Stardew Valley | The Game That (Re)Defines Me

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Audio

 

The Games That Define Us features carefully chosen music and remixes from the franchise of the game represented. Music is a key component of sharing the emotions one feels about a game, so we hope you will press the play button if you’re in a position to do so. 

introduction

We’ve been looking to the past with most of these pieces. Sure, we’ve looked at how these games connect to the present, but with the possible exception of wonderful pieces on modern games like Will’s DayZ rumination or Alyssa’s Sims 4 recollection, most of the pieces for this look to the past for insights on the present. As the sites transitions back to normal Normal Happenings (not a typo), I wanted to look at the one game in my library that I can use to look to the future. It’s a relatively recent game – one with personality, distinction, and insights on life.

It is the one, the only…


Game: Stardew Valley
System: Nintendo Switch
Release Date: February 6, 2016


1P Start

What would be the best use of my time?
It was a common refrain in the Valley, until one day something fascinating happened. I started asking myself this question in real life, and it changed everything.

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Irrepressible optimism. That’s not the kind of thing I’ve always had to the degree required to fuel my motivation for life. In fact, much of my brooding in the past reflected disenchantment and cynicism. Irrepressible optimism is a learned skill. I’m going to be quite honest, to live life in a consistently positive manner presents a huge number of challenges, especially in a world so seemingly unbalanced in favor of negativity.

What I mean is that the consequences of negative events seem to far outweigh the fleeting effects of sanguine happenings. If there is balance to be found, it is in the possibility that negative events happen far less frequently than positive ones, but it is difficult to convince a person experiencing a mountain of very costly, very adult situations of this notion.

It seems assured, then, that the world is indeed a negative place filled with suffering to some extent or another. And yet, despite appearances, I’m an irrepressible optimist. Seeking this buoyant type of life has lead to more fulfillment than I’ve ever experienced, but I require tools to maintain that optimism. I’ve tried my best to build around me a fortress of positivity — relationships, education, and media all conducive towards making a dark world a little brighter. 

There are plenty of games that resonate with me on an emotional level, from the classic adventures of puff-balling my way across Dreamland in Kirby’s Adventure to the modern cinematic characterization of Aloy in Horizon Zero Dawn. We see fingerprints like this all over this collaboration. There is not a single entry in this collection in which a person actively hated the game that defined them. That’s because sometimes a beautiful symbiosis occurs when you love a game — that title begins to integrate itself into your life as part of your identity.

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Stardew Valley is one of those engines for me. It’s no secret I absolutely adore the game, but it means so much more to me than an escapist romp through a farm town. The game has become an integral part of my experience as a human being.

Love in the Hard Times

I think one of the biggest reasons Stardew Valley is so important to me was completely out of the developer’s hands. Timing is everything, and the game landed on the Switch for me at just the right time. They say the first year of marriage is the hardest. However, traditionally this cliche evokes images of two people discovering how frustrating it is to live with each other constantly. Not so with us — Nikki and I had almost a decade of dating experience backing us up, so we were pretty well-prepared for what to expect.

No, what confronted us was far more insidious than simple situational adaptation. The Dark Cloud of mental illness cannot be defeated by swords and shields, and we both carried with us a storm of family, cultural, and religious trauma. I believe mental illness is the true final boss of life, and Stardew Valley arrived deep into our protracted conflict with the Dark Cloud.

As many others have expressed, video games provide an adequate refuge from dealing with the constant pressure of real life. Though in the past I worried that using video games as a form of escapism would lead to addiction, that never happened with me. Instead, I simply began to look forward to my short daily commutes into the Valley. Rain or shine, they awarded me an opportunity to alleviate the challenges of real life and offered a glimpse into a future free from this mess. When struggling in a mental capacity, there can be nothing healthier than a little escapism.

Every Day an Opportunity

In Stardew Valley, you’re offered a choice, even if you’re not making them on a conscious level. The halcyon days go by quickly in the Valley, simulating the perception of time as aging sets in if left uncontrolled. As in real life, there no way you can get everything you need to done in a day.

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It’s raining in the fall, so can go explore the mines without fear of losing my harvest. It’s sunny in the spring, so I should harvest some salmonberries! Snow has blanked the ground in winter, so I should try to find some artifacts for the museum.

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What would be the best use of my time?

It was a common refrain in the Valley, until one day something fascinating happened. I started asking myself this question in real life, and it changed everything. You’ve probably seen this blog transcend from periodic posts to routine (hopefully high-quality) content. It happened in other aspects of my life too, but I credit my time in Stardew Valley for this paradigm shift. I am hoping it can help me conquer my fitness goals heading into 2019.

The Future is Beautiful

While it may seem cursory due to existing as a video game, the choices you make in the Valley uniquely impact the future. Every decision made has a butterfly effect, impacting life in unforeseen ways.

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I used to be scared of the future, envisioning scenarios in which catastrophe could spirit us away from the life we’ve dreamed. I used to be terrified of death, but even that doesn’t cause incapacitating dread as it used to. I am here to make the most of my time — to live and love, and to try impact the present and the future for the better. I am, after all, an irrepressible optimist, and the future is full of beautiful choices. Let’s make it all it was meant to be.

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This is, umm, not a baby announcement. It’s just a good example of future choices.

If Sonic the Hedgehog 2 defined my childhood, Stardew Valley defines my adulthood. Sonic 2 is the game that defines me. Stardew Valley is the game that redefines me.

Future Collaborations

Many of you have been asking about future collaborations on Normal Happenings.

Going forward, I plan to facilitate four collaborations per year. Big, month-long, epic ones like this are hard (but very enjoyable) work, so I only plan to do two per year. One will be in the summer, the other in the winter. I already have an idea of what the winter collab next year will look like, but as of now summer is completely up in the air.

In the in-between, spring and fall, I will be putting on mini-collaborations, similarly formatted to Hyrule: See the Sights! Hear the Sounds! If you want an idea of what to expect, that’s currently your go-to publication. I call the collaborations “mini,” but they’ll consist of ten to twenty pieces, weaved together into a one-post grand experience.

I intend to revel the identity Spring 2019 collaboration on New Years Day — January 1, 2019. Past contributors will get first dibs, but I definitely intend to reserve at least four or five slots specifically for newcomers.

What Happens Next?

Next, I’m taking a break… just for about a week or so. I just want to unplug and normalize after posting for 35 days straight. Doing so will refuel my creativity in the long run. I’ve got a drafts folder full of great ideas for posts, as I haven’t been able to craft any “normal” pieces for quite some time.

I’ll still be on Twitter, albeit probably a bit less than I have been for the past two months. I’ve got a collection of Daily Inklings scheduled to post as well, so this place will still be plenty active. I intend to be back in action on Monday December 17 with an important update post on Dysontopia and the Normal Happenings Patreon, so stay tuned for that.

And on that hopeful note, we’ve reached the conclusion of the most epic thing I’ve ever had the pleasure of facilitating. I want to thank all of you by name:

Thank you Megan, Ian, GG, Kim, Jan, KT, Moses, Victor, Shauna, Heather, Alyssa, Luke, Justin, Chris, Pix1001, Will, Murr, The Gaming Diaries, Amanda, Alex, Ruubin, Khinjarsi, Matt, Kathy, Mr. Backlog, Michael, Ellen, Ryan, Zerathulu, Imtiaz, Teri Mae, Skylar-Mei, and my beautiful wife Nikki for making this all possible! You all have done more than I ever dreamed.

And of course, thank you, dear reader, for taking the time to read our thoughts. Always remember that you are awesome!

And The Credits Roll…


WordPress Reader viewers, please consider enjoying this post again on the site. While we designed with you in mind, you miss some of the nuances of the piece by not enjoying it in its original form.

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This collaboration took an overwhelming amount of time and dedication from 34 exceptionally creative, incredible makers! Help us with the resources to make more, even better, collaborations in the future! We also have aspirations of developing a podcast called Normal Talks about optimistically appreciating everyday life! Please consider becoming a patron of Normal Happenings and help us try to make the world a better, more positive place!
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Guild Wars 2 | The Game That Defines gamergal.exe

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Audio

The Games That Define Us features carefully chosen music and remixes from the franchise of the game represented. Music is a key component of sharing the emotions one feels about a game, so we hope you will press the play button if you’re in a position to do so. 

introduction

Just a brief summary if this is your first time here: This collaboration is a 34-day long adventure through video games. Each piece is its own unique audiovisual experience, complete with artwork, designs, music, and (most importantly) amazing works of prose by brilliant bloggers around the world. This adventure will take you through nostalgia, joy, ambition, self-discovery, regret, anxiety, frustration, mourning, and every human experience in between. Video games exist as fragments on the timeline of our lives, and each one of us have chosen the adventure we feel most defines us.

Welcome to the very last piece of The Games That Define Us
or so you think.
I’ll be saving all of my long-windedness for tomorrow because I don’t want to take away from this amazing piece!

Speaking of which, today we’re joined once more by an incredible blogger. You might not have heard of her, and if not you really need to follow her awesome blog. It’s Skylar-Mei from gamergal.exe (which is just an incredibly well-done pun)! A brief look at her blog shows that she is all about some Guild Wars 2, and so it’s logical she will be going into detail about her affection for the game in today’s piece.

After you finish here, be sure to check out her Guild Wars 2-themed 30-day challenge, as well as her wonderful answers to my Super Specific Questions!

Is this the final chapter of The Games That Define Us? It’s a secret to everybody.

– Matthew, Normal Happenings

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Skylar-Mei @ gamergal.exe

Twitter: @gamergalexe

For grand finales!

Game: Guild Wars 2
System: PC
Release Date: August 28, 2012

1P Start

Guild Wars 2 has gotten me to delve into many other games since that I never even thought I’d be interested in and for that alone I will always be grateful. It was also there for me at the time I needed an escape the most and provided well needed comfort when I was at my lowest.

After spending the last 5 years and almost 3,000 hours in the world of Tyria, Guild Wars 2 is probably the ‘Game That Defines Me’ the most. As well as the game impacting my real life self, it has also encouraged me to branch out and explore other titles in the gaming world. I would like to thank Matt at Normal Happenings for allowing me to join the project alongside all these incredible writers, and also to all the contributors for making me feel so welcome!

