There are many reasons why this generation has been unsuccessful from a sales standpoint for Nintendo, and the mobile gaming market is one of the big ones. The biggest competitor for a Nintendo-style audience isn’t Sony or Microsoft; it’s the mobile market. The vast majority of the audience that bought Wii and DS is not interested in paying for dedicated hardware to play video games. However, just because Nintendo has lost them as hardware customers doesn’t mean they have to lose them entirely. In fact, software is substantially more profitable than hardware, and Nintendo actually sold both 3DS and Wii U at a loss for months at a time.

Some gamers worry that Nintendo’s decision to enter the mobile market means they’ll devote less time to consoles and handhelds, perhaps even phasing them out entirely. However, Nintendo executives have repeatedly stated that this is not the case, and that there will always be dedicated Nintendo video game hardware. In fact, they specifically announced that they were working on new hardware at the same time as their mobile announcements in order to assure fans and investors of their intention to continue as a hardware developer.

By releasing mobile games, Nintendo can continue to pull in money from the people who are no longer interested in their hardware (money that could be used to help fund more games on Wii U, 3DS, and NX), and this could even help boost hardware sales. Nintendo intends to use mobile games to introduce new gamers to Nintendo IP. As I suggested in a previous editorial, Nintendo will try to give mobile gamers a tiny taste of the Nintendo experience that leaves them wanting more, enticing them to buy a Nintendo console or handheld.

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Microsoft’s Gamescom Show Proves They’re Making the Right Moves to Capture European Audiences

Almost one month ago to the date,
a colleague of mine claimed that Gamescom was Microsoft’s opportunity to fight back against Sony’s hold over the European console market. Indeed, Sony opted against hosting a press conference, and Nintendo is suspiciously absent from the 180,000 square meters of German marketing space, as well as the odd 400,000 event visitors and countless others on live streams. As a result, Microsoft found itself in a metaphorical boxing ring with no competitors.

One might be forgiven for thinking, then, that Microsoft would follow the trend and provide a rather terse briefing at Gamescom. However, the company made no such mistakes. Xbox head
Phil Spencer vowed to bring at least three big exclusive titles to the table alongside “a real show” and strong first-party support, and Microsoft delivered. As it was, before the doors of Gamescom even opened, Microsoft was in a position to gain some much-needed ground in Europe.

Microsoft had earlier dubbed its 2015 lineup “the greatest in Xbox history,” and with Rare Replay (currently sitting at a comfortable 85 on Metacritic) serving as the opening act, Microsoft certainly set a high bar for itself. The Gamescom briefing continued in strong fashion, with a flurry of Microsoft-exclusive titles such as Scalebound, Crackdown 3, and Quantum Breakjust to name a few—all being shone upon by Gamescom’s bright spotlight. All three games are exclusive to Xbox One, and notably, all three were omitted from Microsoft’s E3 lineup, with the company already having one eye on Europe. While Nintendo had overlooked the event, and Sony’s floor exhibit at Gamescom being listed only a handful of days ago, Microsoft was saving its big guns for Europe, and, with its two rivals out of the competition, was pulling no punches.

The company showed no shortage of independent games, either. So far, [email protected] has been a successful endeavor, if one may say so, with 40 titles already released through the program, and with well over 30 more headed our way, including surprise appearances from games like ARK: Survival Evolved and Cities: Skylines (and let us not forget the adorable Cuphead in the dust, either).

There is one franchise both Sony and Microsoft can rely on to push sales: FIFA. And Microsoft is doing everything possible to capitalize on that. Two new Xbox One bundles, with FIFA 16 and EA Access included, was a signal of intent towards the European market, where FIFA sales surge regularly (as an example, FIFA 15 sold over 5 million copies on its launch). As a cherry on top, 60 new Legends players are making their way to FIFA 16 on Xbox One. Combined with Microsoft’s promise that all future Xbox Games With Gold titles will be backwards-compatible at launch, it shows just how committed Microsoft is to a strong presence in Europe.

Furthermore, Microsoft still holds within its hand one final trump card. Microsoft may not be the king of first-party games—that title is still reserved for Nintendo—but few games can push console sales quite like
Halo does. Microsoft sold over 1 million copies of Halo: The Master Chief Collection, a disc that is nothing more than a re-release of Halo games past, in its opening week speaks volumes. In addition, Microsoft is pushing a Spielberg-directed Halo TV series, as well as the freshly announced strategy title Halo Wars 2. However, all that is but a mere hors d’oeuvre in comparison to the main meal: Halo 5: Guardians.

If one may only use one word with which to describe Halo 5, “eSports” is certainly a good candidate. Microsoft appears to have taken notice of the blossoming eSports scene, something that was very much reflected in the Halo 5 presentation. A heavy multiplayer focus with 24-player matches, alongside a full Capture The Flag game with professional shoutcasters to boot was enough to make Microsoft’s aspirations for Halo 5: Guardians abundantly clear. Combined with a stunning 1TB Xbox One Halo 5 Limited Edition bundle, Microsoft pulled out all the stops in the effort to make Halo 5: Guardians this year’s must-have software.

