This is something I don’t do often. Since starting Word of the Nerd, I’ve had to make certain sacrifices to better balance my time. After taking on the demands that come with having kids, coupled with operating a website, I had to let go of playing video games. It wasn’t without a degree of sadness, of course. I did realize, after hiring some of our game writers, that I wasn’t as hardcore as I thought I was. Not even close, it turns out. But still. Here I am, writing about gaming.
I was approached by a company called Man Crates, who make specialized gifts for men of all kinds. They’re are delivered in wooden crates that you have to open with a crowbar. It’s a pretty nifty concept, one that I was actually pretty into right away. They approached me to write an article about gaming nostalgia, and I’ll be honest with you: It took me a while to think up something meaningful. I wanted something personal to write about that didn’t sound like fluff pieced together. So without any more introduction, here is the story (more or less) of what got me hooked on gaming.
As a child of the 80s, I owned and wore out my Atari 2600. I spent an undetermined fortune (one quarter at a time) in the arcades. Still, I wouldn’t have considered myself a gamer. Even in my teens, when I first got into computers, I enjoyed playing games but I certainly didn’t consider myself addicted to them, and I was never immersed in the way that seems so commonplace today. It wasn’t until my early 20s. when I discovered that PC gaming was a thing, that it quickly became my thing.
It began with flying missions in F-19 Stealth Fighter (Micro Prose) during lunch breaks. My co-worker would invite me home for lunch, sometimes only half-eaten as we turned our attentions to the game. It turned out that while my knack for flight simulators that would take me far in the world of gaming, it wasn’t what hooked me for the long-term. For me, it was SSI (Strategic Simulations Inc.) line of Advanced Dungeons & Dragons computer games. I had played D&D growing up with friends, but never really took it seriously. It had been something to do on the weekends that kept us out of trouble. But when I discovered you could get all the excitement in a computer game, that was all it took.
It all started with Curse of the Azure Bonds and continued through an entire series of sequels and spin-off games like it. But it wasn’t just the games that I enjoyed. There was more to it. See, the PC gaming bug bit me and my co-worker Dave at the same time. So we’d spend hours, then nights, and finally entire weekends playing those AD&D games on his PC. I was yet unable to afford my own PC, but I was planning and saving like a fiend.
Dave had a small spare room of his house designated as his “computer room” (as we called them way back when.) The term office was too outdated, and ‘gaming room’ just really hadn’t been thought of yet. Dave’s wife would keep us supplied with Mountain Dew, pizza, chips, homemade banana splits, etc, as we played into the wee-hours of the mornings, sometimes pulling all-nighters.
In between SSI releases, we would play games like Leisure Suit Larry, Space Quest, Wing Commander. Anything that had a storyline behind it that we could entangle ourselves in. But the AD&D games that we really, truly loved. We would eagerly wait for the next game to be released. Now, you have to realize these were the days before the Internet, where information wasn’t as easily accessed. Being stationed on an Air Force base in a rural Oklahoma town didn’t make things much better. We did have the plus that copy protection really wasn’t that hard to circumvent, back in those days. We quickly found ways to pass along copies to other friends and co-workers. PC gaming was in its infancy and in 256 glorious colors. 5.25 and 3.5 inch floppy disks were the norm. Sound cards from Creative Labs were the envy of every computer owner.
As is the story of everything, in time, gaming evolved. Games like the ones from SSI grew to be passé and were quickly snuffed out by the likes of Castle Wolfenstein and DOOM. First person shooters (FPS) were all the rage and stories were less important than fast-paced action, blood, and guts. My heart still longs for those days. Days that are far behind me now, but still shaped my life for many years after. My friend Dave is still an avid gamer, now totally engrossed in World of Warcraft while I bury myself in a mountain of comic books and action figures.
Do I miss gaming? Of course. I miss the evenings of Call of Duty with my friends and crushing my neighbor in Madden NFL. It amazes me to see how far gaming as come since I was a boy with my TV Pong game. So when I was approached by Man Crates to write this article, I took a trip down memory lane that was long overdue. Seeing their Super Retro Gamer Crate, I felt that pull of the past, that sudden urge to break out that old gaming console, reactivate my Xbox Live account and start blowing some stuff up. I have to thank the people at Man Crates for nudging me down this path, it was fun; and who knows, maybe one day as my children get older I will be able to help guide them into the world of gaming.