Video Games: They’ve been around since 1947 with the Catherode ray tube Amusment Device and have been entertaining the young and old alike ever since, growing into an industrial powerhouse that drives everything from popular culture to way we examine society, and also how we examine ourselves.
With E3 behind us for this year, the staff at nerdslant decided to do a bit of that self-examining through the lens of the video games that have shaped our lives by asking one seemingly simple (yet altogether mind-boggling) question: What’s your video game spirit animal?
Joe – Donkey Kong Country (SNES)
Scary thought of the day: Many of you faithful readers probably don’t even know what a Super NES (Nintendo Entertainment System) is because you’re too young to remember it.
What this also means is that I’m almost as old as Larry King. However, this isn’t going to stop me from giving props to one of my favorite video games of all time (and sadly, one of the few that I’ve actually beaten. As lame as it sounds to some, I was never a huge video game fanatic and I mostly played them at friends’ houses instead of at my own house).
Unlike many video games that are eating away at children’s minds nowadays, Donkey Kong Country actually had a plot and distinct goals that the characters were setting out to achieve, which in this game’s case, was Donkey and his cartwheeling nephew Diddy recovering their stolen hoard of bananas at the hands of the evil King K. Rool.
I love how I accidentally figured out a few tricks just by messing around with the controller, such as after making Donkey bang and pound on a bump on the ground, a bunch of bananas squeezes out of it, which can be collected and go toward your total for a mission to get a new life. One of my favorite levels was called “Mine Cart Madness,” which included broken pieces of track that Donkey and his nephew Diddy had to leap over to make it out alive. The level was so awesome that there used to be a Facebook group called “Mine Cart Madness is the best level in Donkey Kong!”
Much like the countless blockbuster movies of recent years, the hit game spawned two sequels: Donkey Kong Country 2: Diddy’s Kong Quest and Donkey Kong Country 3: Dixie Kong’s Double Trouble!, neither of which were nearly as badass as the original. This landmark video game will always hold a special place in my heart, partially because of how I can relate to the main characters’ peaceful façade that masks an underlying rage.
Will – Seath the Scaleless (Dark Souls)
Not that I want to perform experiments on people–or that I would betray Dragonkind or anything–but, when asked this question, Seath the Scaleless from Dark Souls is what popped into my head. In case you haven’t played the game, Seath is a giant albino-dragon, with, you guessed it, no scales. Thousands of years ago, he betrayed his brethren to help Gwyn and his knights defeat the Dragons and usher in the age of fire. When you play the game, he is one of the bosses you must fight to proceed.
He hangs out in a place called The Duke’s Archives, which is a pretty beautiful library/laboratory set on a hillside in the sunset-dappled city of Anor Londo. If it wasn’t for all those crystal skeletons it’d be a nice place to retire one day. Basically Seath just wants to be left alone to read his books and work on his immortality crystals, which falls in line with my goals for life, thus: video game spirit animal.
I just hope some undead adventurer doesn’t happen by to break my crystal and steal my soul.
Gab – Super Smash Bros. Melee
As a non-gamer (I know, internet, a collective gasp arises from your depths), there are plenty of times I’ve enjoyed watching people play video games. Because I wasn’t allowed to own a gaming system as a kid–hand-held or console–I feel like I missed out on some prime moment in the development of my hand-eye coordination; games are too difficult for me, most of the time. You know that one friend who can’t even play Mario Kart, who falls off of Rainbow Road so fast that it’s almost a waste of time to play? Yep, that’s me.
Super Smash Bros. Melee is the once-in-a-lifetime chance I get to hold my own against even seasoned gamers. Even I can grab a controller and buttonmash to my heart’s content. I always play as Ness, because everyone hates him, apparently, and it signifies how awful of a newbie I am. As soon as I figure out that horrifically painful “ZE FIRE” fireball, it’s all I repeat until the game is done. Do I win? Never. Do I put up a good fight and annoy even those seasoned gamers? Absolutely, hell yes! After, I can go back to watching you play through the story of something amazing, like Assassin’s Creed. However, knowing that even someone gaming-incompetent (like me) can jump in and play a round? That’s a pretty good feeling.
Taylor – The Metal Gear Solid Series
As a proud self proclaimed nerd and video game enthusiast I’ve come across many titles in my time. None have truly captured my imagination quite like the Metal Gear Solid series.
Subject to countless hours of articulating conspiracies, easter eggs, and trying to find the hidden pictures of bikini clad models in soldier’s lockers, I’ve found my self caught in the rapture of Hideo Kojima’s brainchild. I was but a boy when I first recall my uncle cutting my cousin’s and I’s playing time of Marvel Vs Capcom short to introduce us to a game he said a friend called, “One of a kind, innovating”.