It may very well appear then, at first glance, that Microsoft has run out of playing cards, to continue the earlier metaphor. However, much like how
Quantum Break, Crackdown 3, and Scalebound were omitted from E3, three additional Xbox One-exclusive games were omitted from Gamescom; ReCore, Sea of Thieves, and Gears of War 4 have been saved like fine wine, to be opened for a special occasion in Microsoft’s bid to win over the European market (Paris Games Week later this year springs to mind).

And yet, despite all Microsoft has got going for it, and in spite of its strong Gamescom briefing, it still remains to be seen if all that effort will be converted into European sales. With up to 90% of the market firmly secured by the PlayStation 4, Microsoft and the Xbox One face a gargantuan task to gain some market share, having already lost the battle in Japan. However, if the roaring and thunderous applause following its Gamescom briefing is any indication, Microsoft may have a fighting chance in Europe after all.

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PC Gaming’s ’Golden Age’ Has Only Just Begun

Historically, PC games have always played second-fiddle to consoles. The NES sold over 60 million units, and its successor, the SNES, was not far behind. Sony entered the game in 1994 with the PlayStation, and each of its consoles has sold by the truckload since then, with the PlayStation 2 ruling as the uncontested champion with well over 150 million units sold. In the handheld market, Nintendo reigns supreme, its only fear being the ever-growing mobile market.

However, sometime after the turn of the millennium, things started to change. I remember very vividly the day our 56K modem was supplanted with a proper broadband connection, which was nothing if not a game-changer. Indeed, the era of online games was well on its way, and with it came the rise of PC gaming, with Firaxis creative director Jake Solomon goes as far as to claim that “PC is in a golden age.”

When it came to online connectivity, consoles were several steps behind. While my old Power Mac G4, an absolutely fantastic device, was equipped with both Ethernet port and wireless options, the household GameCube had neither, with an adapter being the only salvation for those interested in playing its handful of online games. In 2004, Blizzard Entertainment took online gaming to the next level with World of Warcraft, with over 5 million paying subscribers as early as 2006.

It was also during this period that Valve began building its now-impenetrable foothold in the online gaming market. As I’ve mentioned in the past, while Steam has been around since 2002, it’s been growing the most quickly in recent years; a quarter of its 100 million accounts were created last year alone. In less than a decade, there had emerged an entirely new storefront for games, completely cut-off from the likes of GameStop. With thousands of games, most of them PC-exclusive, and the others usually available for cheaper prices than on consoles, Valve quickly found itself in a position where there was no need to even bother finishing Half-Life 3.

Other publishers soon followed in Valve’s footsteps, realizing how lucrative the digital market is. Blizzard Entertainment, Electronic Arts, and CD Projekt all rolled out their own digital storefronts, with Origin boasting over 50 million accounts. Console manufacturers would eventually catch up, but having missed the early craze for digital games, and fallen short with a poor showing of digital gaming’s capabilities, courtesy of Microsoft, both the Xbox One and PlayStation 4 were forced into operating as sub-par PCs. Meanwhile, Nintendo, always the odd man out, wasn’t faring any better in the online landscape, with digital purchases oddly tied to your device, rather than account.

My colleague argued in his piece that there has been a tendency by developers to shy away from PC gaming and to move their business to consoles. I will concede that steps have, of course, been taken by both publishers and console manufacturers to, at the very least bridge, the gap between consoles and PCs. While it is true that console gamers will at long last experience the joy of mod support, at least when it comes to Fallout 4, it is but a droplet in the ocean. A handful of indie titles have been ported to consoles, but only after achieving mainstream success on PC; Don’t Starve was ported to Wii U in late May this year, more than two years after its PC launch, during which it had already sold well over 1 million copies on PC alone.

Instead, I would argue that it’s the other way around. If you followed E3 and its build-up, you will not be surprised to hear that Microsoft has been making a heavy push towards PC gaming. Xbox head Phil Spencer, who hasn’t said a word wrong since his appointment, has been vocal about his support for PC gaming, claiming at one point that Microsoft had lost its way with PC gaming. On top of games like Fable Legends and the Gears of War remake finding a place in PC gaming, Microsoft has been pushing features such as cross-device multiplayer.

There have even been cases of developers outright abandoning consoles in favor of PC gaming. XCOM: Enemy Unknown found success on the PC, and despite being ported to consoles, its successor, XCOM 2, will be a PC-exclusive title. In addition, more high-profile titles have been shying away from console releases, such as the surprisingly successful Cities: Skylines, although this may be admittedly due to a control scheme only replicable with a keyboard and mouse (or a 6.2-inch touch screen controller with an array of extra buttons. If only such a device existed in the mainstream console market…).

