The Games That Made Us: DarthSagaSwag
By: L. Sahara McGirt (DarthSagaSwag)
Growing up, my parents were bowlers. Every Friday, they would haul me and my sibs and their bowling balls out to various bowling alleys. From infancy, I knew the distinct crash of a ball as it swept pins into the dark maw at the end of a bowling lane.
My parents often left us in the bowling alley daycare to watch children’s movies and play with well-used toys. When daycare was unavailable, we had to stay close to their lane. Sometimes, we might beg a few quarters out of them to play arcade games in the bowling alley arcades, or wherever they were sprawled throughout whichever bowling alley they were playing at.
I hardly remember the first time I played a video game. What I do remember is pushing a chair up to the arcade cabinet outside of the daycare at Route 66 Bowling Alley at four years old, having goaded a few quarters out of my parents. One of them must have taught me how the machine worked; put a few quarters in, press start, grab the joystick, and hit the buttons while watching the screen and doing my best to control the little spaceship as I shot up aliens or navigated the yellow circle with a bow through a maze, as she avoided ghosts or ate them. Or maybe I picked it up watching someone else play. I was an observant child and rather a precocious handful as a result.
I was drawn to the colorful bits on the screen and intrigued by the results of a successful run in Ms. Pacman and Galaga. If I made enough points in either game, I was rewarded with more games for free. My funds were always limited by my parents' generosity, and winning free games meant I could keep playing. So I was motivated to be good at games for those free plays.
I spent the first decade of my life in bowling alley arcades every Friday night playing games once my parents settled into a regular league that stuck to one bowling alley. I figured out quickly which games I was good enough to score free games from, and I made it my goal to get my initials up on the 'High Score' boards as much as possible. If anyone ever saw 'LSM' holding every High Score spot on an arcade cabinet at the Oklahoma City Route 66 Bowling Alley in the 90s, yes, it was me.
I would bounce back and forth between the arcade and our home console, a Super Nintendo that my parents bought us. I had no true notion yet during those first years of gaming that I was hooked, even as I completed Yoshi's Island for the first time. It wasn't until I played a game on our second console, the N64, called The Legend of Zelda: Ocarina of Time, that I knew video games would become a cornerstone of my life.
At first, it was defeating a puzzle that made games so interesting to me as a child. I would play the game, recognize patterns, and figure out that if I did certain behaviors at the right time, I could not only successfully complete levels in Ms. Pac Man, but I could complete every level in the game. The sense of accomplishment that gave me was like nothing else I knew or experienced. I could solve games and be great at them.
As I navigated Link through the world of Hyrule, I realized video games could be more than timing and solving puzzles. Link and I would explore, meet other characters and learn more about the world Link lived in. Video games could be stories, and at the time of playing, I fell in love with books and stories. Stories were an escape, one I sought to get away from the world I wasn’t sure about living in. Link, like me, was rejected by many of the Kokiri, who resembled the children who often rejected and even bullied me. Aside from a singular friend, I was kind of a lonely kid.
As Link made his way through Hyrule, I connected to him and the characters he met. I became a little less hopeless as he fought his way through dungeon after dungeon and ultimately defeated the ultimate darkness, Ganondorf, with the ultimate light generated by Zelda, to whom he had an inextricable connection. Those times Link had to change into an adult to accomplish some goal resembled those times I had to become an adult to wrangle in my younger siblings because the adults often expected me to take on a more mature, responsible role as the eldest sibling.
He faced challenges, and under my control, he could succeed. I could succeed. I could also have fun and explore or ride Epona across the plains of Hyrule for hours. With each replay of TLoZ, video games were cemented as part of my life. I would get home, finish my homework, or lie about finishing my homework, and play some games. At least when my singular childhood friend didn't come by and ask if we could play outside.
As I write this, video games have been my greatest comfort, escape, and joy for over 27 years now. As I grew up and consoles changed, one thing has always been consistent: I love video games. Regardless of how society has derided them or gaming communities have been unwelcoming to someone like me, video games will always remain a part of my daily life. As we move into the Summer, I want us all to remember that love for video games and those first games that made us into gamers.