Backstory

Video games were never really a part of my life growing up. My parents weren’t interested in them, I was a lot younger than all my close family (with a younger brother myself) and no one in my friends group was that bothered either. In fact, I’d probably experienced the most out of anyone… and that was barely anything.

It wasn’t until I was halfway through college that I really got a feel for gaming. Here I met my boyfriend which was the turning point for my gaming experiences. He’s always had video games as part of his life growing up so his interest in the topic sparked my curiosity. A year later we left for Uni together and this is where Guild Wars 2 entered my life.

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Getting into the Game

I was first introduced to Guild Wars 2 in 2013. Although I’d dabbled a bit in the past year with my boyfriend’s guidance, gaming was still fairly new to me. I’d heard this game mentioned a few times over the past year, but I had no idea what to expect. My boyfriend ended up purchasing a copy of GW2 to play with his brother and after recommending the game to me, I was able to try out his Ranger. I instantly felt a connection within the first half an hour of playing which spurred me on to buying my own copy of the game.

At this point, I only had a laptop. Even though it had decent specs with a GeForce GTX720 graphics card, it didn’t run the game brilliantly. This didn’t stop me though. Looking back at the screenshots now makes the visuals seem pretty poor, but at the time I thought it was incredible.

The Journey Begins

The first character I created was Tani Sassafras, a Sylvari Mesmer, accompanying Lichen Deathcap (my boyfriend’s Necromancer) on adventures throughout Tyria. We started in The Grove and began exploring the neighbouring lands at a steady pace. Even though I was running the game on my laptop, I was amazed at how pretty the world looked (you’ll be able to tell the difference with my screenshots) and I was taken aback to how large Tyria actually was. I’d never seen a game this big before.

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Over the next few months, I made a few other characters but settled with my Human Necromancer, Alessa Demon, as my favourite alongside my boyfriend’s Guardian, Geralt Thunderwrath. As we explored more of Tyria, I was constantly surprised by the game as we experienced new features and mechanics.

I particularly remember the first time we stumbled upon Shadow Behemoth. Seeing a huge group of people fighting a gigantic, monstrous creature in the middle of an otherwise deserted swamp was definitely a memorable experience; I remember thinking “Oh wow, that’s a lot people!”

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Venturing further into the higher-leveled areas, we stumbled upon larger events such as Triple Trouble and Tequatl. If Shadow Behemoth blew my mind, then these events surely caused my brain to splatter all over the nearby walls… (How on earth did I manage to put up with that ugly zoomed in HUD for so long?)

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I was really amazed to see so many people in the same place at once as I was so used to playing single player games with local co op at the most. I tried to participate in these events as much as I could to earn all the achievements. Triple Trouble was especially difficult to complete unless you managed to find an organised world and even those wouldn’t even go to plan sometimes. However, it gave such a great sense of achievement when it all went successfully, and of course there was the loot!

My boyfriend and his two brothers also played frequently so we decided to set up our own Guild and began to do Dungeons together. Every weekend was spent playing each Dungeon in turn for months on end until we realised that some of the paths needed a 5th player to progress. This was incredibly disappointing as we just needed an extra body to stand on the 5th button to open a door, so for this reason we never actually managed to complete them all. It was unbelievably frustrating to be defeated by something as simple as standing on buttons.

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Over the next year, my party members became less interested so we delved into PvP for a while to freshen things up. Maybe this is where my love of Smite developed from, but I felt like I actually got pretty decent at playing a tanky, life-stealing Necromancer. We also gave Fractals a go, but only ever got to stage 20 after the changes due to infusions… ugh.

Then, along came Heart of Thorns, the first expansion for GW2. I feel like this expansion had the most impact on my gaming life and was where I spent the majority of my time. Unfortunately, as my Guild mates had lost interest, we didn’t purchase the expansion until a few months after release. This is something I will regret for the rest of my GW2 days as I missed out on a lot including the beginning of Raids, a part of the game I never managed to get involved in due to my late arrival.

On the other hand, this is when I acquired my true gaming partner… my PC. Due to how much I played GW2, I’d pretty much melted my laptop. I had to take breaks every half hour due to my laptop overheating which left me feeling irritated. That’s when I decided to invest in a high spec gaming PC, and it has by far been the best purchase of my life. There’s no stopping me now, gaming just got serious!

The Tougher Times

As time progressed, I spent more and more time by myself on the game. For an MMO, it was shame to play alone but I’ve never been one for making friends. After completing the HoT story and map completion, my boyfriend also abandoned the game, leaving me alone in our Guild. I didn’t stop there though and this led me to create another character, a Human Thief named Ivanna Karasu (my main character).

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During our third year at Uni, we had a majorly tough time and I handled it pretty badly, resulting in losing my confidence along the way. I found it hard to remain interested as the Uni had let us down on so many occasions, but it was especially difficult at the start of the third year. I ended up being ridiculously stressed out with the constant conflicting information from our tutors so I had very little motivation left.

Guild Wars 2 was my escape during this time. As I wasn’t leaving the house much, roaming across Tyria made me feel like I was going out to explore the world. There would be occasional instances where I would interact with others and by completing events/achievements, I grasped a sense of purpose. Playing the game gave me something to focus on, even if it was for the wrong reasons.

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After I left Uni and moved back home a year later, I hit an ultimate low and my confidence was still yet to return. GW2 helped me to escape the real world but also provided normality whilst everything else around me was changing. I’d spent the previous two and a half years in Tyria, a world I was familiar with and the place I was most comfortable. I was tremendously thankful for the stability the game provided when everything else in my life felt like it had been flipped upside down.

With Uni finished, I was unemployed for a couple months before starting my job so most of this time was put into GW2. I did the majority of the original Living World achievements, map completion across multiple characters and Cursed Shore Champ Runs. These runs were my favourite. Every Friday and Saturday night, ‘The Professror’ led a huge squad on this popular Champ Train in search of the best loot and extremely rare precursor weapon drops. I participated in this event every week and I got to recognise some familiar faces. The group was so welcoming, making me feel at ease and I regularly stayed up into the middle of the night because I felt like I was finally involved in something.

Inspired by this Champ Train, I later decided to buy my own Commander Tag and started off doing Mad King’s Labyrinth runs during Hallowe’en, which then led on to Leather Farm runs in Lake Doric. I found that I really loved leading a group of people in such a positive community. I did these runs regularly for a few months which helped to build back my confidence by sharing tips and knowledge about a topic I was so invested in, something I was very grateful for.

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Impact on Gaming

Path of Fire (GW2’s second expansion) was released just over a year ago now. I was so happy GW2 was getting a further update, the main deal this time being the mounts. I played an awful lot again during the first few weeks of release to complete the story and explore the vast map areas. Unfortunately, that’s about as far as I got. Personally, I found nothing especially exciting about these new areas and the content they provided. HoT gave me such a buzz and I just didn’t have the same connection this time around which was rather disappointing.

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I completed the PoF story but I’m still yet to finish everything in the Crystal Dessert. For now, I feel like I’ve seen and experienced everything I want to but I’m sure I’ll go back to revisit the areas at a later stage. I’m also still currently without the Griffon Mount but at least this is giving me something to work towards when I do log in every now and then. As materials have decreased in value over time, it’s become much harder to farm for the gold you need to purchase items. It’s a shame, but things are always changing in MMOs.

The Present

I still regularly follow Guild Wars 2’s updates, events and story progression, but I rarely have anything else to do with the game anymore. I find it difficult to enjoy the general content I used to play daily, maybe because earning ‘in game’ money takes so much more effort than it used to, and most of the player base are invested in the PoF maps these days. I guess I’m just stuck in the HoT’s era.

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Guild Wars 2 has gotten me to delve into many other games since that I never even thought I’d be interested in and for that alone I will always be grateful. It was also there for me at the time I needed an escape the most and provided well needed comfort when I was at my lowest.

I originally started gamergal.exe to create Guild Wars 2 guides with the view to help others out with their adventures. Without this game’s influence, I probably would’ve never even started this blog in the first place and I wouldn’t be where I am today. Now, that’s a scary thought.

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adventure map


WordPress Reader viewers, please consider enjoying this post again on the site. While we designed with you in mind, you miss some of the nuances of the piece by not enjoying it in its original form.

patreon

This collaboration took an overwhelming amount of time and dedication from 34 exceptionally creative, incredible makers! Help us with the resources to make more, even better, collaborations in the future! We also have aspirations of developing a podcast called Normal Talks about optimistically appreciating everyday life! Please consider becoming a patron of Normal Happenings and help us try to make the world a better, more positive place!
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Paper Mario: The Thousand-Year Door | The Game That Defines Adventure Rules

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Audio

Paper Mario music is subtle, relaxing… and underrated.

 

The Games That Define Us features carefully chosen music and remixes from the franchise of the game represented. Music is a key component of sharing the emotions one feels about a game, so we hope you will press the play button if you’re in a position to do so. 

introduction

Just a brief summary if this is your first time here: This collaboration is a 34-day long adventure through video games. Each piece is its own unique audiovisual experience, complete with artwork, designs, music, and (most importantly) amazing works of prose by brilliant bloggers around the world. This adventure will take you through nostalgia, joy, ambition, self-discovery, regret, anxiety, frustration, mourning, and every human experience in between. Video games exist as fragments on the timeline of our lives, and each one of us have chosen the adventure we feel most defines us.

Now for the game that represents a big regret in my life — I call myself a Nintendo fan, but I’ve never played Paper Mario: The Thousand-Year Door. Admittedly, Nintendo has not been making it easy for me, with Gamecube games rarely appearing as ports or remasters.

Perhaps one day I’ll be able to enjoy this beloved entry in the Mario RPG pantheon, but for now I’ll have to settle for a retrospective by one of my favorite bloggers! It’s Ian from Adventure Rules! A fellow collab-master, Ian is famous for Blogger Blitz, which is an innovative battle of imaginations. If you’re interested, I would start here, and work your way forward in time. Ian was also a brilliant contributor to the Hyrule blog, with his exploration of Clock Town. Basically, Ian is awesome. Here are a couple more recent posts on Adventure Rules I particularly enjoyed:

Happy Thanksgiving to those in the U.S., and we hope you enjoy the next chapter of The Games That Define Us!

