Turning Point

Turning Point

by Max Nichols

There are quiet a few factors that shape someoneís life, things which combine to form someoneís opinions, thoughts, philosophies... A cup of parental opinion here, a dab of friendship there, a pinch of the right piece of literature there, all stirred up by the atmosphere and shape of the society around them. It can be quite an interesting exercise to look back through your life, and try to trace all the different influences and factors that make you who you are. Trying to map everything out precisely is an exercise in futility, of course, but a general sense of the major things was not hard for me to come by.

I have the usual Ė my parents, siblings, friends, extended family, the moves from Washington to Maine to New Hampshire. There were extra-curricular activities, such as soccer and karate. Iíd guess that the whole diabetes thing, not to mention the home schooling, was important. But there are others as well, and those are what interest me the most.

A quick look around my room would offer a clue Ė hundreds of fantasy and science fiction books, ranging from Narnia to Star Wars to A Song of Ice and Fire and on into numerous other classics and unknowns. There are a couple swords leaning against the wall in one corner. Several shelves are filled with video game guides, magazines, boxes, manuals, and other paraphernalia. Video game posters line the walls, and a few corner shelves are filled with old consoles and games.

Or you could look at my current situation in life. Iím a seventeen-year-old high school student, about a week away from finishing his junior year. Iíve already chosen a college, Champlain College in Vermont, because of its Electronic Game and Interactive Development program. My goal in life? To make games, of course. More specifically, to write their stories, their dialogue, design their worlds. Iím a creative person, and video games are the perfect way for me to exercise that. Video games are more then most people give them credit forÖ They are an amalgamation of music, art and writing Ė the holy trinity of creative thought. They are not just another form of entertainment, they arenít there to distract people from their real livesÖ they are an experience, and the most complete art form in existence. They are artificial worlds, where normal rules do not necessarily apply, and you can be anyone, or do anything. The greatest video games offer such profound depth of feeling, or immersion, or simply offer such an amazing experience that when youíre finished all you can do is sit back and try Ė futilely Ė to try and take it all in.

I remember reading a quote from someone, I believe it was J.R.R. Tolkien, which I quite enjoyed. Paraphrased, he said that god created man, and that man was created in the image of godÖ so that, within every human being, there is a need to create your own world. Tolkien is famous for doing just that. And that is what I want. I want to create, through video games, worlds and experiences. Worlds that others can live in, interact with, and experience. I donít dream of wealth, or fame, or even a family Ė I dream of creating an experience that will affect others the same way that games have affected me. Ah, the same way that games have affected me, eh? Yes, it should be obvious by now that they are not only a large influence on my life, but the primary drive behind everything I want and do. Some people would view this as a pathetic lack of life, or the absolute worst possible case of loserdom, but these are people who have not glimpsed the quality and potential in games, who canít see past the Tony Hawks and Maddens and endless rehashes of the world.

My preoccupation with games could, conceivably, have started when I was merely six or seven years old. I was recently diagnosed with diabetes, something that, at the time, I was too young to realize the full impact of and simply brushed away as an inconvenience. Which is definitely better then going into some deep depression Ė that youthful exuberance is a very useful thing. A teenager whom I had never met heard about my situation. He and his brothers and sisters had each been paid $100 recently, though I have no idea why. His brother and sister used theirs on the usual teenage stuff. Music, cars, gas, whatever it is that teenagers did back in the early 1990s. He (I donít know his name, something I regret) took pity on me, and somehow became convinced that it was his religious and moral duty to make me happier, and distract me from my disease. So he gave me his NES, along with his collection of games. It included things like Super Mario Bros, Contra, Bionic Commando, and a large number of other games which I canít remember. But things didnít stop there Ė he went out and, with his $100, bought me a Super NES with Super Mario World and Super Mario Allstars. Iím not a religious person, I never did meet this guy, and I donít know his name, but I am still very grateful for that act of kindness, all those years ago. Iíve actually wanted to try to contact him Ė Iíd imagine that an impact like this was far above his expectations. And quick the impact it was Ė looking back, I can honestly say that I am grateful that I got diabetes. Whatís a potentially deadly disease versus something like this?

I played a lot of Mario back then, but it was a passing thing, no more important to me then riding my bike, or harassing my best friendís older sister, and whatever else little kids do. Of course, all that changed the following Christmas and the two years after that, when my Grandparents got me a Gameboy, along with Mario Land 2 and the Legend of Zelda: Linkís Awakening. Mario Land 2 was the thing I played first, since it was simple pick-up-and-go play that I was already used to.

But I eventually picked up Linkís Awakening, and I was enthralled. For the next year and a half, I would play it almost exclusively. I would spend months on individual puzzles and bosses, unable to figure out what to do in order to proceed. At one point I lost my cartridge, and had to go out and buy a new one and start over. At the end of that fantastic year and a half, I finally finished the game.

It had drawn me completely. It started with the manual, which I actually read before playing the game (and still do with every game, though manuals simply arenít as good anymore). That manual had two pages of story, a list of magical items and weapons which I used as a checklist of sorts as I played through the game, and lots of nice art. When I dove into the game, it was diving into another world, an alternate reality where I was a hero stranded on an island, and not just any island: It was an island of talking animals, vast stretches of untamed and uncharted wilderness, mystical weapons and tools, monsters and labyrinths, and above it all, looming over this tropical island, was a giant egg, the focus of the mystery of the gameís story and the center of the digital world I had entered. This game had an atmosphere unsurpassed by any other, probably due to how young I was. I would give quite a bit to be able to experience it again, but itís too late Ė Iíve grown too old to experience such total immersion again. My reality is more defined now.

But there are ways around that. My goal, as I said, is to create games. More importantly, it is to create experiences with these games, and convey the same things I felt with Linkís Awakening. If I can do that, I will be content with myself. If not... then I'll keep trying.