Shortly thereafter, I became a man, an enemy to those who have plunged the world into chaos with terror and the forces that followed their orders. A soldier with a purpose to fight, a man honored for my cause and desired for my virtue!
What started as a demo that we played with the Japanese-dialogue on quickly evolved to an addiction. This was more than button mashing and trying to chain combos and special moves. It was paying attention to the radar and the way sentry’s moved. It was smart and calculating, you needed cunning, improvisation and when you heard the alert noise and the flashed exclamation over a guard’s head, you knew, s*** got real!
How does this game relate for me, you may ask? I’ll tell you, it made me realize that even a game can force you to make critical decisions on short notice. When the alarm sounds off, it’s up to you to decide where you go from there; each move is followed with a consequence and, much like life, one wrong move can dictate what comes next. It enforced something most games don’t: patience and critical thinking.
There weren’t many times in the game where you could just brashly run into a room mow all the guys down with your weapon and advance. There was no power pellet, no magic mushroom in this world. At times just a tranquilizer gun, a cardboard box, a pack of cigs (bad for your health in game too, which was one of the little nuances that never pushed me to be a smoker, corny I know) and your wits.
It made me realize how important team work and communication skills are, if you don’t know what comes next, call your ally on the radio comm and seek out some tips to help you on the next part of the mission.
Then the story felt more like a movie, something I felt emotionally connected to. It was more than just losing lives or hitting continue, it felt like the deeper I got the more I was tying in and making a difference in this story. I was the lead, and somehow what I did made a difference beyond seeing a new level or rescuing a princess. I was saving the world! It felt like I was taking part as the spy himself, this agent of order in a chaotic situation.
As the games grew over the years the experience became more enriched visually, the tactics and techniques advances alongside the mechanics and most importantly, the story! It felt like the perfect impression on me as a kid to appreciate the visual medium of telling a story, having all the elements alongside the themes in place, speaking of said heroes and their virtues and villains and their madness.
While I never had inspirations to be a soldier or an agent for my country or the free world at large, I did always want to be a great storyteller, so I soaked in all the years of watching this agent defy the odds, have silly human errors, and moments of clarity in spectacular fashion. I felt the loss when my comrades fell or characters realized their impending doom ahead and made a worthwhile sacrifice. It was my first emotional connection in gaming on a profound level that made me see the character rise to the occasion or fall and take umbrage with his comrades.
The Metal Gear Solid games tell a story that made me want to succeed. It made me feel, think and connect with a sense of purpose. It helped inspire my want and need to be a filmmaker. To put these characters in place to aspire, be flawed, reach their goals or die trying. To pick the right score or elements to make a scene or sequence of events be filled with fun and high action or the be moved with emotion. It made me who I am today, a nerd who loves movies and video games.
Cat – American McGee’s Alice and Alice: Madness Returns
“Making ‘friends’, Alice? You’re as randomly lethal and entirely confused as you ever were,” taunts the Cheshire Cat early in Alice: Madness Returns, fairly well describing the experience of entering any new game world where the primary mechanic involves fighting. Alice: Madness Returns is the 2011 sequel to American McGee’s Alice, released in 2000. I describe the series to those unfamiliar as a dark and twisted sequel to Alice in Wonderland.
Building past Lewis Carroll’s classic tale, the story takes Alice to a mental institution following the death of her family in a fire, where she plays out her mental processing of the event as a battle through Wonderland. Madness Returns brings Alice back through a disintegrating Wonderland in a quest to recover her memories of the cause of the fire and bleeds into London as she re-engages with the real world around her. Both are atmospheric and creepy in an extremely satisfying way.
One of the great things about the concept for the games is that Wonderland evolves with Alice, both reflecting her mental state as well as giving her something concrete to fight when coming to terms with her harsh reality. In the first game, the battle is for Alice’s sanity within her own mind. She conquers her way through Wonderland to process her own grief.
In the second game, Alice discovers the real source of her tragedy and ultimately wields Wonderland like a weapon against that evil. Who wouldn’t want to conquer their own demons, and then set them loose on the darkness of the world?
Ali – Torchlight II
Torchlight II is an RPG that now has a ton of mods available to add classes, maps, bosses, pets, items, and many other bonuses that enrich the gaming experience. The bare bones game offers four classes, solo play, LAN play, or online play with up to four players. The original four classes are Engineer, Embermage, Outlander, and Berserker. Engineers are somewhat like tanks, but with healing capability available in their talent tree.
Embermages are pretty much, well, mages, but not as squishy as you’d find in most games. The Outlander’s like a hunter, using guns as a main weapon, while Berserkers are essentially rogues: dual-wielding weapons to deal damage. much a rogue, dual wielding weapons to deal damage. Every class gets a battle pet to fight alongside, fit with its own backpack to carry gear for you and can even be sent to town to sell your trash drops.
