The games that made me: 2010–2019
It’s Christmas as of writing this, which of course means it’s almost the end of the year. While all new years are virtually the same in most respects I’ve been especially reflective in the past weeks. I got a new job, crawled out of a bad funk, and started writing again, much to the dismay of the sad saps that said I couldn’t do it (of which there are none, I just wanted to be dramatic for drama’s sake.)
In preparation for making this list I made the conscious decision to make no preparation at all, in fact I sit here in my bed listening to my favorite music whilst dredging up a feast of titles, some of which aren’t even from this decade. In lieu of making every YouTube content creator’s smorgasbord of a “Top Ten list” I took it upon myself to remember games that had a positive impact on my psyche. I wanted to talk about the games that made me smile, made me laugh. The things that were there when nothing else was there.
THE GAME THAT MADE ME MISS MY FRIENDS
Before winter break in 2010 my friend lent me her copies of Shin Megami Tensei: Persona 3 and Shin Megami Tensei: Persona 4. I spent several cold nights during my time away from High School grinding away at Persona 4’s story, and not having anything else to do I managed to finish it before we were to go back in the beginning of January. After finishing P4 I made an attempt to start 3 but I couldn’t take it down. I returned both games to my friend and promptly purchased my own copies in the following months.
Shortly after graduating in 2011 my friend would move to a larger city and I’d never see or speak to her again. There was no falling out, it’s just that she had her own life and I changed phone numbers like my father changed the oil in his Ford Expedition. I’ll never forget the kindness that she showed me all those years ago. I’ll also never forget her brother who *technically* never returned the copy of Final Fantasy XII I lent to him ten years ago. If by some chance you’re reading this Abraham it’s yours to keep.
THE GAME I DIDN’T PLAY
I love my mother. You can take that quote to the bank and try to cash it but the teller is going to tell you “Uh I’m sorry these are words from an article on the Internet this has no monetary value.”
She and I may not agree on everything, we may bicker like old women but at the end of the day I’ll never stop loving my mom. She’s never been much of a game player but she would spend hours playing the pachinko mini game in Super Mario 64 DS. It was her Tetris. It was her crossword, her hang out game. Some time in 2012 I would go into what most would call an uncontrollable daze in which I would purchase several PS3 games, even going as far as to overdraft my bank account to buy Scott Pilgrim Vs The World (worth it) and Alien Isolation (not worth it).
One game that I did buy was Peggle, and with one glance at the game my mom knew that this was going to be her new hang out game. Having only one console and TV in the house my mom would commandeer the PlayStation to play Peggle. I would come home to her playing Peggle. I would go to sleep and I’d still hear her in the next room playing Peggle. She showed off her scores to my friends. My friends were genuinely impressed. Time would pass and she’d stop playing, and I don’t know if she knows this but those were some of the most joyous moments of my life. We don’t have a lot in common, but when I was a child she stayed at home to take care of the house and I. She was my first friend, and at the end of it all she’ll my last friend. We’d play board games together, watch movies, and stay up til the sun rose watching TV. One television show that we’d enjoy was Golden Girls, and for those few months Peggle brought back those memories.
In the year 2012 Peggle was our Golden Girls.
THE GAMES I CAME HOME TO
Etrian Odyssey IV: Legends of the Titan
By 2013 I had started the job that unbeknownst to me I would work for 6 non-consecutive years. I worked the closing shift at a famous fast food restaurant, this dining establishment being known most infamously for it’s frequently non functional ice cream machine.
Here’s a fun fact: if the ice cream machine isn’t working during the middle of the day it’s probably because no one cleaned it the night prior.