– Matthew, Normal Happenings

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Ian @ Adventure Rules 

Twitter: @adventure_rules

For Clippy…

Game: Paper Mario: The Thousand-Year Door
System: Gamecube
Release Date: April 22, 2004

1P Start

Fandoms are amazing communities where people with like interests can connect and explore the things that make them happy, and for me that’s exactly what Paper Mario became. Online, I found commonality with other gamers that I couldn’t find with the kids in my local community.

When I was a kid, renting games from video stores such as Blockbuster was a pretty common part of my gaming experience. I discovered a lot of games that I wanted to buy by renting them, playing far enough in to fall in love, and then putting them on a Christmas or birthday list later down the line. It was in this way that I discovered the original Paper Mario for the Nintendo 64, and once I got my hands on that game I was hooked faster than a Cheep Cheep in the inevitable Mario Fishing title that’s gonna come out on Switch someday. So when, a few years later, a sequel came to the GameCube, you better believe that game landed the top spot on my Christmas list.

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Paper Mario: The Thousand-Year Door came out when I was 12 years old. I got it the Christmas of that year so I ended up being 13 when I played it. This is an impressionable time in a kid’s life; early teenager-y is all about discovering your unique identity and learning your place in the world. You begin to settle into what will likely be the core of your personality. Various things will change to be sure – I’m not the same man now that I was two years ago, let alone fourteen – but in some ways we never change. For me, the features that became set in stone during that era were my fascination with storytelling, my sense of humor, and my love for geek culture.

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At age 13, I wasn’t doing too great. Many of us aren’t during that time. For me, my hobbies and interests set me apart from a lot of my peers in school. I lived in a rural community that values rural things: nature, sports, family. Gender roles are rigid, the arts take a back seat to other aspects of life, and education is seen as valuable by some but as an unnecessary luxury by just as many. As a young man who was more interested in music and theater than basketball or cars, who liked to spend time alone instead of talking with other kids, and who loved fantasy and magic, I had a hard time making connections. Gaming helped me to feel like I had those connections with fictional characters, and with Paper Mario I took things to a new level I’d never explored before: fandom.

The term fandom has a lot of connotations, and there are certainly versions of it that are negative. I have encountered individuals within fandoms who make me cringe with their mindless dedication to the thing they love, their unwillingness to see their passion as an opinion rather than a cold, hard fact. But fandoms are also amazing communities where people with like interests can connect and explore the things that make them happy, and for me that’s exactly what Paper Mario became. Online, I found commonality with other gamers that I couldn’t find with the kids in my local community.

Paper Mario made it easy by having such interesting locations and characters to explore. The game’s third chapter, for example, is set in the fighting arena known as the Glitz Pit, a location where creatures of all types gather to face off in battles with all the brutality of MMA and the performative smack talk of WWE. I remember finding communities in forums where people would create their own Glitz Pit fighters and compete in tournaments using fan-designed rulesets. It inspired me to create one of my own, a tabletop RPG based on Glitzville – a project that even to this day I’ll break out and work on from time to time.

Then there are the X-Nauts, goofy flunkies to a powerful and deadly mastermind whose ultimate goal is to rule the world alongside his dark goddess. I once stumbled upon a forum thread where folks created their own X-Nauts – not powerful generals to go along with the leader, but the goofy underlings who simply screwed around and caused trouble in their day-to-day lives. I laughed at the stories as folks roleplayed all sorts of ridiculous scenarios from concerts to dance parties to botched missions to defeat Mario.

In addition to community activities, I loved reading about the thoughts other folks shared about the game’s lore and mysteries. Paper Mario is somewhat simple on the surface, but there are all kinds of deeper details you can dive in to and speculate about as well. What is the true origin of the Shadow Queen and her mysterious servants? Are the cursed chests really the original heroes who wielded the Crystal Stars against her? Would Nintendo ever create a Paper Luigi to tell the full story of his battle against the Chestnut King? Whether it was reading about these theories or just reading more stories about my favorite characters in the game such as Vivian or Prince Mush, I spent many an evening diving deep into the world of fan theories and fan fiction as well as writing my own.

To this day, Paper Mario: The Thousand-Year Door is still my favorite video game. The jokes gel perfectly with my sense of humor – in all reality, they likely molded and cemented my sense of humor into what it is today. I love the characters, whose simple concepts make them easy to attach to and whose hidden stories help them to develop beyond one-note partners into fully-fleshed personalities. I love how much story potential there is in the game’s world, whether it’s all the tales of thievery and corruption that could be told in Rogueport, the mysteries that take place on the Excess Express, or the fighters who rise and fall from glory in the Glitz Pit. While I have gone on to consider myself a part of many fandoms, Paper Mario will always be my first and the one which helped me to learn that I could make connections with people other than the ones who happened to be in the closest proximity to me. While it would be many years before I ever decided to make my own voice heard online, it was thanks to The Thousand-Year Door that I understood I wasn’t alone in my passions or interests. When the time came when I had the confidence to create my own space, I knew there would be people out there as passionate about games as I was.

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adventure map


WordPress Reader viewers, please consider enjoying this post again on the site. While we designed with you in mind, you miss some of the nuances of the piece by not enjoying it in its original form. 

patreon

This collaboration took an overwhelming amount of time and dedication from 34 exceptionally creative, incredible makers! Help us with the resources to make more, even better, collaborations in the future! We also have aspirations of developing a podcast called Normal Talks about optimistically appreciating everyday life! Please consider becoming a patron of Normal Happenings and help us try to make the world a better, more positive place!
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Kingdom Hearts | The Game That Defines Overthinker Y

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Stay a while… you can’t go wrong with Kingdom Hearts music.  

The Games That Define Us features carefully chosen music and remixes from the franchise of the game represented. Music is a key component of sharing the emotions one feels about a game, so we hope you will press the play button if you’re in a position to do so. 

introduction

Just a brief summary if this is your first time here: This collaboration is a 34-day long adventure through video games. Each piece is its own unique audiovisual experience, complete with artwork, designs, music, and (most importantly) amazing works of prose by brilliant bloggers around the world. This adventure will take you through nostalgia, joy, ambition, self-discovery, regret, anxiety, frustration, mourning, and every human experience in between. Video games exist as fragments on the timeline of our lives, and each one of us have chosen the adventure we feel most defines us.

What can I say, Chris from OverthinkerY, today’s featured blogger, is awesome! If there’s one thing you can always count on with Chris, it’s that you’ll be exploring the outer limits of the English language experience through his text. For example, Chris is the first blogger to ever successfully pull off a double-bracketed parenthetical sequence on Normal Happenings. I won’t spoil it for you. If you’re in the mood for more witty wordplay, you should absolutely check out his blog. He’s working on a novel at the moment!

And here are a couple of other recent favorites!

Today’s game is one of the most emotionally influential games ever, so we hope you enjoy the next chapter of The Games That Define Us!

– Matthew, Normal Happenings

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Chris @ OverthinkerY

Twitter: @overthinkery1

For scattered dreams…

Game: Kingdom Hearts
System: Playstation 2
Release Date: March 28, 2002

1P Start

Even though I can admit Kingdom Hearts has its faults, I can’t help but love it, and it strikes me that perhaps loving something in a way that encompasses all its flaws is the purest form of love.

Imagine, if you will, a boy of around nine or ten years of age. He’s into books, cartoons, movies; he enjoys experiencing stories in different ways and regularly coming up with quasi-Choose-Your-Own-Adventure-style tales on the fly for his friends. Video games have been around for a while, but this lad’s never really had the opportunity to experience them — to understand what it is that they do. Being an enormous fan of the Harry Potter franchise, however, when the Game of the Film of the First Book is released, he knows he simply has to have it.

Plot twist: that boy’s name was Barack Obama.

Nah, it was me. It was obviously me. C’mon.

This is obviously a knockoff, because it’s not even got the right title. PHILOSOPHER’S Stone. Silly manufacturers.

My first ever gaming experience, then, was Harry Potter and the Philosopher’s Stone on Game Boy Advance, the console that was at the time just new enough to be exciting and just old enough for my parents to conclude was not stupidly expensive. I had a good time with that game, thinking that getting to actually be Harry Potter was just the best thing, and then I finished it.

‘Where do I go from here?’ I wondered: I couldn’t afford to buy myself more games, and I wouldn’t have known what to get even if I had. Fortunate I was, then, that a shop called ‘Choices’ had just opened up down the road: a store where you could pay two or three quid and actually take a game home with you for a weekend! It was amazing; through that store, I discovered the endless charms of Pokémon Silver, experienced the adventures of Link for the first time with Oracle of Ages, and met Spyro in Season of Ice. I was learning how to play games, how to dive into these worlds and go on incredible journeys, and I was beginning to appreciate that video games could tell stories in ways that other media simply couldn’t. You had beautiful visuals, music, the ability to pick your own way of overcoming obstacles, and that was pretty incredible to me.

During these formative years with my little GBA, I had a couple of friends lucky enough to own a PlayStation 2, something I thought I’d never be able to achieve. Going to their houses to play — well, watch them play, mostly — Dynasty Warriors or Lord of the Rings: The Third Age or even something like the Robot Wars game (surprisingly good, actually) was starting to open my eyes to this new world of possibility: games that were even more beautiful, that had the power to tell even more expansive tales. I’d been saving for a little while to get myself a Game Boy Advance SP (a cute little folding GBA with a backlight, if you can believe such a thing) as an upgrade to my friendly old regular GBA, but I decided in fairly short order that I had to have a PS2 instead. It took some convincing, but my parents eventually agreed that I could have one, not least because my neighbour ran a games store and had a cheap second-hand one.

Anybody remember this thing? There was a version with tribal tattoos, for some reason.

Thus it was that I eventually found myself bringing home a PlayStation 2 for the first time. I imagine my fingers were probably literally shaking as I plugged the thing in, and then – ah.

I didn’t have any games for it.

Right, well then, back over to Choices we go. Not only do they have GBA cartridges, but they have PS2 games and even DVDs too! I miss that store — it was subsumed into Blockbuster fairly shortly after this tale concludes, and is now a charity shop. I scanned the shelves and picked out a title called Kingdom Hearts.

