Thursday, September 26, 2013

Violence in Video Games, Children, and GTA V Roundtable

As my readers and followers likely know by now, I've been playing GTA V for an obscene amount of time the past week, including an all-nighter starting with the midnight release. Although I know the game contains extremely graphic and violent material, I found it extremely enjoyable and think it's a strong contender for GOTY. However, whenever a game as controversial as Grand Theft Auto is released we seem to have the same damn conversation about whether these games are appropriate for children. Having played the game first-hand, the short answer is no, and the long answer is hell no.

So why am I chiming in about this topic? Recently a friend of mine Josh, aka - The Noyse, approached me about sitting in on a roundtable discussion regarding a very sensitive subject: violence in video games. Particularly, the discussion centered around GTA V and whether it was appropriate for children to play this game. Having bought the game and played it for about 50 hours at the time of the podcast, he felt I had enough knowledge to speak about the content on the game. I will say that I do not have children and haven't had to deal with this topic yet, thus my opinions may not mean as much as those coming from a parent. 

However, I was raised by two awesome parents who also happened to be of the opinion that games like Grand Theft Auto were inappropriate for anyone under the age of 17, especially young children. Given that I went through a time where I was unable to buy and play those types of games until I was old enough to buy them myself, I feel that I was able to bring a unique experience to the group, who all just happened to be not only older than myself, but also parents and/or uncles to younger children. 

Because I love making sentences into hyperlinks, you can find the podcast by clicking this. [WARNING - Content NSFW. We do discuss GTA V after all.] I hope you enjoy the conversation. Please feel free to comment below with your thoughts on the subject. For more information about game rating, check out the ESRB website where they give more detailed information about the ratings games like GTA V.

Wednesday, September 18, 2013

GTA V - First Impressions

I've finally done it! I stopped playing GTA V long enough to write this post! This won’t be anything long-winded or too in-depth, mostly because I’m only about 24 hours into the game and I don’t even see the end in sight at all. Anyway, so as not to waste your time or mine, here are my first impressions of the game.

Let me say right off the bat that the game looks gorgeous. I haven’t read any other reviews (honestly, I haven’t, I promise), but the one thing I kept hearing on Twitter and Facebook was that the graphics look fantastic – the best on the Xbox 360, some have said. Well I would have to concur with the general idea on the graphics. They’re stunning, so much so that I found myself just stopping and looking around on more than a few occasions, and simply flying planes around or boating around randomly so I could catch looks at mountains, or the city skyline. Seriously folks, if this game can hang its hat on one thing, it’s the graphics.

However, GTA V is so much more than graphics (which is great because as many gamers would agree, graphics are not what make a game good): the gameplay, in-game distractions, and dialogue shine as well. General gameplay hasn't deviated much from GTA IV – the cover, driving, and shooting systems stay pretty much intact. Rockstar obviously and smartly stuck with the revolutionary cover system from GTA IV, allowing you to hide behind essentially anything solid in the game. Driving feels more realistic (as much as a GTA game can be), with crashes feeling more like crashes, and speed actually feeling absolutely reckless and dangerous. Shooting is almost exactly the same, with the only exception being that you choose weapons from a “wheel system”. Although this slows down gameplay a bit, it allows you to carefully select the proper weapon for the job while not leaving you too exposed to damage while cycling through guns.

The best part about the game so far are the extracurricular activities you can partake is – anything from yoga, to golf, to tennis, to races and more is at your fingertips almost from the start. This has been the most enjoyable part of the game for me thus far, as I've easily spent 5+ hours playing golf & tennis, running triathlons, and racing vehicles around Los Santos. If you get bored with shooting people or planning heists (which you will in a game so massive), there’s plenty of fun and well-designed distractions to partake in.

And what Grand Theft Auto game would be complete without hilarious dialogue and insane characters? In a world created to look and feel like Los Angeles, you’ll find plenty of interesting people, from celebrity stalkers, to rednecks, to cracked out biker gangs. And unlike GTA IV, I actually found myself laughing out loud at the dialogue, which Rockstar seems to have paid great attention to in order to make it not only brilliantly hilarious, but a great example of satire on American culture.  Will you be offended by some of this? Probably, but if you’re worried about that then you’re playing the wrong game, ladies and gentlemen.

