Nerding Out: The 6 Most Important Video Game Experiences of My Life

It’s no surprise that some of my attachment to the writing world stems from video games. I grew up in an era that crossed the boundaries and thresholds of gaming unlike any before it. Like many of my generation, these video games captivated me. They appealed to my sense of adventure. They brought out my desire to be competitive. They nurtured my love for story. I owe a lot of my creativity, passion, and ability to the worlds created for me by Sega, Microsoft, Sony, etc. So, without further adieu, a countdown of my six most important video game experiences:

6. The Early Football Era (Joe Montana Football ’94, NFL Primetime ’98, and NFL Blitz)

There’s a reason that the NFL is still my favorite league. I grew up as a huge fan of the Pittsburgh Steelers and there was nothing more fun than taking my favorite sport into my own hands. While the original gameplay wasn’t great, my first memorable video game playing experience was Montana Football. I fell in love with box scores and statistics. Were my receivers leading the league? Sometimes, I preferred to simulate a season, rather than playing out the games. Wasn’t it fun to see your team’s record or check out who had the most interceptions? Primetime catered to my sense of competitive smack talk. After a play, you could hit a button and your player would issue out any number of in-your-face phrases to the opposing team. And of course, NFL Blitz. The absurd, pain-friendly version of my favorite league that led to epic matches where comebacks could happen in heartbeats. My love for sports were long sustained by these games and many others.

(Honorable Mentions: Arnold Palmer Golf, the entire Madden series, NBA Live, and, of course, NBA Jam)

5. All the Mario’s Ever (Super Smash Brothers, Mario Golf, Mario Party, and Mario Kart)

These games. There was nothing like sitting down with some gathering of my brothers and cousins, plugging in four controllers (but make sure not to grab the grey one, because the joystick is funny), and playing for hours. We posted -22 scores in Mario Golf, addictively repeated Skateboard Scamper mini-games, and spent hours figuring out the secret wall-jump for Wario’s Stadium. Instead of measuring the hours spent playing these games, I just think about what it meant for a group of boys (and girls) to sit down and enjoy playful competition. Were there fights? Slammed controllers? Raised voices? Always! But it didn’t take away the glory felt when you pulled off a masterful teleport with Pikachu, or made a 50 foot putt in the pouring rain, or even gave Bowser a successful face lift.

4. Dynasty, Dynasty, Dynasty – (Madden)

One of my favorite seasons in the world of video game playing came in college. I was living off-campus with three other guys (shout out to the Beardens and Justin Hendricks). Justin and I both loved to relax by hooking up Madden to the big screen TV and running our teams through dynasty leagues. We played three games every season and enjoyed off-season drafts, trades, and free agenting. For some reason, it was just so much fun to roll twenty years into the future, play 50-60 times, and then reset with a new era. I’ll never remember the names of our truckstick safeties or scrambling quarterbacks, but we lost a lot of hours in a competition that, although favorable to me at the outset, certainly balanced out as Hendricks applied his crafty strategies to what became an epic rivalry.

(Honorable Mention: I had a longstanding, epic rivalry with Francisco Suarez in all things Wii Sports)

3. The Only Game I Was Ever the Best At (Track and Field 2003)

It’s an unexplainable phenomenon. My brothers and I grabbed it for N-64. Now, I was always second or third fiddle in every game we ever played. My brothers were always exceptional, and that usually meant I was a lot better than my friends, but would get taken to the woodshed by either of them. It was unfortunate, but I digress. That all changed with Track and Field 2003. Because of some genetic defect, my two forefingers are wicked quick. All the game required was fast fingers and C-buttons. How good was I? My brothers could set their controllers down at the start of the 100 yard dash. My character would run so fast that it would be on the far right of the screen. Considering they were “active players”, the game didn’t allow them off of the screen. So their runners would awkwardly drag on the right side, not moving their legs, and I would Neo-from-the-Matrix pull them onto the podium over the computer competition. It was just like the advertisement of Marion Jones in Sports Illustrated, you know, the one where the thing folds out and she’s like, two full spreads ahead of everyone. Except I never got caught for doping.

2. World of No-Life-Craft (World of Warcraft)

My love for MMORPG’s is longstanding. We began with Asheron’s Call, dipped our toes in a few others, and eventually found our way to the mecca of all MMORPG’s, World of Warcraft. There probably isn’t a video game more responsible for my creative love of all things fantasy. There just isn’t. Everything in this game was a storyline. Every quest had you gathering items on behalf of some undead farmer who needed ten wolf manes in order to resurrect his dead daughter or something. Why was it so good? Expansiveness. There was always something to do, something to achieve, and a way to push yourself to another level. My roommate, Francisco Suarez, and I look back often and are happy that we gave the game up. It is addicting. It is endless. It can go on, and on, and on.

