Last week, I took a look at “Rock Band 3,” the best game I saw at the recent E3 video game expo in Los Angeles. But before I get to talking about the rest of the games at the show, I want to break through the fourth wall and address the camera a little bit about my life as a gamer, or, rather, how I’ve managed to miss out on many of gaming’s classic franchises. I do this not to make excuses but because I think it’s important to present my gaming history a bit before I start previewing dozens of titles, some of which I’m only a little bit familiar with.
In reading lots of gaming blogs and talking with other folks who write about video games, I’ve come to realize lots of us have blind spots. Some are classic franchises we’ve missed out on for years, while others fall into entire genres we just don’t like. (A lot of hardcore players pick on sports games, for example.)
While there’s always the temptation to try to walk the walk when I’m not an expert in what I’m writing about, I try to be as up front as possible if I’m covering the fourth game in a series without having played the previous entries. While lacking experience with some of the classics can be a negative, I like to think there are plenty of folks out there who’ve never played a massively multiplayer online game but are curious about “Star Wars: The Old Republic” because they liked the single-player “Knights of the Old Republic” games. As someone whose familiarity with MMOs doesn’t extend far beyond having watched the Leroy Jenkins video on YouTube, I can represent that perspective, and will in the coming days. After all, there are probably plenty of gamers out there — both die-hard players and more casual ones — curious to know about how BioWare’s story-driven MMO “The Old Republic” plays for people who don’t play “World of Warcraft.”
That said, I’ve probably missed out on more “classic” games than other games writers in their mid-30s. That’s because, even though I call myself a “lifelong gamer” in my blog bio, I did not own a video game console between the Super Nintendo I owned in high school and the Xbox I bought in the spring of 2004, when I was 28, a 10-year period. In other words, I own a Wii, Xbox 360 and PlayStation 3 now, but I never bought a PlayStation and got my first PS2 as a Christmas gift in 2007. In other words, I’ve skipped a lot of games regarded as canon, from the “Devil May Cry” series to all the “Metal Gear Solids” and more than my share of “Legend of Zelda” games.
That doesn’t mean I wasn’t playing video and computer games during that time, however. But for my college years and my early professional life — when I worked full time and ran a daily Web magazine in my free time — I confined my game-playing to the occasional session of “Civilization II,” “Marathon” or “Warcraft 2,” or sessions of “Bomberman” and “Perfect Dark” when I visited my best friends in Minneapolis. I have fond memories of playing through the entirety of the first “Resident Evil” on a college buddy’s PlayStation one summer the weekend after my first serious girlfriend and I split up, even if the experience didn’t seem destined for fond-memory status at the time. And how could I leave out all those sessions of “NBA Live ’95” on my freshman-year dorm floor?
Though some might beg to differ — and feel free to tell me if you disagree — I don’t think there’s this classic canon of games that every games journalist needs to play before covering the medium. One need only to love video games and play them passionately and often to speak about them convincingly, something I’ve tried to do with regularity ever since I first pitched a locally written column about video games to the editors at The Press Democrat, back in early 2007.
Even though I think I’ve more than proven myself capable of writing about games for a non-hardcore audience, I wanted to address the gaps in my resume before I went any further with my E3 previews. That way, when I write that I wasn’t all that impressed with the “Legend of Zelda: Skyward Sword” demo I played, you know that part of my jadedness comes from the fact that the word “Zelda” alone isn’t enough to set my heart aflutter. (The first “Legend of Zelda,” however, is in my all-time Top 5.)
So if it bugs you that I never finished “Ico” or “Chrono Trigger” don’t think of me as some woefully underqualified game journalist. Just pretend I’m your buddy who played “GoldenEye” with you in college, then lapsed into a coma, only to awaken a few months before “Halo 2” came out. (If it makes you feel any better, most of the games I’ve mentioned as blind spots are titles I now own, though who knows when I’ll get to play ’em?)
As gamers go through life, the tiime we devote to our art form of choice waxes and wanes, as real-world responsibilities like earning a degree, raising a family or taking care of a sick relative rightfully take priority. But, if the Electronic Software Associations’ figures are to be believed, more than half of Americans can be classified as gamers, and, when possible, I think it’s a good thing to try to write for as many of them as possible.