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If you asked me why I picked out that game, I’m not sure I would be able to tell you. The cover was kind of dark, suggesting perhaps a level of maturity that I was eager to achieve, but the back of the box had some colourful Disney characters on it, so perhaps I was drawn to the balance: the idea that I could go above my reading age, as it were, while safe in the knowledge that if it was Disney it couldn’t be that scary. I wasn’t even a Disney fan; I’d seen maybe four or five Disney movies, but not all that many. As for whether the box mentioned that Kingdom Hearts also featured Final Fantasy characters, I don’t remember. I wouldn’t have taken any notice if it had: I had only the faintest conception of what Final Fantasy was, I should think.

I trundled back down the street with the game in my hands, having acquired possession of it for the next few days. Me, a complete non-Disney, non-Final Fantasy fan, clutching what was actually quite a historically significant crossover between those two titans, without a clue as to what I was in for. My first ever PS2 game, though! I was overjoyed at the idea that I would finally be able to experience a journey on an actual telly rather than a weeny little handheld screen; I didn’t really know or care what that journey was likely to involve, I was just ecstatic in the knowledge that I would get to do it at all.

Getting the disc into the console was, I was relieved to discover, fairly self-explanatory; with that hurdle cleared, I worked out that I had to press X on the PS2’s root menu to open the game, and then we were off.

From the moment the main menu loaded up and I began to hear ‘Dearly Beloved’ for the first time, I knew that this was something completely different to anything else I’d come across in my burgeoning gaming experience. I don’t know how I could have known that; it was a title screen, for heaven’s sake.

Maybe it was just that most GBA games didn’t really have title screens, so I was easily impressed!

Over the next couple of hours, I played the opening sections of the game (taking an awfully long time because I’d never really used a controller like this before), and couldn’t believe what I was seeing, what I was experiencing, what I was doing. The beginning sequence of KH is an exercise in setting the tone: you begin in a dark world, standing on stained glass platforms with an ominous chorus ringing out as a disembodied voice guides you through the first stages. Defeating shadowy foes and making choices that will, though you don’t know it yet, define how the rest of the game plays out, you finally ascend the towers in the blackness and defeat a monstrous being of pure darkness.

Then you wake up on a sunny beach, tropical tunes playing away merrily, and watch as the logo splashes up on the screen, realising that now the game begins in earnest.

 

 …through this…

 

From this…
 …through this…
 …to this!

It’s a truly impactful sequence – certainly it was doing it for the first time as a kid, and I still get shivers now. I felt that I’d touched something huge and terrifying, yet (for now at least) I had overcome it. I knew, though, that despite the holiday feel of Destiny Islands, the darkness would be back.

Looking back, those opening moments stick with me much more clearly than the rest of the game [although there are bits of it forever burned into my brain, thanks to the inability of vanilla KH1 to skip cutscenes (and a remarkable tendency to put the longest ones before the hardest bosses)], and it’s still the point from loading the title screen to defeating the first boss that I tend to think about when I think of Kingdom Hearts. That said, I think it did a lot to define me as a gamer in more ways than just to give me specific moments or memories: it exposed me to the idea that games could be both fast-paced and strategic; to the expanse that is Final Fantasy as a franchise (and indeed to a whole bunch of Disney movies); to the knowledge that video game music is, while its own breed, just as important and interesting and exciting as any other music; and to persistence and ingenuity in overcoming obstacles, however insurmountable they might seem.

Certainly, and as you might be beginning to gather, Kingdom Hearts has influenced my life in wider ways than simply being a game (later, of course, a series) that I enjoy. I can’t actually quantify just how much it’s defined me as a person; through being my gateway into gaming at large, it was the catalyst for what I know will be a lifelong love of stories told in the ways only gaming can achieve. I might never have touched a piano if it hadn’t introduced me to pieces that I’ve come to love; I don’t think I’d have started composing if I hadn’t learned that themes can be intertwined to create a story from nothing but wiggly air (which is all music really is, in some ways!). The courage of the protagonists of this story inspires me, and I often find myself consciously trying to be more like them; I even referred to characters and themes within this series when going through the often difficult transition from belief to non-belief, eventually finding myself on the other side as a proud humanist and, I think, a stronger and kinder person for it. (I know there will be some stories in this collection about people going in the other direction: finding or becoming more secure in faith because of a gaming experience, and I think it’s wonderful that we have this shared sense of affirmation as a result of our love of games, despite our different beliefs.)

Finally, I’m not sure I’d have found the love of writing that I now have – at least, not to the same extent or from such a young age – if I hadn’t started with an ill-fated attempt to write a novelisation of Kingdom Hearts and then realised that I could create my own worlds just as large and as confusing and as brilliant as this one I’d discovered.

I’ll always have a soft spot for this game, and this franchise. I put myself through joy and misery when Kingdom Hearts 2 released: I knew the release date, so walked all the way into town with all the money I could scrounge together in the hopes of purchasing a copy of this thing that I wanted more than anything, but it turned out that it had released in the US, not my native England, so I ordered a copy online from America which naturally didn’t work because I had a region-locked PAL PlayStation 2. It was agony, but Kid Me (looking at the release date, I would have been eleven) would probably have said it was worth it. Even though I can admit KH as a series and as each individual game has its faults, I can’t help but love it, and it strikes me that perhaps loving something in a way that encompasses all its flaws is the purest form of love.

I’m not about to claim that Kingdom Hearts taught me the meaning of love, but if that’s what you want to take away from this, I won’t stop you.

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adventure map


WordPress Reader viewers, please consider enjoying this post again on the site. While we designed with you in mind, you miss some of the nuances of the piece by not enjoying it in its original form. 

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This collaboration took an overwhelming amount of time and dedication from 34 exceptionally creative, incredible makers! Help us with the resources to make more, even better, collaborations in the future! We also have aspirations of developing a podcast called Normal Talks about optimistically appreciating everyday life! Please consider becoming a patron of Normal Happenings and help us try to make the world a better, more positive place!
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Digimon World | The Game That Defines The Modern Gafa

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Audio

Enjoy some laid-back tracks from across the Digimon World Playstation games.

 

 

The Games That Define Us features carefully chosen music and remixes from the franchise of the game represented. Music is a key component of sharing the emotions one feels about a game, so we hope you will press the play button if you’re in a position to do so. 

introduction

Just a brief summary if this is your first time here: This collaboration is a 34-day long adventure through video games. Each piece is its own unique audiovisual experience, complete with artwork, designs, music, and (most importantly) amazing works of prose by brilliant bloggers around the world. This adventure will take you through nostalgia, joy, ambition, self-discovery, regret, anxiety, frustration, mourning, and every human experience in between. Video games exist as fragments on the timeline of our lives, and each one of us have chosen the adventure we feel most defines us.

Happy Friday! We’re over the hill for November — it’s Day 16 of The Games That Define Us! The next three days will all be devoted to titles from the Warcraft franchise, but first we’re finishing the veritable parade of Playstation 1 titles — there is so much love for that console in this group.

Today we’re joined by Victor from The Modern Gafa, whose overwhelming coolness is only matched by his clever wit. Reading his work will keep you entertained for hours, and he wrote a book, you know. For real, if you’re at all interested in getting review copies of stuff for you blog, this guidebook is for you. You will also love some of these pieces from his blog… if only we knew what a Gafa is.

Let’s boot up the next chapter of The Games That Define Us!

– Matthew, Normal Happenings

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Victor @ The Modern Gafa

Twitter: @TheModernGafa

For getting lost in the wilderness…

Game: Digimon World
System: Playstation 1
Release Date: January 28, 1999

1P Start

It’s one of the most beautiful worlds in any video game I have ever played. I’ve always wanted to see a manga or even an anime take place in this world. It’s one of my favorite fictional places of all time.

When toy stores in Japan opened their doors on June 26, 1997 a new and exciting item appeared on the shelves. It was part game, part toy. It was an attempt by Bandai to create something like Tamagotchi that would appeal to boys by replacing the cute and funny characters with strong and scary monsters. Additionally, this new Tamagotchi had the ability to fight. The first of its kind was known as the Digital Monster V-Pet Ver. 1, but the kids on the playground knew it by its short name: Digimon.

It was an instant hit, and the project quickly grew until it was a massive multimedia franchise that included a total of five versions of the original V-Pet design, a popular anime series, a manga, and of course: video games. The first attempt at bringing the handheld game to consoles was a straight adaptation of the V-Pets on the original Playstation. The follow-up would be a fully fledged video game adventure that took the simple idea of raising a battling monster out of the confines of it’s tiny LCD screen and into a massive universe that would become Digimon World.

Digimon World

While Digimon V-Pets were available in America, most first became aware of it when the anime series, titled Digimon: Digital Monsters, first premiered on Fox Kids in August of 1999. Since Digimon was a very loose concept with no established lore or rules, the writers of the first anime series were given free range to craft a story around the set of Digimon they had to include. They crafted an exciting adventure that followed seven young kids whisked away to a digital world where they are partnered with loyal Digimon of their own. At first, the kids are lost and explore the land on their quest to find a way home. As they begin to learn more about the world and how they got there, the children accept their calling and fight to protect both worlds from evil Digimon. Along the way, the kids learn a lot about each other and form an emotional connection with themselves, their Digimon, and the audience. One cannot put into words how much the first season of the digimon anime means to its fans.

While the story of Digimon’s first season, subtitled “Adventure” in Japan, was a fresh take on the “monster battle” genre, the world wasn’t exactly new to Digimon. The first story arc of the anime takes place on File Island. Japanese fans may have recognized it from its first appearance in Digimon’s first true video game experience. For American fans, we got the reverse experience.

Digimon World was released in Japan on January 28, 1999, a few months before Digimon Adventure would premiere. The game didn’t come to the west until May 23, 2000 after the franchise’s popularity was solidified. By that point, the first season was airing its final episodes on Fox Kids. V-Pets based on the show were released, multiple series of trading cards were available to collect, figures of all sizes allowed fans to play with their favorite Digimon. But it wasn’t until the release of Digimon World did we really know what it meant to be a Digimon Tamer.

