We started right here, videogames and I. Seems like the proper place to begin the journey into blogging as well.
You see, the first videogame I ever remember seeing — in fact, one of the earliest experiences that I can remember with any sort of clarity — was this one: Final Fantasy. It was the first chapter of a love story. Maybe just the prologue, actually.
Let me paint you a picture. I’m four years old — maybe five. I’m sitting cross-legged at the edge of my brother’s bed while he and our older brother huddle around a tiny TV. Their mutual friend is perched next to me. The three older boys are taking turns giving orders and passing around a controller. Me — I’m just watching, enthralled. What we’re all so captivated by is this:
Something like it, anyway. I’m going to pop back into 2012 for a moment to say that when I sat down to grab this screenshot for the blog, the realization came to me that my memory isn’t quite as crisp as I thought. There’s a lot of embellishments, a lot of assumptions my brain has made in the two decades since. It may have overlaid bits of other memories on top of this one or merged it with stories I’ve heard or images I’ve seen. You know how memory works; I hope you’ll forgive the somewhat questionable historical accuracy.
I was certain I knew what the party looked like, until I tried to recreate it. There was a Black Mage for sure — I’ll get to that later. The Black Belt, too, I’m confident in that. Both my brothers and their friend were in karate classes and I remember them usually taking the Black Belt on their adventures. The Fighter is a given — I mean, who plays Final Fantasy without a Fighter, right? So it’s just the Red Mage. Again I recall my brothers being fond of this guy, but…
On this particular occasion, in retrospect, it may have been a White Mage. Ah, memory. I suppose we’ll never know.
Why do I remember this moment at all, though? This likely isn’t the first time I’ve seen a videogame. It’s certainly not the first time my brothers have played one; we had an Atari 5200 before this Nintendo. I’m sure I must have seen them playing that old rig when I was even younger. If it’s this picture alone that I can still pluck out of an ocean of faded childhood memories, I think it’s for a singular reason: this was the first time a videogame frightened me. Those are the experiences — the sinister imagery of Doom or the crushing, dark loneliness of Stonekeep — that I just couldn’t forget even if I may have wanted to. And, as a little kid, I often wanted to.
In the case of Final Fantasy, there was this je ne sais quoi about the whole experience. I hesitate to call it atmosphere because I think a lot of it was unintentional. There’s something inherently unsettling about the NES; don’t ask me what, but I’ve never felt it from any other console I’ve played. On top of that, those oppressive black backgrounds during battle sequences (another limitation of the system), or the enemy designs, like monsters straight out of my child’s mind. And the music. I’m sure you remember it, if you ever played the game. You can probably even hum the first few notes of the battle theme. To me, it sounded like the soundtrack to a nightmare.
But the most frightening of all? — our dear, adorable Black Mage. It’s funny what scares you as a child. It’s funny going back and trying to make sense of why it scared you. You might offer up the idea that all fear stems from the unknown, and in this case, I’d say that explanation fits like a glove. That dark, robed figure in the bottom corner — he seemed almost outcast down there. His face all shrouded in shadow, only a pair of yellow eyes glowing under the brim of his hat. Who was this guy? What was he? He was the most frightening thing on the screen, and he was on our side!
So our relationship started with fear and turned into love. Not just my love for Final Fantasy, but my love for games in general. Fear becomes love. I wonder if that’s some commentary on the human experience.
I’d better leave that to the philosophers.