Once, though, that meant being with friends and family and being the first group on your server to finish Blackwing Lair. Once, it meant racing my brothers on DPS meters to see which of us was capable of doing more damage on every, single boss we fought. Once, it meant being the ruler of Tanaris because even hideous, orc rogues can vanish and smirk from the shadows. It was, without a doubt, the single most fascinating experience of my gaming life.

1. The LAN (Halo 1)

Well, we’ve arrived. I can’t do justice to the fun I had playing this game over about a 15 year stretch. My love for first-person shooters began with Goldeneye. That grew into Perfect Dark and a few other games I can’t remember, and then we discovered Halo. There isn’t a game that rewards individual ability more. Can you catch an unlucky grenade? Yes. Can you be victimized by someone who likes to camp a portal? Of course. But when you got into a pistol battle, or you had to blow down camo on Damnation, or you needed to control the rocket room on Chill Out, skill mattered.

The fun started in high school. My brother’s friends (all seniors), would come over and play hours of Capture the Flag (Blood Gulch and Sidewinder, duh). Our reputation in the Cary community for being the “best” led to meeting the Danford’s and Moore’s. Green Hope rivals and eventual family friends, we had the pleasure of playing with them for years to come. They introduced us to the much superior Team Slayer. After that, the 2v2’s and 4v4’s never really stopped.

You can never fully remember all of the amazing sniper shots, backsmacks, and three-shots… but you do remember the eras and characters. Doc Ellis is the master of the plasma rifle, for instance. Several times, we sat down and played against the Ogres, Walshy, and some of the best video gamers to ever grace the MLG Circuit. Then there was the ascendancy of Everest. Did you know my brother was once considered the best Halo player in North Carolina? (And probably top 5 or so in the nation?) Whether we were learning new tricks, evading Ryu nades, or shouting, “He spawned behind me!”, the fun was non-stop for over a decade.

That does it for me. There are TONS of games I could honorable mention. Too many. But it was fun reminiscing on the video game experiences that were meaningful to me. Not just because I got to be a nerd or because I wasted hours on “mindless” activities. But because I got to be with my friends. I got to spend hours hanging out with my brothers. I got to enjoy new stories and adventures. Games matter. They’re important. I can only hope my kids will have similar experiences to mine.

Except for freshman year. Right, Francisco?

Edit Honorable Mentions:

Mike Strawbridge’s game on Rat Race

Mike Liebl’s use of the Overshield in soccer practice

the strange show down we had with the Wilson’s. We cleaned house with them.

Sonic the Hedgehog for Sega Genesis (my first video game EVER)

Streets of Rage – I always played with Skates

Time Crisis II taking all my quarters.

World Cup ’98 – Better than any FIFA game ever.

Mike Strawbridge challenging me to “any sports game before 2000” and getting destructured in every way.

FIFA Matchups at Ocean Isle with Dan, Scott, and Wes (I don’t even care!)

Crashing the Cary High School’s library computers by downloading WoW on one of them.

Bomberman for the computer. One of the sickest, most underrated games ever.

To Getting Host. Because host is all that matters.

Dinosaur Tycoon – Every kid in every single elementary school deserves the chance to run his or her own dinosaur park.


Review: Golden Son by Pierce Brown

I’ve already sprinted through three solid books in 2015, and have several around the house half-read, but Golden Son?

I devoured Golden Son.

It has the kind of compelling storytelling that demands your attention until the ride is over. For those that haven’t already discovered Red Rising, you should start there. Not only is the first installment amazing, but a massive bidding war was won by Universal and I’m pretty sure the movie will turn this into even more of a cult following than it already is.

I reviewed Red Rising (Post found here: ) if you want to read about it. Anyways, on to Golden Son and why Pierce Brown did it the right way.

1. Why not make your characters do the most interesting thing every time?

That’s what it started to feel like as I made my way through Golden Son. I wondered how Brown could follow an action-packed opening in a world without some of the constructs that the first book relied upon. The first novel involves an arena much like the type we see in Hunger Games and other dystopian stories. As we’ve also seen in those dystopian books, the authors struggle to maintain our interest as they remove the rapid-paced action of their original arenas.