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While a similarly named franchise’s anime series is a direct adaptation of its popular games, Digimon World offered its fans in the west something new and exciting. When players first begin, they are greeted with a series of cutscenes that depict a normal kid hanging out with his friends, playing with their Digimon V-Pets. When he returns home, his V-Pet opens up and the boy, as well as the player, are sucked into Digimon World.

The city at the heart of File Island was once a prosperous home to all kinds of Digimon. And then something happened that caused the Digimon to turn wild and savage. They abandoned the city and went off into the wilderness. Your task is to find the lost Digimon and convince them to return to the city while uncovering the origin of the problems on the island.

It’s a simple objective, far from the epic Final Fantasy games that had dominated the Playstation up until that point. However, the story is secondary to the experience of Digimon World. Almost twenty years later and I personally don’t understand the villain’s goals or how exactly he achieves them. I don’t even care. That’s not what the game is about.

There is truly no other game like Digimon World. One of its most well-known and well-loved features is its Digimon raising system. Just like in the V-Pet and in the anime, players are partnered with only one Digimon who follows them around on their adventure. Elements from the V-Pet are adapted into this 3D adventure. You can feed different kinds of food that can be bought or found around the world. Digimon can become sick and require medicine, injured and require bandages, and even become tired and require sleep.

Just like in the V-Pet, the different ways you raise your Digimon will determine how they Digivolve. For Japanese fans experiencing this game as an extension of the V-Pet, this is a no-brainer. To western fans more familiar with the anime, this concept was completely unknown and often a huge surprise to may players. Everyone knows that Agumon Digivolves into Greymon. Imagine my surprise when my first partner Agumon turned into a Meramon instead.

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This is the first of Digimon World’s profound demonstration of exploration. There are dozens of Digimon available for the player to attempt to Digivolve into and each one has its own special requirements. Some need lots of food, others need more experience fighting. One special form is acquired after sleeping in a special spot in the forest. The game keeps a chart of the Digimon you have Digivolved into, inspiring the player to explore different techniques in raising and training their Digimon unlock as many forms as they can.

For many fans in the west, the shock of seeing Gabumon Digivolve into anything that wasn’t a Garurumon never wore off. For many, it’s been accepted as the norm. In fact, it’s generally agreed upon that these multiple possible evolutions – which date back to the original V-Pet – represent the core theme of the franchise. How you grow when you are young affects what you will become when you are older. A symbol in the original anime is the butterfly, a symbol of evolution and change.

As much as I love the Digivolution system in Digimon World, I completely believe that the game would be just as good if you were stuck with just an Agumon for the entire adventure. Because this is Digimon World, and once you’ve discovered how you will change, it’s time to discover where you will go.

As stated above, Digimon World takes place on the same File Island as Digimon Adventure. So while western fans were introduced to unfamiliar concepts, they were shown to them in a familiar world. Several iconic and memorable locations and landmarks appear in both with the game allowing fans to fully explore the areas from the anime.

File Island is a circular land mass with a tall mountain, Mt. Infinity, sitting in the middle. Players are dropped in the middle of the island, in the empty ruins of the city, and can choose to work their way east or west. The areas loop around so players who head east may eventually return from the west. However, you can’t explore the entire world right away.

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I call this semi-open world because there is plenty of freedom and exploration, but there are still roadblocks that prevent you from going too far until certain story beats are hit first. A path up a mountain is not cleared until an earthquake from an underground tunnel causes a landslide. You’ll get lost in a misty forest until finding someone to life the curse on its woods. As the players fulfill their mission of recruiting Digimon to return to the city, more areas of the world will open up.

Many future Digimon game developers seem to think that the Digital World is like Tron or something because the areas are always overly Cyberpunk. Or they just take generic video game areas like “the desert” or “the forest” and slap computer parts haphazardly. The environments in Digimon World on the other hand each feel as if they were carefully handcrafted by an artist.

What gives Digimon World it’s unique and beautiful environments is the use of a technique called parallax mapping. Instead of the world being built on a grid with tiles individually drawn from a chipset, each background is designed first and then loaded into the game as a whole. Areas are blocked off as impassable and additional objects such as trees are laid overtop. This technique was popular in 3D games at the time for its ability to produce crisp worlds without having to rely on a grid-based tile system or having to load fully 3D environments.

This results in not only the most beautiful environment in a Digimon game, but one of the most beautiful worlds in any video game I have ever played. I’ve always wanted to see a manga or even an anime take place in this world. It’s one of my favorite fictional places of all time.

My earliest memory of playing Digimon World was at a friend’s house. He loaded up a new game for me – I had no idea what to expect. My gaming experience at that point was nothing more than my green Gameboy Color and a few bouts of Tekken II with my brothers. I played Digimon World until I had to go home. After a while, my friend let me borrow his copy and the strategy guide. When he wanted it back, I asked to keep the strategy guide just to flip through it and immerse myself in the world. Eventually I acquired my own copy, but had trouble finding time to play it on the Playstation that technically belonged to my brothers. But I savored every moment I could possibly spend exploring the vast island of Digimon World.

adventure map


WordPress Reader viewers, please consider enjoying this post again on the site. While we designed with you in mind, you miss some of the nuances of the piece by not enjoying it in its original form. 

patreon

This collaboration took an overwhelming amount of time and dedication from 34 exceptionally creative, incredible makers! Help us with the resources to make more, even better, collaborations in the future! We also have aspirations of developing a podcast called Normal Talks about optimistically appreciating everyday life! Please consider becoming a patron of Normal Happenings and help us try to make the world a better, more positive place!
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Final Fantasy VII | The Game That Defines Games With Coffee

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Audio

This game’s music though. 

 

 

 

The Games That Define Us features carefully chosen music and remixes from the franchise of the game represented. Music is a key component of sharing the emotions one feels about a game, so we hope you will press the play button if you’re in a position to do so. 

introduction

Warning: coffee jokes incoming.

Just a brief summary if this is your first time here: This collaboration is a 34-day long adventure through video games. Each piece is its own unique audiovisual experience, complete with artwork, designs, music, and (most importantly) amazing works of prose by brilliant bloggers around the world. This adventure will take you through nostalgia, joy, ambition, self-discovery, regret, anxiety, frustration, mourning, and every human experience in between. Video games exist as fragments on the timeline of our lives, and each one of us have chosen the adventure we feel most defines us.

Day 12 of The Games That Define Us features something a little different. Originally this was going to be a DLC post, but through good contingency planning I was given the opportunity to promote one DLC piece into the November parade! This was the natural pick, as it was written by a super-cool blogger and is on one of the most important games ever made.

No need for jitters, Ryan from Games With Coffee is here! This wonderful, highly caffeinated writer is always fun because of his unique and quirky personality. You’ll love his blog, so you should absolutely be following. In fact, after you get done reading this amazing piece, you should grab a piping-hot cup of java and savor these recent pieces!

We hope this chapter of The Games That Define Us gives you the jolt you need to make it through the day!

– Matthew, Normal Happenings

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Ryan @ Games With Coffee

Twitter: @GameswCoffee

For the Coolest Dude In the Universe

Game: Final Fantasy VII
System: Playstation 1
Release Date: January 31, 1997

1P Start

Had Final Fantasy VII not been released in 1997 and had I not rented it in November of that year, I probably wouldn’t be the person I am today. However, I’m glad that it came into my life when it did, I’m glad that it’s affected me in a such a positive and uplifting way and I’m especially glad to say that it’s a game that has defined who I am as a person

This story starts in 1997, on a cold November Friday night. On that night, 21 years ago, I first started playing a game that would change my life forever.

In the late 90’s, the town that I grew up in was in the midst of a vast residential expansion, with the suburban sprawl ever creeping northward into the farmlands. With more fertile land being cleared and more homes being built, there was a growing need for retail space. So in 1996, nary a ten minute walk from my home, a brand new strip mall had opened up. It had the necessities that a growing neighborhood community needed, like a grocery store, convenience stores, some fast food joints and other small retailers. What made it different, special even, was that it had an independent video rental store called Ambassador Video, similar to the now defunct Blockbuster, where an enormous selection of movies, music and video games were available to rent. Now, this video store was replaced by a sports bar sometime in the early-2000’s, but at the time when it was open, it was the place to be at for a kid.

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So back to how I started this: on a cold Friday night in November of 1997. My parents let my younger brother and I rent a video game as a reward for doing well in school that week. The two of us argued for a few minutes about which game we were going to take home, before settling on Final Fantasy VII. The moment we got home, we booted it up and were blown away at how amazing it looked.

The first thing about FFVII that differentiated it from games that I played previously was how it started. No tutorial level, no sitting down with the King and him explaining your quest and no cheerful, happy and colourful environment. I was instead thrust into the action in a dark, gritty metropolis, my character jumping off of a train and beating down soldiers armed with machine guns with his giant sword. Following a man with a gun for an arm up the stairs leading to the surface, the spiky-haired individual spoke to a group of three people, huddled in front of a large metal door. The one in the headband asked for his name. His response, in a cool, collected tone:

“…Cloud.”

And it was all it took for ten year old me to declare that he was the coolest dude in the universe.

Over the course of that glorious seven day rental period, I never made it out of Midgar. It wasn’t because I was slow at playing the game; far from it. You see, prior to playing Final Fantasy VII, I was without a Memory Card – the device necessary to save virtually every game in the PlayStation library. So, each day I would start the game anew, regardless of if my party died or the amount of daylight I had left to play. Every time I restarted, I continued to fall deeper in love with the characters, the story and the setting. Neither the “scarier” parts of the story, such as facing JENOVA’s headless body in the Shinra Building with the eerie “Who Are You” track playing alongside that high-pitched buzzing that only Cloud could hear, nor the mature subject matter I couldn’t understand at the time (Think Honey Bee Inn in Sector 6), could dissuade me from playing the game. On the last day of my rental period and noticing that I had restarted the game yet again, my dad asked me why I kept starting the game from the beginning? Once I told him about the Memory Card, he and my mom bought one that same day. And so, with Memory Card in hand and eventually my own copy of the game, I continued playing and delving deeper into the game.