Night after night I would walk home smelling like burgers and fries, my scent attracting the local wild life, and usually having at least one dog follow me about 3/4 of the mile between home and my job. I’d come home to silence. My parents would be fast asleep by the time I would make it back to the house. Most nights I would fix me a vodka cranberry to kill the pain in my feet from the day’s work, sit in the living room while the late night talk shows would fill the room with their guffaws and forced laughter, and play something. I had purchased Etrian Odyssey IV close to it’s release date in the US. My friends and I would trek to the local table top game store to play Magic the Gathering or Heroclix, much to the cries of my wallet. In the coming weeks after buying Etrian Odyssey I would talk shop with the local geeks about our party builds, which labyrinth we were currently in, which freak monster slashed our brains out, etc. It was pre-discord. It was a kind of human interaction that I personally don’t see anymore. It was culture.
Fire Emblem: Awakening
Weeks after Fire Emblem: Awakening’s North American release it was proving quite difficult to procure a physical copy of the game. Nintendo put out a very limited quantity of cartridges, for at the time Fire Emblem was a struggling series- in the US and even in Japan. Awakening was Nintendo’s final attempt at making an impact. Fire Emblem in 2013 is Dragon Quest now. Six years later a person on the bus will tell you which house they chose in Fire Emblem: Three Houses. Safe to say but Awakening sold like sold like hot dogs in a baseball stadium. It put the franchise on the map, so much so that we now have a small battalion of characters from the series in Super Smash Brothers. In mid march my friend James and I grew tired of waiting, and sat in a cramped booth at MacDonalds (I was off that day I suppose) with our 3DS systems in hand waiting for the downloads to finish. Afterwards we would play Super C in his car. To this day I still can’t enjoy Contra unless I’m playing it in the parking lot of a fast food joint in the rain. After work I would limp home, take a shot of my go-to concoction of cheap vodka and cranberry cocktail (they have to call it that because they legally can’t call it juice), and sit back and play Fire Emblem. My copy of Etrian Odyssey collected dust and I wouldn’t pick it back up for another five years.
Shin Megami Tensei IV
It took me a month to kill Minotaur.
Summer 2013. I still don’t have internet at my house so I would have to start a download before clocking in and hide my 3DS in a box next to the router while I worked. On too many occasions would I make it home only to double back and retrieve my game from the box because I made such a mad dash for the door after clocking out that I would forget my console. The folks at the game store were all talking about SMT IV like it was the second coming of Christ, and after dipping my fingers into Shin Megami Tensei Nocturne as a child I had grown a taste for that occult shit. My mom confiscated my spell book in middle school that I was using to try and curse the kids that attacked me before the bell would ring. After graduating high school I would briefly move in to my friends’ house that they were renting. My friend would try to summon demons in his room while I nervously showered across the hall. “What if he actually does it?” I would think out loud as I lathered myself with my friend’s girlfriend’s soap. I’m sorry Nathalie. It was the only one I could find. Cut back to the past, or in the the case of writing this it would be the present, I played Shin Megami Tensei for days with little to no progress to be made. Minotaur- the first boss- plagued me with damage as I would buff my party up with spells to no avail. I was under leveled. I liked being under leveled. It kept me humble. In the coming years I would chip away at the game until finally finishing it 3 years later, sitting outside of my job waiting for my manager to arrive to unlock the door so we could open the store. It was 3:30 in the morning.
It was cold, and I had to go to the bathroom.
THE GAMES I PLAYED IN PUBLIC
I have a confession to make.
Until recently I was ashamed of admitting that I played video games. I made an unwise decision in 2014 to get the Triforce from the Legend of Zelda tattooed on my left forearm. When people ask what it is I would usually lie and say it’s from the bible, or it’s the insignia from The Deathly Hallows. On some occasions my response would be to simply tell them to mind their business. I didn’t want to be lumped in with the monster energy chugging, Super Mario Bros theme ringtone having, Gamestop loitering “gamers”. I thought I was hot shit. Now I know I’m just a different kind of game player. I can’t get into Call of Duty but I’ll share on Twitter my chip-ins in Everybody’s Golf. I bought Shovel Knight on a whim. I watched a popular YouTube channel play it’s first hour while installing the game and their howls and cackles assured me that I had made a wise, fun investment. A funvestment if you will. Shovel Knight taught me to lighten up, to embrace my interests.
