I wasn't sure if I was sad or angry. I'd spent months playing through Final Fantasy 7, and it felt like such an achievement just to reach the end of the first disc. Aeris had been a mainstay in my party. Now she was gone.
As a kid, I was terrible at video games. I was an only child, and with no older siblings to show me the ropes, I had to stumble through the process on my own. I was eight when I received a Super Nintendo for Christmas, and it was such a strange and novel contraption. I didn't really know anyone who had a video game system, and now that I had one, I wasn't sure what to make of it. Like the monkeys in 2001: A Space Odyssey, marveling at the giant black monolith, I didn't entirely trust or understand my new device.
My mom would take me to the video store to rent games, and for years I didn't realize people could actually buy them to keep. I'd look at the back of the boxes, choose whatever looked most interesting, and spend the weekend crouched in front of the television. I could never truly grasp the strategy involved in the games, but it didn't stop me from being completely enamored with the experience. I'd try to recount events to my mother, who did her best to act interested.
It didn't matter to me that my skill with video games was on par with a lobotomized preschooler with no fingers. A houseplant could have fallen onto the controller and had more luck at beating the game than I even did, yet I never felt frustrated while playing. I was happy to just be experiencing new and different worlds. Because I only rented games for years, I was able to play other people's save files, meaning new areas were always opening up to me. If I waited a couple weeks, I could rent a game I'd played half a dozen times before, and if I was lucky, someone else would have advanced the story for me. It made games strange and mysterious, because I never knew what to expect.
One weekend I rented Final Fantasy 3 (technically 6, but let's not get into that) and opened up a save file from the previous renter. I played for a while, wondering why I was on an island, and doing my best to catch fish for the whiny banana-looking dude in my cabin.
When the banana guy died from tainted fish, I thought I'd done something wrong. I had tried so hard to catch healthy fish for him, but he bit the dust anyway. I felt awful for my tiny sprite-based character, lugging fish back to sickly banana-friend.
Then, feeling alone in the world, she tried to commit suicide. It was a lot for a nine-year-old to handle.
Slowly I got a little more skilled at video games, but by and large I still sucked. I didn't beat a game on my own for years, but still I was enamored with them. It gave me something to talk about with other kids in my school. Since I could draw, I'd doodle characters from my favorite games, which impressed my schoolmates, and making friends became easy for me.
One day in class, I learned that some kids actually owned their video games and that renting wasn't the only option.
I felt like I'd been lied to for months. How was it possible that I'd remained in the dark so long? Lowly humans could purchase videogames? For keeps? Everything had changed. I went home that afternoon and made an announcement to my mother.
That Christmas, I received Earthbound as a present. To say I was excited would be an understatement. I was thrilled. I was ecstatic.
It was the first game I'd ever owned, and I cherished it like the treasure it was. None of the video stores around me had copies of it to rent. I'd only heard tales of it from my friends, and it sounded too good to be real.
"It's like, set in modern day. You run around town and fight aliens and monsters and stuff. You eat pizza to regain health!" I didn't believe it. It sounded like a myth.
It's difficult to put into words exactly how delighted I was to own a game of my own. I went nuts. My little heart could barely handle the excitement.
With a game in my permanent possession, I could take extra time and learn the strategy involved. It was still a struggle, and I died hundreds of times, but slowly and surely I managed to advance further and further into the storyline.
Earthbound spilled over into my real life. I fought evil robots at recess. Everything I ate in the cafeteria refilled my HP. A sandwich was no longer a sandwich; it was a vital item, bringing me back from the brink of death so that I might save the world.
Earthbound, like the other games I'd played before, eventually became too difficult for me to beat, but I didn't mind. I'd start over from the beginning and play through the familiar parts, over and over.
I became a gamer. I'd brag to my friends about completing dungeons in A Link to the Past, or we'd speculate what the secret might be in Secret of Mana.
When I was eleven, I sold my Super Nintendo to a neighbor so I could buy a Playstation. Then, because I didn't have any money left, it sat unused for several months until I could afford a game to play. I bought Final Fantasy 7. I died six times before the first boss. I was awful. But I stuck with it, and advanced in the game bit by bit. It might've been easier if I'd known what I was doing, if I didn't run away from battles so often and load up my characters exclusively with Summon Materia.
When Aeris died, I was floored. Final Fantasy 7 was the first game in my life I'd had any real success at, so it felt like a real blow. I eventually beat it, but it took a year, and I've never felt that sense of accomplishment since. Graduating from college pales in comparison to delivering that final blow to Sephiroth.
In high school, I played games less and less, focusing more on my studies. Senior year was devoted to college admissions, and soon after that I stopped playing games altogether. I moved to Boston for college and left my videogame systems behind. "I love video games!" became, "Yeah, I used to play games. Are they still making Zelda?" I fell out of the loop.
A couple months after I graduated, and several years after I'd picked up a controller, I came to possess a copy of Fallout 3. I don't remember how I came to own it. I like to think it just appeared in my apartment one day like a divine gift from above.
I popped it in my Playstation 3 (which I'd purchased as a Blu-ray player) and didn't leave my apartment for four days.
Just like that, I was a gamer again. I went back and beat all the old games I was too young to grasp. I sought out the games I'd missed in high school and college and blazed through them with ease.
At 25 years old, I pre-ordered my first video game: Skyrim. I waited in line for the midnight release, barely able to contain my excitement.
I played it all night and well into the morning. I felt like a kid again. I didn't feel bad about neglecting my friends over the next couple weeks, because they were all playing it too.
I remember once trying to make my mom play Street Fighter 2 with me but she wasn't interested. To her, I think videogames were just flashing lights set to bleeps and blips. I took that to mean adults don't like videogames in general, and that I should enjoy them while I was young because eventually I'd lose interest.
On the contrary, I'm more fascinated and enamored with videogames as an adult than I ever was as a child, and I can't imagine a time when I won't be. Years from now, I'll be sitting on my porch, leering at youngsters as they pass by, thinking, "fucking n00b. I bet I could waste you in Mortal Kombat 23."