The only issue I have thus far with GTA V is the difficulty in some of the missions. Far too often did I find myself dying randomly from one-shot kills. Apparently Rockstar made damage a bit more realistic, because I was taken down by head shots when trying to find cover.  It was a bit frustrating when in the middle of a mission or at the start of a mission when you’re trying to get set up for your attack, only to be reset because of some lucky AI sniping you down. Even missions that would seem simple and easy can turn frustrating when your enemies turn out to be crack shots and light you up unexpectedly. The moral of the story that I've learned is to always go loaded for bear, and find cover before any and all missions. Perhaps this was intentional by Rockstar to make you plan out all missions in some way, but if so it wasn't very apparent and led to some minor rage quitting in the first ten hours.

Well, there you have it. So far, GTA V is a stellar game, with beautiful graphics, hilarious dialogue, and fun gameplay. Nothing is terribly groundbreaking in this game except for the character switching which adds some variety when you get bored with one or more character. I’ll have a more thorough review sometime in the future once I play through the game once, but for now, I have a heist to plan…or shower. I’m not sure which one takes priority anymore.

Monday, September 16, 2013

Grand Theft Auto IV - A Retrospective

I have a weird relationship with the Grand Theft Auto series. At this point in my life, I’m somewhere between cautiously optimistic and blindingly ecstatic about the release of GTA V. If you spoke to me a month ago, I would have told you there was no other game I wanted more in the world than the fifth installment in this storied yet controversial franchise. That was right around the time I decided to reacquaint myself with the critically acclaimed GTA IV for the Xbox 360 to get in the mood for the new game’s release on September 17th. I was so close to placing a pre-order, but before I dropped the coin I decided instead to focus on not only playing GTA IV, but also beating it for the first time. However, after finishing GTA IV, my anticipation for GTA V and my decision to pre-order it have both cooled.

Before I dive too deep into my recent experience with GTA IV, I’d like to give you more insight into my history with Grand Theft Auto. When GTA III was approaching its release date, I was both extremely excited and somber. Excited because I always love when revolutionary video games are released and have the chance to change the landscape of the industry (games like Halo, Bioshock, and Final Fantasy VII), yet somber because I was 15 and there was no way my parents would allow me to get this game. Looking back at it, my parents had a point and made the right decision in not getting me the game. I’m no sociopath and I know the difference between the real world and video games, but my parents are people of principle and did not think a game where you could just as easily shoot a cop as order a burger was appropriate for a minor. Still, as a kid obsessed with video games and wanting to be a part of the revolution GTA III represented, I didn't quite see it that way.

Seriously, these games are rated "M" for a reason.

To say I threw a tantrum is an understatement. I actually had a few big yelling matches with my father, after which I refused to speak to him for over a week since he still refused to buy me the game. From that moment on, the Grand Theft Auto series held a special place in my gaming mind, because it was something unattainable and forbidden, and as we all know the more you try and keep something away from people the more they want it (see: marijuana, prohibition, sex). I was obsessed with the series, eating up everything I could about the world of Liberty City, Vice City, and San Andreas until I finally entered my freshman year of college and got to experience the joy of open-world action firsthand. I waited four years until I could finally see what everyone was raving about, and it did not disappoint. I’ll be honest with you – I skipped my fair share of classes to play Grand Theft Auto during those first two years of college because the games were everything I expected them to be and more.

Fast forward a couple of years later, I played GTA IV for the first time and I fell in love with it just like the others. Unfortunately, my love affair was cut short when my roommate left for the summer, taking the game with him and leaving me with an unfinished campaign. I actually managed to forget about the game for years until a few months ago when I bought it in my excitement and anticipation for GTA V. I decided to play it through once more to see if the game held up nearly four years later. All of the sudden it was like my first year in college all over again, except this time I knew a bit more of what to expect…or so I thought, which brings us to present day.

So why all the postulating and explanation of my past with this series? Why the information about my anticipation of GTA V? Well, frankly, because I want you to understand why it was such a shock to me that I didn't love GTA IV the second time through. Even worse, I was mostly bored playing through the game and actually found it to be unbalanced and unrewarding.