In the summer of 2012 I would spend most nights at the aforementioned home that my friends were renting out at the time. I would remember using their internet to “acquire” files from the seedy underbelly of the information super highway. Movies, TV, music, the works. One album that I would find was a collection of tracks from yet to be released Square Enix titles, one of which caught my attention with it’s absolute banger of a battle theme. Bravely Default wouldn’t hit American store shelves until February of 2014, and I would whittle away at it’s story over the course of the year. One humid day in 2015 I’d see myself grinding away at it’s battles while at work with the console hidden under the monitor, tucked away between the cash register and the greasy thumbprint-laden screen. What I was doing felt illegal. It felt wrong, but for essentially getting paid to grind at a JRPG for eight hours everything felt so right.
THE GAMES I STAYED UP FOR
Final Fantasy XV
If you’re reading this right now then you already know about the event known as “The Midnight Release”, in which salivating gamers wait at their monitors to satiate their taste buds with the hottest game. If you’re more of a traditionalist then you might see yourself waiting in a Gamestop, or in my case in 2012 you would be in a cold, empty Walmart. It’s floors buttery with fresh wax. Walmart at 11:45PM is an ice level, and I was Mario. 2012 Paul was patiently waiting for Final Fantasy XIII-2 but three years ago Paul was sitting in his room, sipping a can of Diet Pepsi watching the feature film Kingsglaive: Final Fantasy XV, followed by the animated series Brotherhood: Final Fantasy XV. I needed to snack on the appetizers before eating the main course, which was aptly named “Final Fantasy XV” I had gone to Walmart the night prior and purchased a figurative dump truck of sugary sweet snacks in preparation for the game’s release. I had waited ten years for this game, and there was no way I’d be missing out on this momentous event. Then I fell asleep. I awoke at 8AM. I took a shower, ate some disgusting microwave mac and cheese, and started the game up. I may have missed the midnight launch but all was well. I finished the game a little over a month later, and despite it’s flaws it still stands as one of my favorite games of all time.
Resident Evil 7
I don’t like that many scary games. They’re just not fun to me.
But I love Resident Evil.
It’s the puzzles, the music, the settings, the overall atmosphere of the classic games. When Resident Evil 4 came out and traded it’s claustrophobic corridors for Hollywood guns-blazing action (which would then influence almost every shooter following it’s release), I found enjoyment in it’s arcade feel, but wanted to enjoy a simple horror game. We didn’t get that for 13 years. After over a decade of punching boulders, rocket launchers, zombie dinosaurs terrorizing fictional Chinese cities, and whatever the hell Umbrella Corps was trying to be I was confident that we’d never get a fearful entry in the series ever again. Cut to Sony’s conference at E3 2016. We see a man stumbling through what seemed to be an abandoned home. After some subtle scares, some cheesy “creepy” rendition of a children’s song this had me thinking that we were just seeing a trailer for the latest Outlast game or something. Then the logo splashes onto the screen. Resident Evil VII. I was so excited I made an audible bark-like sound at my monitor. Capcom finally wanted to give the classic Resident Evil vibe a chance. In the coming months up to it’s release I read up on as much content as I could. January 2017 would see myself sitting on my couch huddled up to the clock waiting for midnight to come. I played Resident Evil 7 until the sun rose. I would do the same two years later when the remake of Resident Evil 2 would finally come out, and I’ll do it again this April for Resident Evil 3.
The Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild
The very same week that I screamed “OH SHIT” at my monitor during Resident Evil 7’s reveal I cried like a baby during Breath of the Wild’s trailer during Nintendo’s understandably barren E3 showcase. The Big N’s life during the beginning of the decade was rocky. Holding an insanely good JRPG hostage in the US for over a year, the abysmal launch of the 3DS (I paid full price by the way), the cataclysmic launch of the Wii U, having to be carried by the now redeemed 3DS’ sales in the coming years, the entirety of 2015, etc. I could spend this entire segment chronicling Nintendo’s mistakes. 2016 however saw the release of the NES Classic, a bevy of great games for Nintendo’s handheld console, and the reveal of the Nintendo Switch- which would completely resurrect Nintendo’s reputation as a viable console manufacture when it would eventually launch on March 3rd, 2017. The same night as The Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild. Me, being the only utter fool in the county to buy a Wii U would purchase and attempt to play the new Zelda at midnight like I had with various other games this decade. The only issue? Most consoles would allow you to pre-install games before their official launch so at midnight you wouldn’t have to worry about spending hours downloading your game. The Wii U did not have this. When the clock struck midnight I could now *buy* the game digitally, but I would have to wait three hours to actually play Zelda. I gave up waiting at around two hours into the download and fell asleep. I did however perform a ritual of which I hadn’t done since Final Fantasy XIII’s launch in 2010: I got up early before work to play. I didn’t play a whole lot, only about an hour in fact, but the whole work day went by in a breakneck speed. I ran home, sat on my couch, and played Zelda for several hours before passing out.
THE GAME THAT DISTRACTED ME
The Elder Scrolls V: Skyrim
I never intended on going to college.
I would graduate High School at the end of May 2011. I had no plans for the future. Months passed and seeing my former peers go off to further their educations- despite my conscious decision not to follow suit- sent me into a deep depression. For my birthday my friend Nathalie bought me a copy of Portal 2. At the time it was the best gift I had ever received from a friend. I spent a whole two months unemployed playing Portal, Magic the Gathering, and Street Fighter III: Third Strike at my friend Charles’ house. It was my home away from home. November 11th came and I would rent Skyrim from our local Redbox with what I assume was my parents’ money, for I still didn’t have a job at the time. I played for as long as I could until I had to return it 24 hours later. I would play Charles’ copy at his house while he was at work or asleep. I would watch other friend’s brother play on their big TV in the living room. I wouldn’t actually purchase my own copy until February of 2012 when I had my first steady job. I would play Skyrim for hours after I would get off of work at 1AM. I would wake up and play Skyrim. During the summer of 2012 Charles and Nathalie would start dating. During the end of 2012 they would move out of town. I would never see or hear from them again. They made an effort to not keep in touch with me. I would make various attempts to get in contact with them throughout the decade only to be met with silence. I don’t blame them. The person they knew in 2012 isn’t the person I am now, or at least I hope he isn’t. I wasn’t the best friend then. When they moved I didn’t know what to do with myself. I was heartbroken. I had lost some of the best friends I had ever had. With no one else to really turn to at the time I did what I was already going to do, I did what was predetermined. I played Skyrim. I sold my copy of Skyrim along with my Xbox and the rest of my collection in the beginning of 2013. I didn’t pick the game up again until 2016 when Special Edition launched. I still get the itch every now and then to play but for the most part I keep it uninstalled. It brings back too many memories, both good and bad.
I played a lot of games this decade, both new and old. I didn’t even mention until now my obsession with Destiny during it’s launch in 2014. I spent a solid 60 hours in 2018 alone playing Tetris. Just at the tail end of 2019 I found a new love in Everybody’s Golf. I play sports games now I guess. I also played table top games. I had a whole three Dungeons & Dragons sessions this decade, one of which was spent praying to a statue while our Dungeon Master laughed at us. I met the best friends I would ever have at the same game store where I would swap Etrian Odyssey stories with the other nerds. I did a lot more than play games too. I went through five jobs before finding an truly financially viable job just this year. I had my heart broken, and mended. I pierced my nose. I’m edgy now I guess. What treasures will the next decade bring? Well we’re getting a remake of Final Fantasy VII already in 2020 so the game of the decade pretty soon I think. As for *this* game of the decade? I don’t actually like naming these things off. It’s kind of cliche. I guess it’ll have to be Final Fantasy XIV based on hours played. I played a lot of FFXIV. An ungodly amount.
— Privately Attack Nobuo Uematsu with Questions.