Blaugust Day 5: Games as experiences

#Blaugust
Header courtesy of Belghast of Aggronaut.com.

I heard of a little thing called Blaugust, and I just had to participate considering so many great gaming bloggers seem to be taking part, and I’ve been able to discover a few new blogs through just reading up on it today! But, since it’s already Day 5 and I’ve missed a few days, I will be catching up with a few different topics today, to make up for my laziness over the weekend. My chosen topic is “Games as experiences”, which is something I feel very strongly about. Let’s get started, shall we?

My earliest gaming experience

Blaugust Day 5: My earliest gaming experience in Sonic the Hedgehog for the Sega Mega Drive/Sega Genesis.

I very barely remember my dad bringing home my Nintendo, but something I do remember is the feeling of excitement. I still get that same feeling every time I think back to my NES. My first video game was Duck Hunt, with the light-gun and everything! I was only about five, and I played every single day. I also played a lot of Super Mario and Top Gun. But, while that was my first foray into the gaming world, my earliest gaming experience (which is different!) is sitting on my bed, room still in darkness as it was the middle of winter and the sun hadn’t come up yet, early one morning before school. I couldn’t have been older than seven or eight. I was playing Sonic The Hedgehog.

I had the weirdest separation anxiety as a child, and I hated going to school more than almost anything. Playing Sonic every morning for half an hour before school (read: before my mother caught me and told me to hurry up and get dressed) made me feel better. It made me feel like, no matter what, these characters I’d become attached to would be there waiting for me when I got home. And somehow, that made everything okay.

The first time a game made me really “feel”

Blaugust Day 5: The first game to make me feel was probably Mass Effect 3.

I’m a very emotional person. Anyone who knows me knows that I’m quite sensitive, quick to tear up, and I become very emotionally invested in fandom. Not quite to the extent that some people do, but I was very attached to my shows and the characters within, and have always enjoyed crying at a sad or happy part in a movie or show. Games generally didn’t affect me in this way, until quite recently.

I’d read about BioWare wanting to make games like Mass Effect make people really “feel” something. I was barely impacted by this initially, even up until the end of the second game, but for some reason Mass Effect 3 ruined me emotionally! Without spoiling anything specifically for those of you who haven’t played, one character was at risk and I managed to save him. Even though I saved him, seeing him running towards the ship, safe and alive, made me burst into ugly tears. I proceeded to cry about four times in the next hour during that game. It may have had its problems, and its ending may have needed some work, but the story was told well and the attachment I’d built to the characters over the trilogy really made some of the things that happened just plain hurt.

I also still remember bawling my eyes out at a recent game, Gone Home. The game took me completely by surprise, and I remember being a total mess when I completed it one rainy Sunday afternoon. Check out my full review of Gone Home, but be warned there are spoilers aplenty!

My favourite offline gaming memory

By “offline” here I mean in-person, off the computer. I’d say most of us have some experiences of the gaming world offline in this sense, and for me this came in the form of a LAN gaming centre. The centre I used to attend as a teenager and later worked in, GAME THE WORLD, had so many different memories and experiences that it’s hard to pick just one. It is, by itself, one of my favourite memories. I met so many people there, including my fiancé, and it had a massive impact on my social life as a teenager. Instead of underage drinking and experimenting with drugs on the beach with people I went to school with, I was hanging out with gamers at a gaming centre, playing games and having fun.

My favourite offline gaming memory, if I had to choose one, was our Halloween party at one of the centres. This was now coming up on seven or eight years ago now, which is shocking! But we all came, dressed in silly outfits, and played games all night together. We played both online and offline games and pranked people who had fallen asleep. I remember stumbling back into my fiancé’s house at ridiculous-o’clock in the morning, mind still buzzing with memories of the dude who dressed as a school girl, make-up and all, and the teddybear who’d had a mob boss hold a toy gun to his head at 4:00am, and falling asleep in a heap on the floor. I still miss those gaming centres, and the people I met there.

Interested in taking part in Blaugust?

Check out the Nook on Anook, or Belghast’s post on the Gospel of Blaugust and get started! You don’t have to write a gaming blog, and your posts don’t have to be about gaming to participate. So come along and join the fun!

Game Review: Gone Home

Spoiler Alert!
Please read with care if you haven’t already played Gone Home.

Game Review: Gone Home, an interactive story adventure game by the Fullbright Company.

I picked up this gem during the Autumn Steam Sale as several coworkers had recommended it to me. Since it was 75% off, I figured why not? I decided to play it last Sunday evening, over some delicious warm food and a cup of tea. I can honestly say that was the best choice I made.

Gone Home is strangely soothing and familiar. The story is told beautifully, and despite the fact that I was constantly squealing, “Aliens!” as I found clues (seriously, The X-Files was circled in the TV guide, and there was an “I want to believe” poster in my sister’s bedroom…) I was genuinely surprised. The game was not at all like I expected. It was suitably creepy, but in a way that made the entire story feel more real. Gone Home is a first-person story adventure, and you play the part of Katie, returning home after a trip to Europe. Your family, however, are gone. You try to find out what might have happened to them, and as you move through the house, you find clues that trigger journal entries by your sister, Sam. Her voice plays as she reads the journal to you, as though she’s left a note just for you.

The game builds in intensity, and you come to learn that your sister had fallen in love with her best friend, Lonnie. The story then becomes about your sister’s self-discovery, as she comes to learn more about her sexuality. The discovery is lovely to witness, and difficult as well, as you learn more and more about their developing relationship and the prejudices they face. My chest hurt when I learned that Lonnie was going to be deployed, leaving Sam behind.

Game Review: Gone Home - my heart started to pound as I climbed the stairs into the attic.

The game finally reached a crescendo; the metaphor of you climbing to the top of the house, up the stairs into the attic to the finale was not lost on me. I remember feeling my heart start to beat faster, and a lump forming in my throat. I didn’t know what I expected to find in the attic now that I finally had the key. When I read the final note from Sam, I fought back tears, and then I looked around the attic and saw the beautiful photos of her and Lonnie: their hands interlocked, the heart-shaped locket she saved up for dangling between their laced fingers; the chest pocket of Lonnie’s military uniform… The ending credits played and I burst into tears. My chest hurt, but it was cathartic. I tried really hard to hold back, but when my fiancé turned to me to ask what was wrong I smiled and the tears flowed freely.

It was only two hours of gameplay, but it was one of the most beautifully written stories, and I felt like I was truly a part of it. The game is a work of art, and it hurts that it’s over. I recommend it to anyone who wants to be emotionally involved in a game. I’d even recommend it to my mum, and she doesn’t play games! Hell, I’d even give you your money back if you didn’t enjoy it. Thank you to the Fullbright Company for letting me experience this masterpiece.