I’m not going to try and sugar coat things because that wouldn't be fair to you or me. I also know that there are many people out there that will disagree with this retrospective on the previous installment in the series (especially with all the fanfare surrounding GTA V), but after returning to Liberty City the second time around my excitement about the series and GTA V has lowered immensely. I’m still planning on being there for the midnight release of GTA V and I’ll give it a fair shake, but I hope the new game offers more balance and reward than its predecessor.

Will this be my reaction and feeling after playing GTA V as well?

So what exactly did I find so damning the second time around? For one, the game is severely unbalanced in its difficulty and story. Let’s start with the difficulty – seriously, I can’t tell you how many times I went from one mission to another that seemed like they should have been at opposite ends of the game. One would be laughably easy, the next would be next to impossible. Maybe I’m just used to games where the difficulty progressively gets harder and harder as you go along and your character becomes stronger and stronger, but I certainly didn’t expect the lopsidedness of GTA IV. For example, the arguably toughest mission you have all game is pretty early on when you have to retrieve a bag of cocaine from a gang holed up in an abandoned building. The gang is easy to dispatch, but as soon as you touch that bag your wanted level shoots up two stars and the place is crawling with feds. Not too hard until you’re left with no choice but to kill a few cops to escape, raising your wanted level to three stars. Now you’re running for your life from a swarm of cop cars and a relentless helicopter. At that point in the game, the highest wanted level I ever had was two stars and I promptly died on my first three attempts at the mission having no idea how to escape. That’s a bit brutal for only 20% through the game.

Then, you don’t get another difficult mission like that until much later in the game when you rob a bank, and even then the game seems to hold your hand through it making it much more manageable. How can a game from the geniuses at Rockstar (and I truly mean that, I respect them immensely) be so unbalanced in difficulty? Is it so hard to make a game where you actually progress as a player? Apparently it is, because the story itself seemed disjointed and completely out of touch with itself as it wound down. What started as a simple story of the “American Dream” and revenge lost focus about halfway through the game. Eventually, your character, Niko, seems to care less and less about revenge and more about making money. Even though it’s assumed the money is a means to an end, Niko doesn't explain that much himself and I was left wondering if he even knew what drove him to commit these in-game atrocities. Then, out of nowhere it seems, Niko gets his revenge, and the game takes a big turn. I won’t spoil the game for anyone out there who still hasn't played it, but the plot becomes about love, then getting out of the game, then revenge again, all in the matter of an hour. It’s like the writers went tripolar (I know that’s not a thing) and couldn't decide how to end the game so they threw darts at a board and then took everything the darts hit. It was a very unfulfilling and confusing end.

Still, I think the element of the game that caused the story to flounder most was character design. Not their physical make-up of course but their personalities. At first I really liked Niko because of his ambition and ability to give zero fucks, but that eventually became stale and his supporting cast of characters didn't lend anything to the story except fodder for Niko’s passive-aggressive insults and segues into missions. I felt no personal attachment to any of the characters in the game, and therefore really didn't care much about their fates. This is usually a bad thing in story-driven game, but more so in a game involves motives like revenge. Honestly, if the game ended with Niko dying for good, I wouldn't have batted an eyelash (actually, that may have been a better ending, but what do I know).

Overwhelming Feeling =  Apathy

Now those are the two main gripes I have with the game, but there are other issues I’d like to mention, just to air out the dirty laundry. The law enforcement AI was spotty: at most points in the game firing a few bullets into a bystander would warrant a single star, but start shooting up a gang at an abandoned building and the cops would be swarming the place with a two star wanted level. Other times, I could run over a cop and get only one star but be absolutely punished with two stars if I dropped one harmless grenade in an empty street in the middle of the night. I honestly still have trouble identifying what crimes garner which wanted levels, and I played the game for 40+ hours. Lastly, driving in GTA IV was a nightmare, especially motorcycles. After hitting what seemed like an infinite amount of invisible bumps that spilled me and my bike to the concrete, I became so enraged that I quickly gave up bikes (except when forced to ride them in those awful chase missions). From then on I went out of my way to ram my vehicle into anyone else riding a motorcycle just for spite.

