Gaming Memories: How They Saved My Life

An old friend of mine wrote a blog post recently entitled “The Importance of Escapism”, and in it he describes how gaming has helped him overcome the tragedy of his grandfather’s passing. He goes on to say that escaping to a virtual world is a form of therapy for the human psyche, much like movies, books, and TV shows. This to me is one half of the power of gaming, the other being memories.

Much as Youtube user TVandLust commented in his video “Context Matters: Evolution: The World of Sacred Device”, video games are relevant in our minds due to the environment in which they are played. And I don’t mean the physical location, more like the time in our lives and the events that surrounded them. For the gentleman above, the game Evolution is not in itself all that notable, but the fact that it helped him through a turbulent time in his teenage years makes it all the more special. I have a similar experience with several games of my own.

Final Fantasy X

This game is one of my favorites. Not just because the amazing gameplay or the gripping story, but because of the time when I played it. During 2002 & part of 2003, I was a recent newlywed facing marital troubles. My then wife and I were constantly fighting, we were living in her hometown in central Georgia that I despised, away from all friends and family, and I never felt more alone. Couple this with the fact that we lost our first child about 6 months into her pregnancy, I was probably in the worst mental shape I had ever been. This perpetual depression that I suffered from (2000-2004), finally lifted once I started dating my current girlfriend. But there was one thing in my life that did offer some respite: video games. During this time, I played Final Fantasy X. I immersed myself in the world of Spira, and as much as Tidus annoyed me, I shared in his plight of being thrusted into a foreign land against his will. And throughout the game he feels powerless: unable to go home, to save Yuna, or to defeat Sin. And that was exactly how I felt during those times: powerless and miserable. So Final Fantasy X, despite it being a blueprint for the fuckery that was to come (Exhibit A and B), it was and still is one of the most cherished games in my collection. Another reason why I preordered the PS3 remake on Amazon the instant it was available.

Final Fantasy XI

Fast forward to the later half of 2003, I was separated, had moved back to Houston to live with my parents again, and still despising my existence. Video games to the rescue again. This time it was Final Fantasy XI. At the time, I was stealing from working for Gamestop The Evil Empire, and all my coworkers and friends were playing this game to death. When we weren’t playing the game, we were at work talking about the game, or looking up strategies online and in the guide. Our coterie lived in Vana’Diel, we were the avatars we played as. For me, this carried well into the PS2 release of early 2004 up until that September when I started dating my girlfriend of now 8 years. While I could no longer devote the 60-70 hours/week to that game, it had served its purpose. The game was a bridge from the previous chapter of my life full of woes to the current one filled with happiness. Thus is why I still play the game (albeit much more casually) to this day.

Conclusion

My favorite movie quote is from The Punisher: “Good memories can save your life”. This has become my personal mantra, as I believe our memories are what make us what we are. If good and bad memories are pans of a scale, and all I had were the painful memories of my past outweighing the good, I honestly think I would’ve taken my own life by now. The good memories have saved my life, and gaming makes up a vast portion of them.

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XNA Community Games – Hell Yeah!!

When Microsoft announced it’s first version of it’s XNA game development engine, I was impressed. It ran well, and it allowed me to make some cool demos with C#. And the fact that it could run on Xbox 360 natively gave it a bit of a wow factor. But I wasn’t rooting for it 100%, due to the fact that in order to play your creation on Xbox 360, you had to have a 100 dollar a year subscription to the XNA Creators Club. Not only that, if you wanted to share your game to other Xbox players, they had to have the same subscription. So I ran through a few tutorials, made a couple demos, and shelved it.

Fast forward to about two months ago, Microsoft announced it’s sophomore version of XNA, this time opening the development platform to*any* .NET compliant language (let’s see, that’s C#, VB, JScript, Python, Cobol, Pascal, etc). Nice. And they allowed for multiplayer support via Xbox Live. Nice again, however now my friends have to have both a Creator’s Club $100 license *AND* a Xbox Live Gold account. Not impressed at all. So once again, fell on deaf ears.

Now, just a few days ago, Microsoft just announced it’s Community Games initiative. When the service goes out of beta (hopefully sometime this spring), a developer with a Creator’s Club license can publish a game for peer-review by other Creator’s Club members. If a peer reviews the game and passes it (no bugs or inappropriate/copyright infringing content), the developer can publish his own game on Xbox Live Arcade for *anyone* to download and play, for free or pay($$$). Anyone as in anyone who has an Xbox 360, an internet connection, and a pulse. No Creator’s Club license required. And did I mention, you can sell your game for money????? This is huge. Microsoft is changing its policy on game distribution from an iron fist to loose hands. It’s like every .NET developer will be handed an Xbox Live Arcade publishing contract (well for $100/yr, and a peer test). This is the day and age ladies and gentlemen. No longer do you have to either try to woo over a game publisher that usually doesn’t give a damn about you, your game or your well-being. Microsoft has opened the flood gates for developers everywhere to start profiting from their creations, without all the red tape of trying to get a contract, or trying to sell their game off their website. This is *HUGE*.

All I know is, I’m dusting off my XNA Unleashed book I bought a few months back. Several years back I was part of a group of people that shared my passion for video games, and we always dreamed of the idea of creating a compelling game, or an array of games actually, and achieving commercial success. Unfortunately due to the our naiveness (for the most part because we were so young), and the lack of a chance by the video game industry, we got discouraged after a few years, went our separate ways, and haven’t spoken of it since. But this….now, this is the chance that I wish we had back then. This is what is going to do to the game industry what Mp3/iTunes did for the music industry. .NET taught us that we can write compelling software w/o the woes of unmanaged languages like C++ (shudders at the thought of pointers), XNA taught us that a small group of 1-5 developers can make games that can rival the efforts of multi-million dollar software development houses, and now Xbox Live Arcade is going to teach us that anyone with a great idea, some code know how, and some modeling software and expertise, $100, and some serious fuckin passion can make a game and publish it to the world, and potentially sell millions.

So with that being said, I’ll be off to refresh my knowledge of XNA. I think I want to make an RPG. Sound good to you? Feel free to comment below.

P.S. In case you are interested in what XNA can do (on both PC and XB360), check out this video. And trust me, compared to the way games were made in the past, making games like this is incredibly easy.