I’ve been gaming for 27 1/2 years. That’s kind of insane. I’ve been passionate about gaming for longer than anything else I’ve worked at by a mountainous margin.
Since I was three years old I’ve play Mario and Sonic, Doom and Quake, Wolfenstein and Metal Gear Solid, Oregon Trail, Yukon Trail, Number Munchers, the pinball game on Windows 95… my first online muliplayer experience was Counter-Strike 1.6. My first MMO was City of Heroes. I recall getting frustrated at Sigma in Mega Man X4 and blasting the brains of zombies in Resident Evil 2. Remember when PlayStation games had multiple discs for big games? Parasite Eve does.
I have a great memory of my dad and I playing four games, all fighters: Mortal Kombat 3 on Sega Genesis, Killer Instinct 2 in the arcades, Bloody Roar on PlayStation, and Dead or Alive 2. We still quote a lot of the lines from DoA – I would play Leon and he would play Kasumi, and we would play for long stretches of time where we were pretty even. MK3 wasn’t even ours – we rented the Sega and MK3 from the Ben Franklin’s (a sort of Hobby Lobby chain) down the road. I kind of never returned it because I played it so much, and we were so late on bringing it back that we just ended up buying it.
I even played Chex Quest, that game that came with the cereal Chex.
All good memories, but there is one that stands out specifically, one day in particular because something horrible happened. A scar upon my psyche that is also a catalyst that propelled my life in a direction towards gaming, and eventually, esports. In retrospective, it’s a good example of the butterfly effect.
In short, I was tricked by my two older sisters.
December. Winter, 1988, Green Bay, Wisconsin. Snow gently and slowly consumes the ground, covering up the old, dirty snow to create a fresh blanket that will, inevitably, turn ugly again. On a relativity busy street there sits a typical 80s ranch duplex – it’s the carpet you’re thinking of, the couches you remember. My mom had brought over a Nintendo Entertainment System as a gift from her side of the family (mom and dad had split I think at that point). My sisters and I, Heidi and Cindy, thought it was the coolest present and set it up post-haste.
The system came with Duck Hunt and Super Mario Bros. The oldest sister, Heidi, put in SMB and hit the power button. The NES was new, so no old-school tricks were needed to get the game working. We punched the buttons on the old CRT, you know the ones like you were launching a space rocket?
To turn the power on – *kaCHUNK*
To find the right channel, you needed leverage to get the thing moving, and if you went to far, you might as well just keep going all the way around.*CLICK. CLICK. CLICKCLICKKCLICK*
Heidi hit start on 1-player. World 1-1 planted itself on the CRT. The iconic theme song preceded the grand entrance of Mario and the Goomba.
“We get two lives. You get one, Darin. And you go last.”
Whatever, look at that cool stuff on the screen, the music, the majesty of 8-bit, just PLAY THE GAME. We sat as a trio, the oldest on the far left, me on the far left, and the middle sister, Cindy, in between, I sat cross legged, studying.
Heidi falls once, then twice. She doesn’t make it to the end. Cindy grabs the controller, and does a little better. But she also fails.
It’s my turn. One life. I saw the tricks. I saw them do it. I watched their moves. Where they perished. The jumps, the warp tube on World 1-1 to get some extra coins, the fire flower HOLY CRAP HE THROWS FIREBALLS NOW?!
I move from a cross-legged position to sitting upright on my knees. I lean forward, ready. I take a breath. I start.
I slaughter the Goomba. I miss the mushroom. I get to the first jump. It’s an easy task – just jump over the hole while having a slight run.
“Darin,” one of the sisters say. “If you jump down that hole, you get an extra life.”
Oh, I didn’t know that. I only have one life since they said so, so I guess I’ll just—
Mario bounces up on the screen as if to look at me before he vanishes. “Why, Darin? Why did you make me jump down the hole?”
Determination is born as they swipe the controller from me.
Determination to be… good at games? I don’t know. I was hooked, though. The flashiness, the sounds, the exhilaration of the gameplay. In the end, it didn’t matter I only got one life because it kickstarted another.
While it’s probably a little dramatized, this is my earliest memory. My sisters remember it, too. So it’s there – the birth of my passion for gaming. Without this experience, I may not have taken a path into esports years and years later.
We played more as time went on – Tetris, the NES Ninja Turtles game, complete with that dam level and the underwater electric seaweed. My grandma taught me all the tricks of Super Mario Bros. 3 – we bonded over that.
Side note – Cindy, Heidi and my dad played the new Killer Instinct on Xbox One back in late February. I had played it prior, but we all got our butts kicked by Cindy (we all had combo assist one and she still beat us all).
In the end, that memory.. I guess that’s my my origin story. Gaming is core to who I am, and some of my best memories with my family include gaming. And it started 27 1/2 years ago.