However, as so often is the case, the best is yet to come. In September 2013, Valve made three huge announcements: SteamOS, the Steam Controller, and the Steam Machine. If there’s anything like a declaration of war in the gaming industry, this was certainly it (tentatively called Gabe Newell’s War on Living Rooms). Admittedly, we are still waiting to hear the results from this endeavor, and it’s still an uncomfortably long wait until November. However, no matter how one looks at it, PC gaming has cemented its place as a top contender for hardcore gaming, and it’s only going up from here.

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PC Gaming is Not in its “Golden Age”

During a recent interview with PC Gamer, XCOM 2‘s creative director Jake Solomon made a statement saying PC Gaming was in its “golden age.” Though PC gaming has risen back into popularity due to things such as Steam, streaming, and massive communities around MOBAs and modding, console gaming still seems to loom over it as the industry’s super giant. PC gaming is at large again, and this year’s E3 PC Gaming Show proved that. However, the numbers of console gamers and the numerous game studios moving development from PC-focused games to console seems to display that console gaming is where the masses and new ideas are going.

Solomon’s full statement was as follows:

“PC gaming is in a golden age. It’s the tip of the spear in terms of innovation, in types of gameplay being explored, in relationships between developers and their audience, and for Firaxis, it’s our home. It’s where we want to be.”
— Jake Solomon

In spite of Solomon’s sentiments,
surveys from last year show that console gaming still has a lead in the industry over PC gaming. Additionally, various game studios that have provided great content to PC gaming also give these gamers reasons to move on their home consoles and compel other studios to invest into consoles as well. For example, Bethesda announced at Microsoft’s press conference this E3 that they would be giving Fallout 4 players on Xbox One the ability to have mods installed. This is a big step toward having tons of new content that used to only be available through PC on consoles. The reception of the announcement was incredibly positive, and, as long as this new feature is executed properly, other studios are going to want to start providing mod support for their games on consoles as well. We could see the same mod community for Left 4 Dead 3 (whenever that happens) on consoles as it is on PC. Imagine including the modding community of Minecraft currently on PC onto consoles. Though the mod support for Fallout 4 is a transfer of your mods from PC to Xbox, it shows that large PC gaming-friendly studios, such as Bethesda, are looking to move into console territory, rather than keeping modding a PC-exclusive feature.

At a smaller scale, indie studios are also trying their best to move from PC to console. Look at a game like
Don’t Starve from Klei Entertainment. This was an indie game the PC gaming community could take pride in having exclusive access to, but over time the game moved to Sony platforms such as the PlayStation 4 and Vita. As of recently, the game is now available on Wii U and PlayStation 3. Other indie games such as Outlast, Shovel Knight, Never Alone, and Transistor all prove that moving to consoles allows these studios to see their games fulfill their full potential. Though allowing theses games to remain only on PC would add to the appeal of PC gaming, it’s clear how this could be damaging to the studio and how pushing to have their game published on home console platforms is a much more wise decision. Solomon touched on the relationship between the developer and the audience, and console gaming continues to allow these relationships flourish due to the success and community growth for indie games on consoles. At the last few E3s, both Microsoft and Sony (though this year Sony neglected indie titles except for Shenmue III, but they continue to bust them out on the PlayStation Store steadily) have placed a focus on indie game titles, having entire segments of their shows dedicated to showcasing indie games that are coming to their consoles.

Solomon also notes that many different types of gameplay are available and explored on PCs. At the same time, consoles are trending toward further experimentation with gameplay types too. MOBAs are one of those game types that PC gaming has experimented with and remains king of the MOBA market. Let’s face it: the MOBA attempts on console have not been all that great. I personally enjoy sitting down late at night, chugging down some Mountain Dew, pressing play on my Wu-Tang Clan playlist, and losing countless hours to Dota 2, Smite, and Heroes of the Storm with my friends.

These games are all exclusively on PC – except for Smite, which is starting to make a move to Xbox One. Reception has been good, and I have played the beta for myself and I thoroughly enjoyed it, possibly more than I do on PC. Granted, Smite is quite different from other MOBAs, but Smite‘s placement on Xbox One sets the path for other MOBAs to start experimenting with console play. Consoles have also remained daring in their attempts to push the boundaries of gaming. Motion gaming was a risk that didn’t turn out so well in the past, but now consoles continue to push for virtual and augmented reality on a large-scale. So not only does PC experiment with new forms of gameplay, but consoles tend to innovate with gameplay just as much as PC, if not more.

I am a PC gamer as well as a console gamer, and I love PC gaming. Sadly, I think using the term “golden age” to describe the current state of PC gaming is an over-exaggeration. PC is back in the public eye in a large way, but consoles still seem to remain at the same status as – if not a bit above – PC gaming, especially in regard to innovation and support from developers and gamers. Firaxis may prove me wrong by stepping in the right direction, deciding to make PC exclusive games so other studios might follow in, and I would enjoy seeing them prove me wrong. Only time will tell though.

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