Items in this game are not soulbound, which means any in the shared stash can be used by all of your characters. Some gear is class specific, and there are gear sets that have set bonuses. Torchlight II has enchanters in it who can buff or socket items–for a price, of course. The only thing you can’t trade among your own characters is gold.
Both you and your pet are allowed four extra spells that can be learned, that can be either passive or active in nature. These spells do not level with the player like spells in a talent tree, they must be purchased or looted to gain the higher level of the spell needed.
I used to be addicted to playing World of Warcraft; I played all the way from vanilla WoW to the bitter end of Wrath of the Litch King, but then I found everything I loved about WoW in Torchlight II (without all of the things that I really disliked).
While I loved solo play in WoW, it can get really annoying when a quest you’re on is popular, but you don’t have that issue in Torchlight II. I’m a dungeon running nut, and it’s very easy to do that solo instead of getting into a random group like in WoW.
Torchlight II gives you the option of playing with others, but you don’t have to fight over loot; the game gives you individual-player looting, unlike rolling in World of Warcraft. Players in the game can also exchange loot or gold at any point in the game, as long as you’re not in combat.
You can also personalize the difficulty level (again, another huge difference from WoW) allowing easier play for casual gamers and that adrenaline rush you hardcore players love so much. The game has something for everybody, and that’s what makes Torchlight II my spirit animal.
Drew – Super Mario Bros 3
Video games have come such a long way since I was a kid; graphics, music, storylines are all 1,000,000% better. Online game play has revolutionized the industry. However, if I had to name a video game spirit animal, it wouldn’t be one of these newfangled fancy doodads with all the bells and whistles. My video game spirit animal is a fat little plumber in a Tanooki suit. No, I am not talking about my secret fetish, I am referring to Super Mario Bros. 3, a game I still find myself playing 28 years after its release. This game meant the world to me as a child, and honestly still holds up to this day.
At the time it was the most visually stunning game I had ever seen! I could spend hours in front of the TV transported into a whole new world. An incredible world full of Goombas, Koopa Troopas, Cheep Cheeps, and Thwomps. When you get right down to it, Mario embodies the American dream: Travel to a new land, work your tail off (see what I did there?), and save the beautiful princess. I guess that would make Bowser, with his terrible golden hair, the 1988 equivalent of a current republican presidential candidate.
Andromeda – Majora’s Mask
I think my videogame spirit animal would have to be Majora’s Mask, released back in 2000 on the N64. Majora’s Mask takes place immediately following the events of Ocarina of Time. Link leaves Hyrule after saving it from Ganondorf to look for his fairy friend Navi. The have opens with Link riding Epona, his trusty steed, through a misty wood. They’re accosted by the Skullkid and his two fairy companions: Tael and Tatl.
The three knock Link out and steal Epona and the Ocarina of Time. Link gives chase and suddenly finds himself in Termina, a land parallel to Hyrule. He also discovers that Skullkid is more than just a thief; he’s a villain who plans to bring the moon down on Termina. Link must master new weapons, skills, and time itself to save the the world.
I grew up fascinated by masks; like many other people, I tend to feel that I’m wearing a mask depending on my audience. So, it stands to reason that I’d love a game where masks are integral to the progression of the story, and there are so many different uses for them. Some turn you into an entirely different being, while others have less… useful actions, like the one that makes Link do a strange dance. No matter how odd they are, all of the masks are needed to completely the story.
The game’s story’s also much deeper than Ocarina of Time, with a lot of side-stories that intertwine with the main one. Majora’s Mask also makes the point of teaching gamers that small actions can have big reactions. As with previous Zelda games–where helping characters usually resulted in a new items or a life container, some small deeds in Majora’s Mask result in reuniting lovers or allowing someone to rest in peace. I’ve found it true in my life that doing things I thought were small were much larger to whomever I was interacting with.
I also felt a connection to the game that I wasn’t able to explain until I took psychology in college. In my psychology course we studied the stages of grief, and I noticed that the temples and masks associated with those temples were connected to my studies; when I first got Majora’s Mask I was going through my own personal grieving. I could empathize with Link’s grief over the loss of Navi, and the possible loss of his innocence.
Tim – Tetris
It’s 1991; I’m sitting in my bedroom and worried about school with too much homework. I don’t read well, kids are mean, the girl I like only likes guys who are jerks, etc, etc. Life is chaos. I slip the cartridge into my NES and set the needle down onto side one of AC/DC’s Dirty Deeds album. The signature Tetris theme song, Russia’s Korobeiniki, blends surprisingly well with the rock sounds coming from my stereo. The pieces begin to fall, and I create order from the chaos.
Tetris became a meditation. It was, and still is, my basic tenant for problem solving: Solve the problem in front of you–deal with the piece in hand. If the current piece just doesn’t fit anywhere, set it aside and take the next one; come back to the previous one in a minute.
