Guest Blog by Alan G @GretzkiAL
Well the time is nearly upon us again and I have to admit it I feel a little more prepared for it this year. Yes folks that's right the Christmas holidays are nearly here and if you're anything like me, you are hoping that one of many video game titles out at the moment will be joining you at same stage over the festive period. In doing so, we must make the most of the purchases that love ones/dodgy looking gaming Santa’s from a UK chain of video game shops have gifted to us - and for some of us the origin of this yearly influence of tradition is set somewhere in the last century. However before thinking this narrative is about the number of Christmas consoles I received on a yearly basis it is not, as this constantly eluded me up until only last year, so this is more of a personal muse into my gaming existence.
The saga begins for me way back in the late 80s where I was lucky enough to have my first foray into the computer game world via a used Amstrad 6128, with a colour monitor, that my Dad bought for the family. Back at that time the computer world was very specialist in my opinion and I had only ever seen a small number of these personal computers in reality as they were more often confined to the adult world, rather than open to the tiny hands of the next generation. The thought of being given anything remotely computer based felt extremely alien back then to me especially against the competitive pull of the original instalment of Turtle Power - unlike today where the possibilities of computerised devices are more affordable and more available that ever.
Back in this golden era, there were no megastores or second-hand shops which coveted dozens of titles or a bunch of retro classics and there was no global community where we could discuss and share ideas through the myriad of social media. Fortunately though, at the time most games in my Amstrad collection were just about pocket money budget (at least on tape) purchased from a newsagents or a department store and the very idea of being able to have some on disk (at a slightly inflated price) was an absolute pipe dream.
The actual idea of being a gamer didn't really hit me until I noticed being interested in the "next gen" offerings at the time which was the beginning of a large brand war between two Japanese companies; a brand war much bigger than Amstrad, Commodore and Spectrum at the time and included the latest home entertainment systems - the ultimate Christmas present.
In one corner was Nintendo, dining out on the instant cult success of the mighty NES which had been released in Japan during the early 80s along with some its somewhat average triumphs in the arcade coin-op division. And in the other corner was Sega, a fellow Japanese company who like Nintendo had a few titles ported to the personal computer systems of the time, had no real console success so far and had a better range of encouraging successes at the arcade level. Suffice to say it was a time where brand choices had to be made by the younger generation, for example you were either Pepsi or Coca-Cola; Jason or Kylie; Ford or Vauxhall - or if you were proper lucky (lucky, lucky, lucky…!!) you upgraded your somewhat basic computer to something more mighty like the Amiga. I knew my path had a parental budget so a console fitted this criteria perfectly.
However, a choice had to be made… Was I going to choose the zippy little Mario machine that had cornered the market or go for broke with the Masterfully Systematic new upstart, which was technically superior. In my opinion it was never (and has never been) an issue for friends/fellow gamers to follow a different brand to you as it was the shared experience that mattered, and the fact that you were fortunate enough to have one at all – that was the most important thing.
When I had chosen after little realisation at how ground breaking and life changing it would turn out to be, the opportunity to go round friends after school and at weekends meant that within a close group of mates my exposure to the different systems became as good as having both bits of kit - without the massive outlay. And Christmas was the time that everyone hoped their own console would arrive and their gaming reality could begin.
My own path finally developed in 1991 and I followed the upstart company Sega with a used Master System I (a cheaper alternative to the more powerful Mega Drive or recently released Master System II at the time) and resulted in many hours being wisely spent on such 8-bit classics as Castle Of Illusion, Strider, California Games, Wonderboy, Out Run, Spy Vs. Spy, Hang-On and Safari Hunt (the latter of course with the brilliant light phaser)
And although in these early days Christmas never really seemed to bring many titles that I could add to my growing collection (mainly due to the fact that like today games were a little on the expensive side), I still lived in hope that one day this could become a reality.
It would be a barren (but still enjoyable) few years until I was happily able to add to my Sega hardware collection with a brand new Game Gear in the Autumn of 1993 – which is still in my possession today. This, I hoped, would finally mean the beginning of a tradition that would long continue – and fortunately for me has been one of few constants over the past twenty two years: the Christmas video game.
My first ever festive titles in this long awaited feat were “The Lucky Dime Caper featuring Donald Duck” and “Talespin” as a double pack, along with FIFA International Soccer all for the Game Gear. I was so pleased and it did feel that my life would be changed forever, and even when unwrapping a new game now, it makes me feel exactly the same as I did then… Proud and privileged.
