Early consoles might sound bleak. The images were barely coherent. Sometimes we couldn't tell what was happening at all, but with those ancient devices, we could fly. We could go to the moon, kill aliens, and swim through the ocean. Unlike real television, which had to be watched, we could actually control what was happening on screen. It might be hard for some people to understand now, but there was real excitement there. Sometimes we'd feel like we were running with Mario or slashing our sword like Link. We'd get scared when our characters were in peril, and we'd jump up for joy when we finally won.
To us, it was a reason for living. But there was a lot of prejudice against electronics at the time. Parents would give their kids ten, maybe fifteen minutes a day then shove them outside until dinner was ready. It had many of us stuck in a state of perpetual desperation. We always wanted more. That was me.
I am unashamed to say that I could think of nothing else. So when I woke up one morning and found a Nintendo 64 sitting on the entertainment center, I nearly had a heart attack. I could look up at the sun, run through the grass, and roll around. I felt like I had been blind my entire life and someone had healed me. You could not separate me from that device if you tried.
Over time the culture around gaming started to gain a reputation. I saw it coming. My whole life I watched little sociopaths spend their afternoons enacting digital killing sprees. It was day after day, the same buttons over and over. It was only a matter of time before they got bored and learned how to hurt people in real life. That was when we started hearing words like 'swatting' and 'gamergate.' Anyone who didn't fit into a small-minded, bigoted worldview was targeted. It didn't surprise me one bit. I knew these types. I knew how they thought, and I knew how they saw the world. I also knew the type of games they liked to play.
I had been avoiding them like the plague for years, and it was a shame. I was a huge fan of science fiction and horror. I loved everything to do with aliens and zombies. But every time I thought about picking up a digital gun, I thought of those guys bullying everyone they saw, and I just couldn't enjoy myself. I missed out on a lot of amazing titles that way. I didn't try Fallout until years after the third installment was released. I never played Halo. I never touched Call of Duty, and I still don't like to play online. I didn't even stay current on new titles. To me, gaming existed in a bubble. I turned the console on, went through the motions, and went to bed. It was more habit than recreation.
It sounds drastic now, but I wasn't hiding under the covers. Nobody scared me, and I wasn't some weirdo that didn't want to show his face to the world. It was simply common knowledge that certain spaces weren't safe. So like many people, I stayed away. That was just the way things were.
The Last of Us
Those days are long gone now. Games no longer have the same effect after a certain age, and adulthood has a way of eclipsing your free time. But I still look back and wonder what it would've been like if I had expanded my horizons and kept going. Maybe I could still feel the way I felt when I was a kid. Maybe I just needed something fresh, something I could sink my teeth into. It was my own fault that I deprived myself. I could've played anything offline. But I didn't. I gave up. That's why I rolled my eyes when I heard that HBOMax was releasing an adaptation of 'The Last of Us.' I had heard of the title. I knew the genre, and that was enough for me.
I thought it was more of the same. What I didn't realize is that the creators of the game saw the toxicity, and just like me, they weren't having it. They also knew that LGBTQ+ members of the community were at the top of the target list, and their response was to turn Ellie, their main character into a bonafide lesbian. Her coming out story was central to the plot. I could've seen that. I could've been one of the first to cheer, and I regret that I wasn't. But what I regret most is not being allowed to see the collective reaction to Bill and Frank's story. It wasn't beautiful. It wasn't the shallow image that many fans prefer. It was about real people in love, and that matters.