Solve one line at a time and get your rhythm and pacing figured out. Once you have that, you can start planning for solving more complex problems. Clear two, even three lines at a time. Master those delicious four-line Tetris clears. Then, the back-to-back Tetrises, like a boss.
Now you’ve got everything you need. Now you’ve got my secrets to life. Put the right pieces in the right slots, let it bring you peace of mind and serenity, and don’t be afraid to mix it up with some “Dirty Deeds” from time to time.
Marshall – Super Mario World
Super Mario World starts with Mario, Luigi, and Princess Peach going to Dinosaur Island for a picnic. While setting everything up, Mario and Luigi discover the Princess and the residents of Dinosaur Island, the Yoshis, had been kidnapped by Bowser. It’s then up to the Mario Brothers to save the day.
At the age of six I didn’t have many friends; I had video games for a long portion of my life, particularly my N64. Turok, Mario, Link, and James Bond were probably the best friends I had for a while. Mario was my favorite, though. While the N64 was the first system I ever had, that isn’t where this story starts.
It starts when I happened upon an SNES console at a yard sale with twenty games and a Super Scope 9000. Being the gamer I was, I needed to have it, and the $30 price tag made not buying the whole bundle impossible. I pleaded with my mother, and she eventually agreed on the condition I did extra chores. I got home with it and checked out everything. The Super Scope was so cool–it felt like I was holding a space bazooka. Looking back on it, I had a pretty cool collection. Yoshi’s Island, Mighty Morphin’ Power Rangers, Super Scope 6, and Yoshi’s Safari, but most importantly of all: Super Mario World.
Super Mario World was the one game that I played over and over. There were so many ways to beat it and such vibrant colors. The game was instantly my favorite, and I couldn’t stop playing it; it made me feel happy every time I beat the game.
It was also game that introduced me to Mario’s dino-sidekick Yoshi and all of Yoshi’s differently colored brothers. Whether the levels were short or long, finding every single secret was super tricky; don’t even get me started on the super secret world you could discover after you beat Star Land and save the different color Yoshi’s.
Super Mario World gave me a satisfaction I never received from any other game. If I came home after a bad day or my parents were fighting, I would just go play Super Mario World. I’d leave this world and enter a new one where I helped Mario on his adventure. Then disaster struck a few years later: My dog got in my room and chew up the cartridge; I was devastated. I searched and searched, but couldn’t find the game again for the SNES.
Years later the Game Boy Advance (GBA) came out along with the Super Mario Advance series. It had returned! Super Mario Advance 2 was Super Mario World on a portable device–it was amazing. Sure, I had Pokèmon Emerald, but that was only 30% of what my GBA was used for; the rest was Super Mario World. I even got the guide book for the game, not that I needed it; I knew all the secrets by heart, and still do to this day.
Along with the games return, it brought back that satisfaction I had missed. I beat the game well over one-hundred-and-fifty times and enjoyed every second of it. After my GBA died I ported a copy of the game onto my hacked PSP, and Nintendo recently released it on the Wii-U.
I’ve had Super Mario World on me in one form or another for more than twelve years since I discoering it on the original console. Super Mario World was, and still is, a big part of my life today.
Devin – Guybrush Threepwood (Monkey Island)
My video game spirit animal is Guybrush Threepwood, legendary pirate from the Monkey Island point-and-click adventure game series from Lucasarts. Guybrush isn’t exactly the smartest character in the world–everyone else is just oblivious. Don’t you know that a rubber tree can help you win a caber toss with a Scotsman? That a duel is only over when you shoot the other pirate’s banjo? That your deadliest weapon in a sword fight is a well placed rhyming insult couplet? Of course you didn’t… I’m the protagonist in this story.
I often find myself mixing and matching various items in my pack, saying “That’s the second biggest <insert anything here> I’ve ever seen!”, and have trouble collecting on my life insurance policy.
Most importantly, he never gives up–not even in the face of ridiculous odds. Guybrush Threepwood, mighty pirate, has been fighting for love over the course of five video games. Elaine’s completely out of Mr. Threepwood’s league. She’s so pretty she’s been kidnapped multiple times by some Pirates of the Caribbean-style supervillian multiple times! He’s just a regular guy getting beaten up by the world most of the time, but he’ll always try and make things right. I really do need to practice my insults though…
“You fight like a dairy farmer.”
“How appropriate. You fight like a cow.” – Orson Scott Card
So there you have it! You’ve now delved deeper into the psyche of the nerdslant staff than you probably thought you were going to (or wanted to, for that matter), but like the penguin tells Edward Norton in Fight Club: Slide.
What’s your video game spirit animal? Let us know in the comment section below, and (like we have to even tell you this) keep on gaming!