At Christmas, the opportunity to go round to friends and see their own additions to their respective collections meant a new found favourite in the rival SNES with Street Fighter II and Mario Kart,, the arcade feeling like it had been brought into your home through the Capcom fighter. Playing on Super Bomberman, Aladdin, and the 16-bit edition of FIFA and Madden football all made me hope and dream of one day being able to enjoy such delights.
As luck would have it I would be able to gleefully complete the Sega hardware set in 1995 with a Mega Drive II (which like the 8-bit colour handheld above I still have today) and again although it wasn’t in the form of a Christmas gift, I spent many a festive day finally trying to beat all of the teams on NBA Jam, slay the monstrous Mr. X on Streets of Rage and destroy the devilishly difficult Dr. Robotnik. As time progressed, over the next few years at Christmas the widening selection of second-hand outlets coupled with natural adolescent evolution (the upgrade of presents to money!!) all contributed to the ease of buying new titles, with no less interest, hope or excitement.
I felt that my gaming life was somewhat complete on the console front, but not having played on a computer in my house since the classic Amstrad my aging teenage years and a new perspective on gaming meant a transition to a modern Intel powered PC - after being disappointed with an old 386, running Windows 3.1. I would upgrade in late 1998 and the upcoming Christmas and January sales meant such festive titles as Doom; Tomb Raider; Championship Manager; various other sporting games (the latest FIFA, Madden, NHL and NBA Live); Star Wars Dark Forces, Grand Theft Auto and Duke Nukem all needed a home, and I was happy to oblige – some through gifting and others through pure bargain hunting.
Although consistently a late bloomer over the years to the latest console being owned, I switched back to the console market and paid for my own brand new current-gen console with the Sony PlayStation in 2000 - not the continuation of my Sega dynasty with the Dreamcast, but thanks must go to a certain internet auction site that made me a very happy owner some years later. I felt that this was the only way to enter the gaming new Millennium, as my PC was beginning to age badly, and I was able to enjoy the wonders of Sony backed 32-bit technology including such classics as Tomorrow Never Dies & Medal Of Honour which still bizarrely remind me of gaming Christmases even now in the 21st Century.
To cement my newfound leap into relative overdrive regarding moving with the times, and my first delve into the job market, it was Christmas again the very next year when the search to find my first PS2 took until New Years Eve of 2001. Thankfully it ended in triumph as I was able to find the only console (albeit a returned item… I know, right? Returned!) available in the nearest city to me and meant the New Year was welcomed through the ground breaking introduction of Gran Turismo 3 and the wondrous thought of playing the impending Rockstar title, GTA 3, later in the year.
As I mentioned at the beginning of this journey through time it has only been very recently (2014) where I have finally been fortunate enough to open a console on Saviours Day, and my Xbox One was worth the difficult, and stress filled journey over the past two decades. A wait that for some will not be seen as a positive outcome, but it would be boring if were all were only ever interested in the same console!!
So that completes my gaming journey from the late 80s up to this point and has very rarely involved the sheer delight of unwrapping a shiny new/used console at Christmas. A shame you could say but I think this fact in itself really shows me how lucky we are to take part in such joy whenever it happens. However recent or backdated; or when it takes us back to our childhood memories (maybe to what might have been, or that we have finally found the console we always wanted) without my family forray into a somewhat yet to be discovered marketplace through that old Amstrad 6128 I may not have been able to appreciate the finer points of our being today. I believe that we have to work hard for what we want and my lack of Christmas consoles in my earlier years never stopped me from being interested or dreaming that I would take my small place in the gaming world..
I have often wondered what other path my life may have chosen growing up if not for video games, and then I realise that all of us (whether we have been lucky to have unwrapped our ultimate Christmas gaming wish or not) should still feel very lucky to be any part of this evolution, and to have had anything game related at this time of year. These experiences can shape our own values and can be hard to come by these days, and for me being involved in playing and owning video games not to mention treating fellow gamers with respect has helped me form my own outlook on life today.
As a final muse I want you to think back to those memories you may have, however far back or recent they are; however life changing or microscopic they may have been and think about those have not been as fortunate, for whatever reason, and share the positive feelings we have towards our favoured past time to continue the evolution of our community and include as many people as we can - whichever brand they may have the fortune to choose.
Merry Christmas and I hope you have a wonderful New Year.
Retro Game Reviews. Mega Drive, Super Nintendo, Sega Dreamcast and more
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