Phew, now that we got that out of the way, it’s time for what this all means to me. Honestly, it means a lot but also a little. This experience has taught me that series, no matter how great at their apex, can stutter, can become stale, and can also change over the years without changing at all (I know this could just as easily mean that I have changed as a gamer more than the game since it honestly hasn't changed at all since I played it in 2009, but it just feels the other way around). However, it also means very little in my feelings towards Rockstar and the release of GTA V. Sure my expectations are tapered a bit, but won’t stop me from picking it up on day one because every game deserves a fair shake, regardless of the games before it. I think the most important lesson I got out of this experience was that games, people, and tastes change. If I had played GTA IV four years ago and written about it then, I would have been hard pressed to find things that were wrong with it. Then again, I was also a pretty happy-go-lucky dude about to graduate college with not a care in the world but what bar to drink at each night. Four years is a hell of a long time, and twelve years feels like a lifetime; in that span of time I like to think that my eye for games and what makes them great has become more critical, based more on the game itself than my personal feelings. Because of this, I now see games more for what they are, not for what I want them to be. Will this take some of the “sexiness” out of playing a game as touted as GTA V? I guess we’ll find out sometime on September 17th.

Friday, September 13, 2013

Deriving Pleasure: Impressions of Saint's Row 4

Derivative is often considered a bad word in the entertainment business. It can mean stale and safe, and is frequently seen as a company simply milking a property for more money. But when it's done right, deriving means refinement, distillation and even evolution. Saints Row 4 is definitely derivative, but the designers at Volition knowingly play off of our expectations from previous Saints Row games to brilliant effect. And that's why I love this game.

But let's be mean for a second. This game feels like an expansion pack to Saints Row the 3rd. They're running on the same engine, and the shooting, driving, running, and gunning feel very familiar. We're even walking the same well-worn streets of Steelport, albeit with less exploration and a few minor graphical effects. Though given Volition's bumpy road lately, it's amazing this game even came out.

Saints Row 4 actually started as a standalone expansion to Saints Row the 3rd, titled "Enter the Dominatrix." Then, in late 2012/early 2013, their head company and publisher THQ went bankrupt and had to sell everything off in pieces. Somewhere between the slow decline of THQ and Volition's subsequent purchase by European publishers Deep Silver, Volition decided to tie their work on Dominatrix in with their early ideas for the 4th installment. So where do you go after the insanity of Saints Row the 3rd? What if we gave our beloved puckish rogues, the 3rd Street Saints, super powers that let them break the game, and made a lot of Matrix references? Throw in some aliens with crazy weapons to steal, and we're off to a good start. Also, you're the president of the United States now. Why not?

Although Keith David is the VP in the game, I chose The Chronicles
of Riddick
 to represent him because I'm a terrible person.

That's pretty much the setup for Saints Row 4. You save America from nuclear chaos, become the baddest leader since Mike Haggar, and everything's coming up Milhouse. Unfortunately, there's a problem. Ziniak, alien God King of the aptly named Zin Empire, arrives and abducts the best Earth has to offer and sticks them in a computer simulation. Mainly to torture them with their worst fears and mistakes, but also to let the developers go crazy and create interesting environments for us to play in and destroy.

Fortunately your time in this simulation is buttery smooth. One of the main reasons this game feels so good to play is because of its iterative nature. The gunplay and movement feel great, and you're crazy agile now. What once was a Ferrari-wrecking road block to be slammed into can now be nimbly jumped over or simply jogged through at super speeds. Or you can just chuck a huge fireball at it and blow everything up.

Should I go with a Sugar Ray lyric or a Lord of the Rings reference?

Speaking of which, you've got plenty of overpowered new toys to play with. The weapon designs in this game get pretty exotic. What better way to stick it to the man simulator than to overload it with chaos and explosions? You'll be causing plenty of both, whether in the side and loyalty missions or the bizarre main campaign. The side missions have much better variety than in the past, and though you've still got a few staples like "insurance fraud" and racing, there are quite a few new types and variations on the old, like platform jumping and super-powered fight club.

