When I was very small, maybe three or four years old, my dad and I would play this board game called Uncle Wiggily. I can vaguely remember the beat up, yellow box with a picture of a rabbit dressed in fancy clothes. It was a simple game; you drew cards to move your plastic piece around the board and whoever got to the end first was the winner. I loved playing it; I felt like I was part of a story, filled with colourful characters, in a really wonderful setting.
Games have always been a part of my life. We’d play board games as a family every once and a while but there was also the Intellivision. I remember my mom was always the Burger Time champion. For myself, I loved Bump ‘n’ Jump. I loved driving around and jumping over the other cars and bumping them into one another. I would imagine being on an urgent mission and needing to get to the finish as fast as I could. A few years ago when I was back home, we went into the basement to try to find all the old Intellivision games. We hooked up the system and low and behold it still worked though it seems the Bump ‘n’ Jump cartridge was lost at some point.
Then there was the historic Christmas when my brothers got their NES. I would sit and watch them play Zelda for hours. They would painstakingly create detailed maps of the levels on graph paper.
A few years later, I got my SNES. My memories of playing games with my mom and brothers is so palpable. I almost feel like I’m back in my childhood bedroom on a rainy afternoon, sitting on the edge of my bed, playing Super Mario Bros. One game my middle brother and I particularly got into was Donkey Kong Country. We spent hours trying to get perfect scores on all of the levels. Finding hidden rooms and areas was much more challenging pre-internet and that excitement of discovering something was so satisfying.
While doing my undergrad, a group of friends introduced me to World of Warcraft. I had never experienced an MMO-RPG before and while it was a steep learning curve, I was completely hooked in no time at all. My Tauren hunter and I would roam around Azeroth with her trusty wolf, Comanchero, in tow. We went on countless quests together, fighting kobolds and murlocs. When I quit playing for a stint of seven years, I would feel a pang of guilt every so often about the fact that I had left her on the side of a road somewhere in Ashenvale. I would imagine that she and Comanchero were waiting patiently for me to come back, which I did.
Three years ago, while at Durham, I discovered Tabletop with Wil Wheaton. I hadn’t played a board game in a really long time and seeing how they have changed since I last rolled dice was really exciting. I watched and re-watched episodes, picking out games I would like to play. When I got back to the US, I bought Ticket to Ride. My parents and I gathered around a table and for the first time since I was ten, we played a board game. My dad has since bought many of the expansion packs and whenever I’m home we all play.
When I think about who I am today, playing games is such a huge part of my identity but it’s one I probably haven’t consciously acknowledged. It’s like having green eyes, it is so ingrained in who I am that I really haven’t thought about it as a separate part of my being. Most days, after I finish my work, I log in to my Blizzard account and play some rounds of Overwatch. On weekends, I try to visit Azeroth where I’ve repaired my relationship with my Tauren hunter and have created a Worgen druid who I love to play with. My board game collection continues to grow (honestly I just added two more games this past week). Jeremy and I will have board game nights on our own and recently, we’ve been getting together with friends for regular large board game nights. We even all got together this past week and did our first Escape Room.
So what is it about games?
For me, it all goes back to those first games of Uncle Wiggily with my dad; imagining that I was part of a story, part of a world with interesting characters. It was like reading a book but even better because I got to be a character in it. I felt the same way playing video games. As I played my SNES, I would make up stories as I played Super Mario Bros. and Donkey Kong. I’d imagine being one of the characters, not just playing the character. When I was introduced to World of Warcraft, it was like a dream come true because here was an open world where I could literally create a story for my hero. I got to make decisions about what I wanted to do and got to run around this beautiful immersive world.
It is still that element of immersive, imaginative storytelling that compels me to keep gaming. And while it is really satisfying when I win, I actually much prefer the experience of sitting down with friends, or on my own to create a story. Whether that story is about building railroads across America or sneaking contraband past the Sheriff of Nottingham; finding Donkey Kong’s stash of bananas or rescuing Princess Peach from Bowser; saving Azeroth from the Burning Legion or just escorting the payload past the agents of Talon; gaming gives me the chance to be someone else for a brief time and to experience worlds I might never have seen without a D6 or a SNES controller.