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Gaming for N00bs: An Introduction

Posted by Alex Pearlman  October 30, 2011 02:17 PM

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gamingforn00bsvideogamecontroller.jpgBy Vanessa Formato

Since I received the go-ahead to start a video game column, I've probably written this introductory post at least 374 times. It’s one thing to give tutorials, create best-of lists, and delve into cultural examinations, but it’s another thing entirely to try to explain why this thing -- a video game column for less-experienced gamers and the generally curious -- should exist and why in the world I am the person writing it. After all, I am not an expert. Though most writers probably wouldn't start a column by casting doubt upon their credibility, hear me out.

The first time I truly played a video game was in the early months of my freshman year of college. I grew up in a household where video games were considered brain-rotting, serial killer-making drivel, so needless to say, I was one of the few children who made it through the entire 1990s without knowing a Nintendo 64 from a hole in the ground. But then, as plenty of stories go, I met a guy, and everything changed. He and his friends played practically nonstop, so learning to play seemed like the most direct way to acceptance and not sitting around studying while everyone else had fun.

I don’t think that when we popped The Legend of Zelda: Ocarina of Time into that old silver GameCube, either of us could have predicted the effect it would have on me. But everything about that game, from the opening scene to the moment the credits rolled, was magic: My eyes widened in wonder the first time I saw Hyrule Field, and I really did feel like a child sent out into the world, alone and lost, when I stepped into my very first dungeon. (Granted, that feeling was enhanced by being so rubbish with a controller that I couldn’t run in a straight line, but whatever.) My palms got cold and my stomach dropped when I learned about the monsters that hang from the ceiling, and my heart swelled with each new song I learned.

I quickly became absorbed in a world that seemed much larger than me -- one that, rendered in polygons and unnaturally bright colors as it may have been, seemed utterly real. Zelda is not known for innovative story lines -- hero’s journey, anyone? -- but that never mattered. Ocarina of Time made me feel like a child again, all starry-eyed and fumbling. I struggled through that game, my very first ever, and learned something: If a game is good, it can transport you.

It’s difficult to describe why it is I play games, but this is my effort to do so. A good game, like a book, takes you away and makes you feel things that are nearly impossible to put into words in any meaningful way; they are visceral rather than tangible. Perhaps an outsider looking in would have some luck, but try to do it firsthand, and all of those memories and experiences might sweep you elsewhere. As a person who believed for so long that games were valueless and, instead, cherished books, I have to say that I no longer see much difference between the two in terms of experience. I developed a deep love for and fascination with video games for the same reason that reading captures me: They are ridiculous and beautiful, flawed and spellbinding.

This, in essence, is why I’m writing a gaming column: to demystify and celebrate it. If you learned to play video games around the same time as you learned to read and your Gamerscore exceeds your student loan debt, this column probably won’t teach you anything new. Instead, this space exists to be a resource for those of you who are less familiar with gaming and want to know what it’s all about. It’s for people who have never played a video game but think it looks like fun. It’s for people who got a late start and need some pointers from someone who remembers what it’s like to feel foolish and make stupid mistakes. It’s for people who are curious. It’s for girls who don’t want to feel limited to playing Cooking Mama on a pink DS. It’s for people who aren’t that nerdy but want to know what their nerd-friends are going on about. It’s for people who want to know how and why. It’s for people who never thought they’d like something and were proven wrong.

Most of all, it’s for people who love video games for the challenge, the gore, the stories, the graphics, the music, and the way the good ones transport you.

'Gaming for N00bs' is TNGG Boston's bi-weekly Sunday gaming column, written by Vanessa Formato.

Photo by Alfred Hermida (Flickr)

About Vanessa -- Vanessa Formato is a 22-year-old Clark University graduate, freelance journalist, vegan cupcake enthusiast and video game aficionado. She blogs about body image and tweets about puppies. So awesome, even John Stamos is impressed.

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