The loyalty missions, however, stood out to me. I haven't played the first game, but I could not care less about and/or actively hated most of my gang members in the 2nd and 3rd. Imagine my surprise when the loyalty missions flushed out the Saints Row lore and I actually found them compelling! Characters have some depth and motivation other than revenge and blood lust! I actually looked forward to freeing my companions and interacting with them in a Mass Effect-esque style on my ship.

Always bet dubstep!

And the references don’t stop at Mass Effect – there are a ton of fun game and pop culture references, from Mortal Kombat, to Double Dragon, to Starfox 64. But these aren't the "cool story bro" kind of references of Borderlands 2 (my other favorite derivative game of late); these are the well done, pretty damn humorous, nostalgic kind. Many of the best story moments come from referencing previous Saints Row games though, especially the mostly forgotten first and second installments. While the games all technically tie together, until now it was never really addressed. Each game started with a blank slate, a character creator screen, and a new empire to build, but Saints Row 4 wonderfully breaks that trend by adding continuity to the series.

And with that, the Saint's Row franchise has built its empire. What started out as a lowly GTA clone has come a long way into its own ridiculous identity, and it's been a hell of a ride. In moments when the action stops to take a quick breath, even the characters take a second to wonder at how weird things have gotten for a former small-time street gang. It doesn't seem like much for a series to remember its roots, but each game has built upon its predecessors and open world games in general, in some unique and entertaining ways. I mean, where else can you beat a man to death with a 5-foot purple dildo because he didn't like your best "has anyone in this family even seen a chicken" chicken dance?

Steve Miscik loves coffee, things that rhyme with orange, and single female lawyers [Ed: And giving his friends free Steam keys!].

Tuesday, September 10, 2013

Super Mario World 2: Yoshi's Island Review

I’m willing to bet that every gamer has a game like Super Mario World 2: Yoshi’s Island in their life; a game that they followed, obsessed over, and consumed every scrap of information about in anticipation of its release. I've actually had some of my older friends tell me that they did this with the original Super Mario World by absorbing anything Nintendo Power could throw at them about that game. I, however, was a bit young to be that obsessive about a game’s release when the first installment came out, but oh how time changes a person.

When Yoshi’s Island was announced, I was quickly consumed by this highly anticipated and brilliant looking game, so much so that I begged my parents for a subscription to Nintendo Power magazine just so I could read more about it. From that moment on most of my gaming purchases and interests hinged on the words of this magazine or that article or some website. Still, at the age of nine could you blame me for being charmed by this amazing game? The look and feel of the game is whimsical and the characters familiar enough to draw you in, and the gameplay is both challenging yet forgiving enough for gamers of any age.

It's so adorably whimsical, it's almost sickening.
I remember how excruciating it was that I couldn't buy the game immediately after its release. At the age of nine I still relied on birthday and holiday gifts to increase my gaming collection, but when I finally got my hands on it, I never let go until I had collected every red coin, every flower, and every star I could find for that 100% completion. Sadly, for a game I loved so much, I gave it an undeserving, unceremonious farewell when I sold it on eBay years ago along with most of my gaming collection. However, after a long separation and some reconciliation, I recently picked it up a copy through some deft CraigsList business. Then, through the power of the internet you, my readers, voted that this would be the next game for me to review. I was a bit disappointed I wouldn't be able to crack open my new copy of Dead Island, but that disappointment was almost instantly forgotten when I heard the Yoshi’s Island’s intro boot up and my heart was warmed like it was back in 1996. But would the game hold up well after all these years, or was it only the power of nostalgia from my younger years that was holding this game in high regards?

Before you can get into the gameplay, story, or anything else about the game, you first have to acknowledge its look and style. And just like I remember as Elementary-School Gamer, the game looks absolutely gorgeous. Forgive me, but I’m going to pull one of those “I’m not just anybody” moves, but this game warrants it – I've played a lot of games in my life, including plenty of games on the SNES, and I can say that none of them looks as brilliant as Yoshi’s Island does in my opinion. Even after playing some damn good looking games on modern consoles (Final Fantasy X and Borderlands 2 come to mind) I’m still in awe over the graphics of this 2D side scrolling platformer.