Prior to my discovery of Final Fantasy VII, I was diagnosed with ADHD (Attention Deficit Hyperactive Disorder) in the second grade. From that point onward, until at least high school, my life was centered around Ritalin, counselors and therapists of all kinds; speech and behavioral, among others. The combination was not only driving down my grades, but they were driving away my classmates as well. I had episodes where I became dark and paranoid of others (thanks to the meds) and I would lash out at anyone and everyone, drawing the ire of bullies who started picking on me for things I had no control over. The kids my age eventually knew full well to either stay away from or mock and belittle the weird and nerdy whitewashed Guyanese kid with the odd, easy-to-make-fun-of last name and behaviour problems. So I turned to the older kids instead, thinking I could be accepted into their group. For a time, I thought I found some actual friends until I learned eventually that they were only using me for their enjoyment, as they played cruel pranks and tricked me into doing things I shouldn’t be doing at that young of an age. Due to all of the above, I started having severe self-esteem issues, something that I’m battling with to this day. I believed whole-heartedly that I deserved what happened to me and that I was a terrible person, which of course was far from the truth. It was here, at this low point of my life, that Cloud Strife, Ex-SOLDIER First Class came into my life and as I experienced his story, I discovered that he and I were similar in many ways.

From that November night onward, I saw that Cloud was everything I wasn’t: strong, cool and confident. He was the kind of man I wanted to grow up to become and I felt so inspired by him. It was in those days, especially between the sixth and seventh grades (arguably the worst of times for me), that I started wishing I was someone else. That I could be Cloud. I used to draw the Buster Sword – Cloud’s iconic weapon – on every surface I could find. I remember that I once had an assignment in sixth grade where we we had to draw the things that define us and tell others who we are. Suffice to say, I put things representative of Final Fantasy VII on this document, like the Buster Sword, Materia and the Meteor from the cover. I would have drew Cloud himself, but (at the time) I was a terrible artist, so it was those three. Seeing the sword on the page was something that greatly worried my teachers; they didn’t understand that this was from a video game that I really loved. So, they brought my parents in for a parent-teacher conference and discussed the problem, believing that I was a violent individual because I drew weaponry. In hindsight, I could’ve tried drawing Super Mario or something to show that gaming was what I was about, but I went with what my heart was telling me; that Final Fantasy VII defined me.

So, combining what I said above with the fact that my grades were terrible, my mom was convinced that gaming was the culprit behind me not doing well in school. Thusly, she confiscated my controllers and hid them around the house with the hope that I would “concentrate” on my schoolwork. I was only allowed to play briefly on the weekends (or whenever I was lucky to find them during the week, but that usually resulted in my mom yelling at me before she re-hid the controllers in a new location). I understood that my mom’s heart was in the right place, but truthfully, I hated school. I was thoroughly disinterested thanks to a combination of my “affliction,” the lack of confidence in me from the educators and my low self-worth, but to a mother – unfamiliar with technology and concerned for her son’s education and general well-being – it was video games that were the main reason. And so, I was only allowed to play Final Fantasy VII roughly one weekend at a time for a whole year, wherein I reached the end of the first third of the story and observed the surprise of my eleven-year old life.

I seem to recall that it was a cold Saturday night, similar to that November of ‘97, when I finally finished the Temple of the Ancients portion of the game alongside my younger brother, who was watching me play. It was here that the game dropped the subtleties and showed major glimpses of Cloud’s true, Sephiroth-influenced persona. He started acting erratic in the deepest parts of the temple, where Sephiroth explained his master plan and I was more than a little worried. ‘What was happening?’ was a thought that was going through my mind during that entire experience, especially when my hero was laughing ominously and saying to “Deliver the Black Materia,” and “Call the Meteor.” Following the Demon Wall boss and Cait Sith’s subsequent sacrifice, the object of our quest – The Black Materia – was finally in our possession… only for Cloud to willingly give it to Sephiroth without any resistance. I was shocked! I couldn’t believe that he did that, or understand why he did it in the first place! From there, more things about Cloud’s true nature beheld itself to me: firstly, beating up Aerith after giving away the Black Materia for supposedly no reason. Next was the dream sequence after he was knocked out, with Aerith ominously telling him of her intentions at the City of the Ancients and Sephiroth saying to Cloud at the end that the two of them must stop her from whatever she’s planning. And finally, reaching the aforementioned City of the Ancients, the location of one of the most iconic scenes in gaming history.

My team, consisting of Cloud, Barrett and Tifa, arrived at the city and we proceeded to search for Aerith before Sephiroth could catch up with her. We ended up finding no trace of her, so Cloud and the gang decided to sleep in a nearby house and strategize for the next day. In the middle of the night, Cloud awakens abruptly, telling Tifa that Aerith is indeed here… and so was Sephiroth. At this point, my brother and I were on the edge of our seat, wondering what was going to happen next. Eventually, we found Aerith, safe and sound and I thought here that things would only look up from here. Cloud went up to the platform where Aerith was praying alone. He approached her, only for a high-pitched whine to go off – JENOVA’s calling card. Cloud started having another breakdown and I could do nothing to stop him. I couldn’t force him back, I couldn’t force him to sheathe his massive blade. He regained control at the very last second, right before he was about to bring his sword down on the flower girl’s head and I was chewing my nails off in stress. I didn’t want to press Circle to continue on with the story… but I did.

And then Aerith died, killed in cold blood by Sephiroth. He descended from the heavens, impaled the Masamune into the vulnerable woman and then revealed a startling truth to my hero; that Cloud was a puppet. I was floored by that revelation, so much so that I immediately died by JENOVA LIFE’s hands/tentacles/whatever – I basically didn’t even put up a fight. My hero wasn’t a hero after all; he gave Sephiroth the Black Materia, he couldn’t save Aerith and he let his nemesis get away scot-free. I didn’t play the game again for a week; partly again because of my mom and partly because I was in shock at what happened in the story. My disappointment only grew when I learned of the full truth at the Northern Crater. Cloud wasn’t really ‘Cloud,’ at all.

He was being led on and manipulated by Sephiroth, in a way similar to when I was led on by those older kids when I was young. To me, it was horrifying to see that the person that I idolized wasn’t who he really was and that he was so easily duped into doing his nemesis’ bidding. He was indeed a puppet; an experimental Sephiroth clone constructed through a combination of injected JENOVA cells, Tifa’s memories of the past and the persona of Zack Fair, the First Class SOLDIER who was really there in Nibelheim all those years ago. All of the memories Cloud had, from joining SOLDIER, to the Nibelheim incident, were falsified and manufactured and it messed him up terribly. It culminated in the fraud handing over the key to their destruction to Sephiroth and I all I could think of was “Dick move, Cloud.”

Fast forward to Mideel, where Tifa and the gang found Cloud, who was catatonic due to Mako poisoning. He washed up on the shores of the sleepy little island town days after Meteor was summoned. I wasn’t sure if I wanted anything to do with him at that point, because he was such a fake, but I was also curious as to what happened next. I was glad that I did as after the Ultimate Weapon fight and Mideel’s subsequent destruction, I learned the truth, both of the events in the Nibelheim incident and the truth about the real Cloud.

The reason why Cloud wanted to be in SOLDIER was to be noticed by others, particularly by Tifa. Growing up, Cloud was always alone; he had no friends growing up and was always picked on for being different from the others. After the incident involving Tifa and Cloud falling off Mount Nibel, which happened after Tifa’s mother passed away, he thought himself weak and that he could never belong, both because he never liked his fellow peers and because he couldn’t save Tifa. At the same time, he was always looking to prove himself in the eyes of the villagers who looked down on him and to Tifa, whom he harboured a major crush for. In essence, the true Cloud was exactly like me. I was also alone, was picked on for being so weird and different and had very little friends growing up. I considered myself a weakling and, in my self-loathing, disliked the people around me for treating me so badly and not caring about me. At the same time, I wanted to be noticed. I wanted to be recognized and to not be defined by my grades or my behaviour, but by my character.

After that sequence, Cloud was redeemed in my eyes. Though he never made it into SOLDIER and had considered himself a weakling up until the Nibelheim incident, that same “weakling” took on and fought off the greatest and most powerful swordsman the world had ever seen, before being subjected to brutal experiments that included having alien matter injected into his body. He was catatonic now at two points of his life before recovering and regaining his sanity. He went on to defeat his nemesis again, for the second time. And in the end, he saved the world with his companions. At the end of the journey, I realized then and there that Cloud Strife wasn’t cool because he was strong and tough, but that he was cool because he survived the ordeals of his past and rose above it. He showed that I could do the same; that I could rise above being made fun of, that I could rise above my ADHD, my behavioural problems, my struggling grades and my own weakness and he showed me that I could be a better person.

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Final Fantasy VII did more than just get my life back in order, it also brought me closer to my younger brother. Though he and I played it at the same time, beyond the game we weren’t very close. I actually resented him at a couple points in my life; he was the favourite child between the two of us, probably because he was the model student while I was the perennial screw-up. However, once he started band class and I discovered I had a knack for whistling, we started bonding over the music of the game and we discovered that we had a lot more in common than we thought. Now, the two of us talk about gaming and music on a near daily basis, especially Final Fantasy VII, what with the remake coming out. I even treated him to tickets for the Final Fantasy “Distant Worlds” concert, which will remain as one of my fondest memories of our brotherhood. The best part of that night was when we both collectively freaked out as Nobuo Uematsu – the legend who composed the songs we bonded over – joined the choir on stage for the orchestral rendition of “One Winged Angel!” It was all we could talk about on our ride home on the subway.

It has taken a while and there were some bumps on the road, but I think I’m now at a point where the past doesn’t bother me as much as it did before. Though I also have to give credit to my wife, Usha, for helping me get to this point as well. She has been the Tifa to my Cloud since we started dating in our teens and I wouldn’t have been who I am today without her guidance and support. In the same way that Tifa helped Cloud break out of his shell and spurred on his fighting spirit when he was at his lowest point, my wife has encouraged me to develop my talents, both in my engineering field and my writing hobby. She pushed me creatively and inspired me to work towards my goals, even if they seemed daunting in my eyes.

