I live to create, and the older I get, the more the world of videogames becomes synonymous with creation. I’ve been making game mods for 15 years now. Before that, level editors were my obsession. Before that, there was SimCity.
Can you believe the first SimCity came out in 1989? Admittedly, the version we had at home must have been the Windows port from ’92 — and even before I played that one, it was SimCity 2000 I got my hands on in a second grade classroom for about 30 minutes every couple weeks.
What a strange game this was at the time: no levels, no bad guy, no clear goal. There were systems behind the scenes, of course — strategies, setbacks, ways of doing better or worse; but for any of us who played SimCity at a really young age, wasn’t it all just a playground? We didn’t understand or care about population growth or taxation rates! We just knew we could build our city any way we chose.
SimCity 2000 was the second of the “educational” games introduced during my elementary schooling, shortly after Oregon Trail, and not long before The Incredible Machine, Odell Down Under, The Amazon Trail, and eventually some bizarre thing called… Logical Journey of the Zoombinis apparently. Yeah, we were pretty spoiled with our edu-tainment in the ’90s.
But while I was enjoying games as a part of my education, learning how incredible and empowering the act of creation could be… at home the message was very different. There, my interest in telling stories had always been encouraged — but not through videogames. For as long as I can remember, my anxiety-ridden mother was beating herself up about allowing computers and videogame consoles into the house. She said they had ruined us, made us complacent and lazy, sucked us into fantasy worlds we preferred over real life.
So there’s actually a lot of pain associated with memories of these parts of my childhood. It wasn’t her intention, but my mother drilled into me from a very young age the idea that one of the things I loved most in the world was Bad and I shouldn’t be doing it. It took me a long, long time to unlearn that lesson and embrace videogames as a part of my life, to realize they could be a source of inspiration and beauty and not just a meaningless distraction.
I was quite certain about my interest in writing and storytelling as a kid. I didn’t imagine, though, that I could tell those stories through videogames — or if I did imagine it, I couldn’t admit it to myself until many years later.
Looking back, SimCity was the first step on that road to accepting who I was. It was the first step on a road that led straight into the level editors of Lode Runner and WarCraft II, and from there to ROM hacks and Doom WADs. Today, that road has brought me to the point where I’m creating the first game completely of my own making, and it feels like this is what I was always meant to do.
I don’t stop nearly often enough to appreciate all the goodness videogames have brought to my life. And really, that’s the whole point of these essays: to recognize that, well… sometimes your mother can be wrong. And whether it’s comic books, rock music, or videogames that the adults of the world are demonizing at that moment in history — you’ve got to seek out what you love, no matter what they say.