Even the menus look gorgeously hand-drawn by children.
What makes the graphics so special? It’s hard to pinpoint just one thing above all others, but for me the variety of level design is tops. In the same level you can be in the sun-soaked hills of the island, then spelunking in shimmering underground caverns, and end up finishing a level cloud-hopping. There is no cookie-cutter approach or blandness to these levels either. Even when you visit various caverns across worlds, you’re treated to different backgrounds, enemies, and environmental puzzles or hazards to challenge you. This ties into the gameplay, but it all begins with the creative design of the levels. You get the feeling that the game artists loved the work they did on this game and took pride in the final product. Hell, even the backgrounds feel alive, something that previous Mario titles tried to accomplish but to me never really pulled it off as well as Yoshi’s Island does.

I could go on and on about the beauty of this game, but then I’d lose you and forget that I have to review the game as a whole (for more on why I love the look of this game so much, check out my “Let’s Play” series on YouTube). Therefore, we’ll move on to the gameplay. If it’s one thing Nintendo knows how to do, it’s platformers (obvious statement if obvious), and Yoshi’s Island is no exception. Yoshi has the ability to jump and stomp on baddies just like his buddy Mario, but he also has a few other tricks up his sleeve. We all know that Yoshi can lay eggs, but in this game we’re introduced to Yoshi’s skill at using them as projectiles. Not all enemies are stompable or easily reachable, so in order to take them out you can have Yoshi take aim and save yourself the danger of close-quarters encounters. This is pulled off creatively by giving you a moving aim function once you activate the throwing function. You can aim the cursor using the directional pad if you have the time, and actually freeze the cursor in place to line up a perfect shot. However, if you need to fire off a shot quickly, you can always flex your hand-eye coordination skills by firing the egg while the aiming cursor is in motion. What becomes a simple way of safely dispatching enemies soon becomes an essential skill to master if you want to take on the games many bosses, but it never feels clunky or frustrating.

Nintendo also gave Yoshi the ability to perform a double-jump of sorts where he can exert himself and float in mid-air a bit longer to reach higher or further platforms in the game. This is rarely needed to actually complete stages, but mastering it can help you complete stages in an easier fashion. You can use it to avoid certain baddies and reach out-of-the-way areas if you’re a completionist like me and want to collect all those hidden flowers, stars, and red coins. Apart from the double-jump and egg firing, Yoshi can also use a ground pound. This isn't so much used to dispatch enemies as it is to interact with the environment’s multiple poundable obstacles. All of these moves combine to give you a unique and complex gaming experience unseen in previous Mario titles.

Seriously, even the bosses are cutesy in there own ways
Let’s talk soundtrack for a brief moment, shall we? After playing a few hours of Yoshi’s Island, I soon found myself humming and whistling along, even making up my own lyrics (something I do frequently to instrumentals). Graduated GamerGirl actually got annoyed with me once while playing because I wouldn't stop doing my own rendition of the end-stage tune. As far as soundtracks go, you’ll be hard-pressed to find one as catchy as this. It meshes well with the look and feel of the game, treating you to sounds that uplift and inspire you. Where previous Mario games would have some “gloomier” music for some levels like in the castles or underground, Yoshi’s Island always seems to feel upbeat and positive, even in those more dreary or dangerous places. It’s definitely made my list of best gaming soundtracks, worth a listen by any fan of video game music.

Lastly, the game itself is just so much fun to play as a whole. From the story of the twin baby brothers you’re trying to reunite, to the look and sound of the game, to the amazing variety in enemies and boss battles, this game has something for everyone. Don’t let the kiddy look fool you – this game is challenging no matter how old or experienced you are, but above all else it’s a blast to play. I was actually sad each time I ended a Let’s Play session because I could easily play this game for hours on end. The fun factor is off the charts, and the game isn’t without humor as well. Seeing as the game takes place in the past of the Mario Bros. timeline, you’ll be smiling at the nods to the “future” games and you’ll snicker when you first hear Yoshi exert himself during a double-jump. If you play this game and have a hard time enjoying it, you might want to check to see if you have a gamer soul – it’s that fantastic.