Finally, I should like to end this by sharing something that Iiago (Mr. Backlog), one of the collaborators of this wonderful project, recently said: “It’s funny, I realised that my enduring love of the game was greatly affected by my life at the time in ways I hadn’t really appreciated until I wrote this article. But that’s life isn’t it? It’s not just seeing/doing/meeting something great, it’s the context of the time and place.” Writing this piece out, reliving the memories – bad and good – and juxtaposing it with my present self has made me realize that his words ring true. Had Final Fantasy VII not been released in 1997 and had I not rented it in November of that year, I probably wouldn’t be the person I am today. However, I’m glad that it came into my life when it did, I’m glad that it’s affected me in a such a positive and uplifting way and I’m especially glad to say that it’s a game that has defined who I am as a person. I want to thank Matt from Normal Happenings for setting up and allowing me to jump on this amazing collaboration filled to the brim with such wonderful and talented writers. I want to thank those very same writers for being such an inspirational bunch. And I want to thank you, dear reader, for taking the time to read my story. Be sure to check out the the other works my fellow cohorts have written; they are truly an all-star cast of bloggers, each with a story of their own to tell of a game that has defined them.

My name is Ryan. I’m an engineer, a writer, a husband, a father, a friend, a brother, a gamer, a coffee addict and an individual who still experiences some lingering symptoms of ADHD. Final Fantasy VII is the game that defines me and Cloud Strife, the former SOLDIER First Class and fellow former weakling, is the character from that game that has helped me become the man I am today.

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WordPress Reader viewers, please consider enjoying this post again on the site. While we designed with you in mind, you miss some of the nuances of the piece by not enjoying it in its original form. 

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This collaboration took an overwhelming amount of time and dedication from 34 exceptionally creative, incredible makers! Help us with the resources to make more, even better, collaborations in the future! We also have aspirations of developing a podcast called Normal Talks about optimistically appreciating everyday life! Please consider becoming a patron of Normal Happenings and help us try to make the world a better, more positive place!
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Breath of Fire II | The Game That Defines The Well-Red Mage

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Audio

Come for the great writing, stay for the lovingly orchestrated and animated cover of a slightly obscure SNES RPG. It’s a win-win. 

 

The Games That Define Us features carefully chosen music and remixes from the franchise of the game represented. Music is a key component of sharing the emotions one feels about a game, so we hope you will press the play button if you’re in a position to do so. 

introduction

Just a brief summary if this is your first time here: This collaboration is a 34-day long adventure through video games. Each piece is its own unique audiovisual experience, complete with artwork, designs, music, and (most importantly) amazing works of prose by brilliant bloggers around the world. This adventure will take you through nostalgia, joy, ambition, self-discovery, regret, anxiety, frustration, mourning, and every human experience in between. Video games exist as fragments on the timeline of our lives, and each one of us have chosen the adventure we feel most defines us.


Mild Trigger Warning: this blog delves into topics of faith and spiritual identity. We believe these are important parts of life and identity, but as always, we have no desire to push these beliefs on other people.


The mage. The myth. The legend. You are truly in for a treat today. I must admit, though I try not to play favorites, I have truly been looking forward to publishing today’s piece.

I’m a proud patron of The Well-Red Mage, and for good reason. He leads an army of bloggers to writing critical long-form pieces about video games, and they must be seen to be believed. Each piece he publishes is well-paced and deliberate, refusing to let the sensationalism of modern-day journalism (in)sensibilities seep in. You’re about to see some of that in action, after which you might be interested in some of these:

He has been so supportive of Normal Happenings since all the way back to when I published the retrospective on my first video game. Since then, we’ve built up a truly great blog partnership. While I’m dragging my feet (for now) on becoming a mage, mainly because I get obsessed and am worried I wouldn’t be able to devote the time to make the pieces as complex as I would like, we still work together on a multitude of projects. I was recently on MAGE CAST, the Well-Red Mage podcast, discussing Sonic the Hedgehog 1, with a rumored Sonic Mania podcast in the future. Meanwhile, his retweet support is helping both Normal Happenings and this collaboration find new audiences. I’m looking forward to all the tasks we’ll be working together on in the future.

For now, however, let us begin! Please enjoy this next chapter of The Games That Define Us!

– Matthew, Normal Happenings

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DqDyanoX4AAgoTl

The Well-Red Mage @ The Well-Red Mage

Twitter: @theWellRedMage

For the warriors of light.

Game: Breath of Fire II
System: SNES
Release Date: December 2, 1994

1P Start

The most incomprehensible thing about the universe is that it is comprehensible.
-John C. Lennox

Preamble Ramble

I want to thank Matthew from Normal Happenings for asking me to be a part of this collaborative undertaking. I’m not always able to dig into the fun community events happening all over WordPress, but this one was normal enough to be irresistible! My heart is in this community of writers and I wish I could clone myself for more time to be everywhere, read everything, and interact with everyone. Until that technology is invented and the inevitable clone wars begin, this stopgap of an article will have to suffice. I’ll treat it as a love letter to this great and welcoming community.

So anyway I was asked to talk about (not review) a game that means a lot to me personally. The title of the project is “Games That Define Us”, after all. To prevent myself from running my mouth dry about Chrono Trigger yet again, or any of the other games I never shut up about, I decided I’d talk about Breath of Fire II and how it played a major part in my life’s journey so far, specifically regarding theology. I don’t want anyone to feel shanghaied into reading this under different expectations: I am about to talk about my perspective on God and religion, topics not always for the faint of heart, but ultimately, this is a post about my life and how I arrived at certain philosophies and systems of thought which I maintain to this day. You don’t have to agree with me; that makes us individuals, but I’m going to talk about my life, nonetheless.

Whiff of Fire

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If I remember correctly (though if I have to have a past I prefer it to be multiple choice), I first randomly encountered Capcom’s JRPG epic Breath of Fire II at my friend Jacob’s house. He had a Super Nintendo before I did, and spending the weekends there was a big factor in why I love the SNES so much and got one of my own eventually. We played a lot of Earthworm Jim, Street Fighter II Turbo, Chuck Rock, Mega Man X, and Rock n Roll Racing among many others. There was some PC gaming that went on, too, with the likes of Duke Nuk’em and Another World.

There was one of his cartridges, however, which stood out to me. We never played it together and I didn’t know why, especially since we traded off or played co-op with pretty much all the other games in his collection. Since I spent so much time there, and since it rained so frequently, we eventually got to the point of boredom where I could play whatever I wanted with or without him. He let me have access to his entire library. Generous guy! I went straight for that cartridge and plugged it in… the familiar 90’s Capcom logo warbled on a black screen, followed by the title screen (the incendiary insignia of a dragon’s silhouette). An adventure then began, the likes of which my young mind really was not prepared for.

After a haunting, if not terrifying, opening sequence with a talking eye, I followed a little boy named Ryu in search of his sister. He finds her but when he returns to his village, nobody recognizes him. So begins a story bigger than I could’ve imagined. Breath of Fire II involved lots of dragons, a catgirl, a dog-man, a human armadillo, a monkey, a tree sprite, a French frog, an exile with black wings, a huge fantasy world, many monsters galore, and… church?

I was kind of surprised to see it there.

Encountering Religion

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See, I grew up in the church. Sometimes you see that phrase passed around. It doesn’t really mean anything other than my parents made me go to a place I didn’t want to go every Sunday. I drew pictures and learned some stories without any indication of their meaning or relevant significance, and more than a few times I drew from my tiny cache of childish wiles to get out of it. Once, I put bubble gum in my hair to try to stay home so I could play The Legend of Zelda. I just ended up with a new haircut and all the old women who smelled like hair and muumuus complimented me.

Anyway, I was still going to church with my mom when I played Breath of Fire II. I eventually got to the part in the game where the Church of St. Eva (more on that here) became antagonistic, its hypnotized congregants shepherded by the literally diabolical high priest Habaraku. Turns out (spoilers, I guess) the Church of St. Eva was actually a front for demons. The Church was siphoning the prayers of its parishioners and converting them into power for its slumbering demon-king, Deathevan. This was fairly typical for the JRPG scene at the time, which had a tense relationship toward depictions of Westernized religion, at best, stemming from what appears to be a distinctly Japanese perspective.

This concept terrified me when I first encountered it, though. It was an entirely new idea to me that a church could be actually evil. I went to church only begrudgingly back then, had the occasional stirs of inspiration when a song I liked was sung (“My Sheep Know My Voice” since I loved animals when I was very young), and I don’t remember having any meaningful tie to the church I went to. It was a place to play and see friends. That’s it. But I never thought of it as an evil place. I felt the people were nice and the food was good and it was peaceful.

The idea that the church could be worshiping evil instead of Good never left me, and as I grew up into high school age, it was one which continued to haunt me now and then. I had the occasional nightmare about it. In reality, what it did was provoke me to research. I remember growing up that I spent a lot of time alone in nature; being by myself in the forest or at the beach let me think on my thoughts. Growing up, I told a few people who didn’t know that I got dragged to church that I was an atheist, my young life punctuated by the divorce of my parents and a subsequent perspective of the universe as capricious, cruel, and meaningless: the atheistic admixture.

However, it was in nature that I reached a point in my life when I had my inciting incident. I realized if the God they talked about in church was real then that meant everything in my life had to have meaning, significance, and a fundamentally different reality than the one I usually considered: being an unwanted accident. But if God didn’t exist or worse, if he was actually something else entirely, then that meant something, too.

All Things Permissible

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I began to feel like Ryu and his party creeping down the Infinity Dungeon step by step, plagued by random battles, toward the inevitable end as the daunting scope and resolution of my studies ahead settled in on me. Still, I felt the task was unavoidable. I had to figure these things out. I couldn’t just live as if they didn’t matter.

I later read about how C.S. Lewis, the most reluctant convert, came to believe in God and fought against it with all the intellectualism he could muster until the horrible, irresistible, pacifying realization came down on him like an avalanche and he had no choice to accept. Why the horror? Well, to accept that there is an infinite Mind watching you from conception, more powerful than anything else in existence, is and ought to be a humbling realization, at least. That’s why I take some irritation with some who treat their believing in the existence of God with frivolity and indifference.

And only does taking the next step further toward personal explanation on the part of that God as loving dispell any of the horror of that belief. I’ve heard Christianity described as a fairy tale for those afraid of the dark, but God’s not a teddy bear… He’s pictured as a consuming fire, someone who won’t be mocked.

