Simple and Clean

You’re 3.99 years old. The wedding you’re at is boring as hell, so your cousin hands you a GameBoy Color with Link’s Awakening inside. The only videogame you’ve played before this is Pac-Man, at an arcade in Egypt. You are in awe. You cannot believe videogames can be like this – they can tell a story, just like the Redwall books that are enamoring you at the same time. You want an N64 on your birthday, and instead of getting Star Wars Rogue Squadron like you planned, you get Ocarina of Time.

You’re 5 years old. You still haven’t beaten Ocarina of Time. You’re only allowed 2 games a year, so you’re trying to savor the experience. Plus, you’re terrified of the Shadow Temple. You are enthralled by this game. It is the most beautiful thing you’ve ever seen. You explore every nook and cranny. You finally understand what the phrase “explore every nook and cranny” even means, because you’ve done virtually everything there is to do in the game. You finally beat it. You cry. A lot.

You’re 8 years old. You have a few games under your belt at this point. Besides reading, they’re your favorite pastime. Your mom acquiesces to your passion for the hobby, as long as you’re reading, getting A’s in class, and only playing on weekends. You’re finally getting a PlayStation 2 for Eid-al-Fitr. It’s the first time you’ve ever fasted for real. You’re allowed one game along with it. You pick Spyro: Enter the Dragonfly, having enjoyed the previous games in the series. It’s the first game that’s ever betrayed you. You are crushed. You return a game, for the first time in your life. With your second chance, you choose carefully. You see a game called Kingdom Hearts on the GameStop shelf, and recognize Cloud from Final Fantasy 7 on the back of the box. He didn’t let you down before. You buy it. It is incredible. You love it so much you break your mom’s rules, playing it on weekdays for a brief 20 minutes while she’s away to pick up your little sister. You beat it. You cry. A lot.

You’re 11 years old. You’re getting a game for your birthday. You’re keeping up with the industry now. You know what IGN is, and you like to do the polls on GameFAQs, and print out the walkthroughs. You really want Shadow of the Colossus. Your mom asks the GameStop clerk if the game is violent. Your heart freezes. Is this the end? The clerk looks her dead in the eye, and says “no.” Thank you Jeff from the Aurora Mall GameStop. I hope you’re living your best life. Shadow of the Colossus changes your life. You’ve cried from games before, but not like this. You question things you were certain of before the credits rolled. You realize that games can be more than just entertainment, or even more than just a story. They can change who you are, fundamentally.

You’re 12 years old. You hate middle school. It is the worst thing you’ve ever experienced, and you’ve had an infected lung tissue removed from your body. That’s how bad middle school is. But it’s okay, because Kingdom Hearts II has released. You have grown up, and the game has grown up alongside you. Sora has grown up alongside you. You play it in a rush during your Spring Break. The ending is so cool that you show it to your friends. They don’t care and have never been interested in Kingdom Hearts in their life, but you can’t help it.

You’re 16 years old. High School isn’t as bad. You skip prom to play Portal 2. You don’t like Skyward Sword, and it causes you to question everything you’ve ever known. You aren’t sure if you’re changing, or if the games you’re playing are. Sometimes you’d rather write than play. You have ideas for novels, but you know you aren’t good enough to make them. Not yet. Everyone is talking about Skyrim. Your friends are talking about Skyrim. Your teachers are talking about Skyrim. Your crush knows what Skyrim is. You want to talk to her about it. You don’t. You don’t talk to her at all, actually.

You’re 19 years old. College is…okay? You have money to buy your own videogames now, from your job at the Registrar. Despite that, you find yourself spending less money on them. You don’t find yourself enjoying them much anymore. You replay all of the Kingdom Hearts games in the HD collection. They’re still good. You recognize that they’re silly, but they’ve been with you all this time, and they mean something to you. You think next year might be better.

You’re 20. You hate everything. You hate college. You hate your major. You hate your roommate. You don’t want to do anything. You spend hours lying on your bed. You go to class, sometimes. You stare at the menu screen of Xenoblade Chronicles X, but you never press start. You don’t even know what the point of getting it was. What a waste of money.

You’re 21. You switched majors. You feel weird about it, but you realize it’s for the best, and that you have to make choices for yourself sometimes. You pick up Persona 4: Golden. It’s soothing. A reminder that you can do better, and be better. You move in with your friend from middle school. You have plans to stream together. You never do, but you like living with him, and don’t dread going home.

You’re 22 years old. You think you like videogames again. Final Fantasy XV, Gravity Rush 2, Nier Automata, Tales of Berseria, Yakuza 0: you’re spoiled for choice, and reminded of the quality they can carry. You wonder again if games changed when you weren’t looking, or if you changed when games weren’t looking. You think it might be both. You play every Kingdom Hearts game in order, from Kingdom Hearts to Dream Drop Distance. You hear that Kingdom Hearts III is releasing fairly soon. You doubt it.

You’re 24 years old. Kingdom Hearts III is releasing tomorrow. You wrote that novel, and you’re about to write it again. You don’t live with your friend from middle school anymore, but you stream with him (almost) every Saturday. You’ve reestablished your whole online persona, and feel more comfortable with yourself than you ever have been. Kingdom Hearts III has blot out the sun as it looms over you. You wonder what will come after it’s finished. You feel like a chapter of your life is closing, and it makes you very uncomfortable. You are embarrassed that a videogame about Mickey Mouse is causing you to have a life crisis, but you figure that writing about it might help.

It doesn’t.

But it was still pretty fun.

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