So there you have it – after nearly 10 years separating me from my first playthrough of the game, Super Mario World 2: Yoshi’s Island and all the joy it gave long ago hasn't aged a bit. I was reminded why this game garnered such praise and attention in the nineties, not just from me but from SNES owners the world around. If you love retro gaming and need a change of pace from brutally serious and/or difficult titles, you can’t go wrong with this game. I’m racking my brain and I can’t seem to find one thing wrong with this game…well, except for baby Mario’s crying, but that’s why remotes have a mute button. Thank you readers for voting this as my next game review. It’s been a truly wonderful experience. Now if you’ll excuse me, I have some red coins and flowers to find.

Wednesday, September 04, 2013

It's Not All About Nostalgia

If you’ve read a decent number of my posts, you’ll likely know that I grew up playing video games like Sonic the Hedgehog, Final Fantasy VII, and Super Mario 64. You’ll also know that I committed the cardinal sin of selling off almost all my consoles and games years ago and have recently begun rebuilding and expanding on that collection. This initially began as a way to rekindle some of those old feelings and good times with the games that shaped my childhood. I wanted to help ToeJam and Earl escape Earth, help Sonic defeat Dr. Robotnik, and rip One-Winged Sephiroth a new one like I did so many years ago. Nostalgia can be a powerful driving force, so much so that it can even shape the economy (just look at retro game prices these days). However, as I’ve continued this journey of game collecting, I’ve shifted my focus a bit from strictly games I’ve owned or played before to games I’ve never heard of or always wanted to play.

This shift wasn’t intentional – in fact, it was completely accidental and took me by surprise entirely because I didn’t realize what I was doing until I discovered my bank account had taken a hard hit (something I’m sure most gamers can relate to). While participating in a fun contest on Twitter in which you see how much you can buy with $30 on eBay* (not counting shipping), I realized that I was looking to buy obscure titles I’d never ever seen before. Most of them seemed to be late PS2 releases, and they were going for cheap despite their critical acclaim or cult following (according to my research). I just couldn’t help myself and ended up buying more of these unheard of games than classic retro titles – and how could I not with them going as cheap as 0.06 (~$2 including shipping)?!

[*You can check it out by searching for #ebayanonymous on Twitter.]

It wasn’t until I checked out and was waiting for the games to ship that I realized what I had done. My original intent of collecting was to relive my childhood wasn’t it? However, I came to realize that, while nostalgia is important, game collecting, particularly games from previous generations, is about so much more. Take the PS2, PS1, or N64 for instance. For me, those systems were from a time when I was either too young to have a job, or was “raking in” no more than $500/month from paper routes and working odd hours at Dairy Queen. Because of this, I had very little disposable income to spend on $50 games and relied heavily on birthday and Christmas gifts for adding to my collection (that or I would hope my dad would buy a title I wanted and I could just mooch off of him). As a result, I missed out on a lot of games that I would have loved to experience growing up. Eventually, I stopped reading gaming magazines because the pain of not being able to play all the games was too much.

Fast forward to today, and I believe I’m finally making amends for that younger, poorer time in my life. More modern games like Jet Set Radio Future, Final Fantasy XII, and Tomba! are making their way into my collection, as well as some older titles like Maniac Mansion, Ninja Gaiden, and Super Ghouls ‘N’ Ghosts. These titles have no real value of nostalgia for me like Final Fantasy IX or Earthbound, but they equally represent a time in my life when responsibilities were fewer and I was more relaxed, bills were paid by someone else, and the world was a simpler, kinder place (save for some schoolyard moments, but that’s life). Sure they may not rekindle a fire in my soul that longs for those bygone days, but they remind me how far I’ve come in life. Sure, not everything in one’s life improves over time (who wouldn’t love to have that summer freedom back just once?), but for me, building my game collection is now just as much about giving forgotten games of the past their fair shake as much as it is about travelling back in time.
Graduated Gamer understands that people collect games for so many reasons, which makes it a very personal and unique experience for everyone who partakes. Feel  free to share what drives you to increase and improve your collection in the comments.