Questioning the Unquestionable

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It’s okay to question, be curious, skeptical, doubtful, and then search for an answer.

As a boy, I remember being fascinated with folklore and mythology but that doubled after playing Breath of Fire II. Thanks to my local library (I didn’t have internet access in my home back then), I could study as much as I wanted.

I dug through the pantheon of the Greeks and Romans. I picked up some Japanese vocab to delve into the myths of the rising sun. I felt the ice of Norse eschatology. I looked to the heavens with Native American beliefs. I even learned about the ancient tales of the Hawaiians, my own people, but, becoming rapidly superstitious, I avoided learning Hawaiian chants and prayers in some of the schools I attended, even though I remember standing at the seashore and cursing Nāmaka the goddess of the sea just to see what would happen. People are complicated contradictions, I guess. To me, those things were real until I reached an age when I learned to study if they really were.

Hawaii is both a very superstitious and spiritual place, come to think about it. As a place where the fusion of cultures functions rather well, foods of all kinds are in abundance, as are traditions and religions. Within the small circle of my friends, I knew an atheist, a Buddhist, a Christian, and a Mormon. Hawaii had a lot of religions going on in just a small plot of land.

It was in this realm of fusion and confusion that the roots of my interest in spirituality and religion was cemented, but I realize I can trace that interest back to Breath of Fire II. It wasn’t until I moved to California and went to college that all the questions I’d ever asked came to a head and I found myself the disinclined convert made inclined. In other words, I couldn’t think of a way out of it. That’s my story, trying to rationalize God because of a video game.

How do you rationalize God? Lots of people say that the Christian monotheistic model of God is so supreme so as to be disprovable (invisible, all-powerful, all-knowing, beyond physical reach, etc.), the equivalent of “Well I’ve got a dinosaur who eats forcefield dogs!” I don’t think that’s the case, though.

Antony Flew, when he was still an atheist, attempted to demonstrate that the Christian God is an inherently incomprehensible concept by suggesting God’s attributes are incompatible with each other (grace and justice, for instance). He later discredited his own work on the subject but at least he established the honest potentiality for disproving God if He could be demonstrated to be fundamentally inconsistent: the theological equivalent of a zero-sided square or other such nonsense.

What Breath of Fire II did for me was it prevented me from taking anything at face value, not accept that church or God were good just because my parents went there for a time. I had to dig into these things myself and try my best to see and study and research the reality of things, if there indeed was any at all. I had run the gamut from Buddhism to Shintoism (two faiths which grabbed my attention when I was younger) and an array of others in books in full circle back to Christianity.

Personal Discovery

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Really, I couldn’t be more grateful for what Breath of Fire II did for me, indirectly.

Could I have encountered God without it? I don’t know, but if I had, maybe it wouldn’t have been in the same way where I came to think of the Uncaused Cause as logically coherent within Himself, not that there are no more mysteries or that I have no more doubts (wrestling with the nature of reality is what religions are about), but learning to be assured is something that’s been a crucial part of finding meaning in my life.

Now, I’ve experienced a lot of joy, done a lot of cool things, and met a lot of incredible people that I never would have without the experience that Breath of Fire II led me toward. Literally, I wouldn’t be the same person, spiritually, certainly, and those of you who are spiritual reading this will know that that speaks to a core part of your being. If you’re not at all interested in that sort of thing, at least you can get a glimpse of what video games can do and how they can impact people, provoking them to ask questions about epistemology, psychology, history, sociology, anthropology, eschatology, and theology itself. I don’t have all the answers, just as no one in any other field of study has all the answers, but I’ve rarely been so impacted by other samples of entertainment.

Because I believe in a personal God now, I’m impressed at the sagacity in using a simple 16-bit video game to get to me. I’ve been able to find this meaning that has carried me through the later, harder parts of my life thanks to this game. Sure I discovered that meaning a little later in life but it was just like waking up on a Saturday and having breakfast at noon.

This is the second time I’ve connected Breath of Fire II to my faith in writing, so I hope it’s not old hat at this point. Thank you for reading my story!

-Moses
thewellredmage.com

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adventure map


WordPress Reader viewers, please consider enjoying this post again on the site. While we designed with you in mind, you miss some of the nuances of the piece by not enjoying it in its original form. 

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This collaboration took an overwhelming amount of time and dedication from 34 exceptionally creative, incredible makers! Help us with the resources to make more, even better, collaborations in the future! We also have aspirations of developing a podcast called Normal Talks about optimistically appreciating everyday life! Please consider becoming a patron of Normal Happenings and help us try to make the world a better, more positive place!
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Faxanadu | The Game That Defines Hungrygoriya

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Audio

GG says “a lot of this music could be played by a band at a fancy dinner or something.” We concur, and it would be awesome. 

 

 

 

The Games That Define Us features carefully chosen music and remixes from the franchise of the game represented. Music is a key component of sharing the emotions one feels about a game, so we hope you will press the play button if you’re in a position to do so. 

introduction

Welcome back to day two of The Games That Define Us! We hope you enjoyed the first post, and are excited to launch ourselves through the decades of both our lives and gaming history.

Just a brief summary if this is your first time here: This collaboration is a 34-day long adventure through video games. Each piece is its own unique audiovisual experience, complete with artwork, designs, music, and (most importantly) amazing works of prose by brilliant bloggers around the world. This adventure will take you through nostalgia, joy, ambition, self-discovery, regret, anxiety, frustration, mourning, and every human experience in between. Video games exist as fragments on the timeline of our lives, and each one of us have chosen the adventure we feel most defines us.

Today’s writer, GG from Hungrygoriya, has been a supportive blogging colleague since Normal Happenings’s inception. I’m so glad we got this mythical writer back after composing such a creative piece during Hyrule: See the Sights! Hear the Sounds! After reading this post, I highly recommend checking out their piece on Ultima IV: Quest of the Avatar. Similar to this piece, it’s full of personal exploration of the impact of a game, and well worth your time.

I’ll admit, before organizing this collaboration, I had never heard of the game Faxanadu. It turns out I overlooked it on the Wii Virtual Console. I thought I had a good grasp on all of the classics of the NES, but this one slipped through the cracks. However, upon reading GG’s insights on the title, I find myself begging for Nintendo to bring it to the Switch online service.

But that’s enough from me — let’s get to the good part. We hope you enjoy the next chapter of The Games The Define Us!

– Matthew, Normal Happenings

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DqYMrnoWwAAHnte

GG @ Hungrygoriya
Twitter: @hungrygoriya

For the unknown wanderers returning home

 


Game: Faxanadu
System: NES
Release Date: November 16, 1987

1P Start

I don’t really have a mantra per se, but the idea of being mindful and staying in the moment rather than fretting about things I can’t control has really helped me in all areas of my life.

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I wish I could remember the first time I played Faxanadu. My family bought an NES in 1990 when I was just four years old, but if I’m being completely honest, I don’t even remember how Faxanadu made it to us. It could’ve been a birthday or a Christmas, but many of my memories from that time are a bit foggy.

My parents were always pretty divided on gaming. My dad had bumped into that first goomba in Super Mario Bros. and never picked up a controller again, while my mom absolutely loved the challenge of games like Super Mario Bros. 2 and 3. My siblings also enjoyed gaming, but I was the only one who would regularly pop longer games like The Legend of Zelda and Faxanadu into the console. Usually they were stuck onto the trusty Game Genie to ensure I had a fighting chance to make it past the first parts of the games without meeting death too soon.

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Faxanadu was different from many of the other games I had been playing up until that point. It was not cut from the same cloth as the bubbly, colourful platformers of the NES era. Though I enjoyed the Mario games and Adventure Island II, Faxanadu drew me in for different reasons. The music was questy yet dissonant, and the graphics were based more in reality than imagination — as realistic as the setting of a giant tree can be, I suppose. There was something about the game’s dark and gloomy atmosphere and the nameless hero taking up a dire cause that I could relate to at that point in my life. My childhood was not particularly bright, and the dark setting of the World Tree was a great escape for me while I hacked and slashed away at unidentifiable enemies to raise my experience and rake in the gold. I especially appreciated that there was no option for a second player. It gave me an excuse to be alone once in a while.

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I should’ve disintegrated far more often while playing Faxanadu, but with Infinite Magic and Infinite Power by means of the Game Genie, I was unstoppable. After finally giving up the cheating machine, dying in Faxanadu was very frequent for me. Thankfully it wasn’t all bad, since one of my very favourite parts of the game is the message that’s shown when you die. It’s my one go-to phrase for when I need a pick-me-up:

Don’t have negative thoughts. Remember your mantra.

Those words are sometimes all I need to put one foot in front of the other when I’m feeling a little glum. I don’t really have a mantra per se, but the idea of being mindful and staying in the moment rather than fretting about things I can’t control has really helped me in all areas of my life.

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Faxanadu was the first proper role-playing game I ever played. If you know much about me or my taste in games these days, it’s all RPGs all the time, and Faxanadu is solely responsible for that. I will never forget the day I beat it on my own without the Game Genie for the first time. I was well into my twenties and had decided to stream the game in hopes to garner some interest from others, having spent most of my life not knowing anyone else that enjoyed the game as much as me. That night I think I played Faxanadu for one or two people that came and went throughout the evening. I was vanquished over and over again, and after about five hours of struggling, I finally defeated the anticlimactic final boss. My enthusiasm post-win was met by silence, since most people watching had given up on me long before I had made it to the end, but it was a quiet victory and I reveled in those moments completely. I’ve felt accomplished finishing other games, but none bring me as much satisfaction as Faxanadu. Nothing beats seeing that rejuvenated World Tree and watching our nameless protagonist go off to his next adventure.

On the surface, Faxanadu looks like your average action RPG. In many ways it is, but I’ve never been able to find the same sense of urgency and adventure in other games like it. Though there’s not much to know about that game’s main character in terms of his story or motivations, his shoes are an easy pair to step into and walk a mile in, and the game and its challenges therein shaped much of my sense of self-reliance and determination. I’m so glad to have been able to experience such a wonderful game in my youth, and I’m even more grateful that I can continue to enjoy it as an adult.

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