Pierce Brown had no issue with that. The story takes us spiraling through one action scene after another. Betrayals are compounded by new alliances, new threats, and new challenges. In some ways, Brown is served by the populace he is writing about. The Golds in this society are simply lethal. There natural proclivities toward war and their insatiable hunger for power provides him the perfect backdrop for Darrow’s maneuverings. It really seemed like Brown was following one rule: do the most interesting thing. In each scene, he has his characters ratchet up the heat of what’s happening. Raised stakes, multiplying enemies, plots within plots. It makes for a joyride of a read.

I was at the World Fantasy Convention this Fall and Christopher Golden had high praises for Pierce’s work. He said that, in some ways, the story itself wasn’t something new. We’d seen lowly man rise up from the dust before. But he claimed Pierce’s writing and style and ability to drag us through his story at 150mph is just too good to pass up. I agree.

2. Internal Monologue

I always admire a writer that succeeds in their internal monologue because I find it so difficult to create. Genuine, internal feeling is difficult to conjure from thin air because, frankly, we have enough problems figuring out how we are feeling from moment to moment. Pierce has me feeling every emotion of his main character through genuine and provocative internal monologue. I simply love the way that Darrow considers others around him. At some points, the purpose is to analyze the threat they represent to his plans. At other points, he seeks to answer questions that each and every one of us ask about what it means to be human. He’s an easy main character to follow.

3. Present Tense

I’d love to analyze, at some point, how many authors write in the present tense. I’m not sure of Pierce Brown’s reasons behind choosing to write in this style, but I really find the present tense fitting for his purposes. Every scene seems to orient around dramatic actions, fighting, and moment to moment shifting in power. The present tense that’s employed in this story launches us forward and leaves us feeling active in the scene. I might as well be sitting at the war table or clawing through the mud after Darrow.

4. Sentence Structure

Recently, I noticed Joe Abercrombie discussing the topic of sentence structure on Twitter. He was lamenting the fact that we look at long, winding sentences as the “beautiful” parts of prose. In reality, a short and crisp sentence that fits the necessary tone can be just as lovely. The example attached to his post was Cormac McCarthy and his use of short sentences to emphasize, disrupt, and draw the attention of the reader to certain emotions. I really think the same thing is accomplished in Brown’s first two works. Really love the variance and I really hate that people will likely attack his use of short sentences as “uncomplicated” or “prosaic”. He knows his stuff.

Lastly, I will conclude by saying how much I loved his acknowledgements section at the end of the book. Sometimes, you just forget how much an author has gone through to get published. I just finished my first book. I had one very respectable agent take a long look at my novel (including rewrites and a second read), but we didn’t connect. Now I’m waiting to see if anyone will take my book on. I’ve just completed a second book, and I’ll begin a whole new process with it. It’s easy to read Red Rising and Golden Son, recognize the transcendent talent of the author, and think that there are just some people who it all comes to more naturally. Seeing the road he’s taken to get where he is was super impressive. It just shows that, if you really love doing something, you should continue to fight for your right to do it.

Either way, I highly suggest you get hold of this series before every single person you know is bragging about how much they like it. Someone once told me that it was the White Person’s Mecca to find a great band before everyone else does. I think it is EVERY reader’s journey through Middle Earth to stumble upon a great work of fiction that none of their friends have heard of. For me, that’s been Red Rising and now Golden Son.

Go get it!

“What I Was Made For”

I still am figuring out how to write as a Christian. I don’t know that I’ll ever attempt to write direct allegory or painfully, in-your-face morality… but I want my pieces to be packed with what I believe and with who I am… The Breach might be the piece I get to do that the most. Here is an excerpt from that story:

The world vanished.

The empty, open air of the desert was replaced by the intimate cool of a cave. Ohone saw walls around him and lanterns lit ahead. He did not know why he was here, but he knew that he should walk. So he did.

At the end of the tunnel, a door. It was a circle, big and fat and round as an apple. Ohone was surprised to find that the door was open. A faint line of light sliced into the hallway. Something about that light told him he had been invited. He did not need to knock, and he did not need a key, he was simply expected to enter.

He set a tentative hand on the door and shoved. It slid open on oiled hinges. Before him was a vast cavern. He could not have said how deep or how wide or how long the room was, but it seemed full. Ohone walked past golden goblets and decorated armor and canvas paintings with intricate swirls. Not one treasure seemed the same as any other. Ohone thought the fullness had less to do with the treasure, and more to do with the reflective golden sheen they gave the room. There was a music, too, something rich and deep and on the edge of knowing.

With each step, the music grew louder and the objects grew brighter. When he had reached the center of the room, he stopped. There was a word for all of this, for this grandeur and splendor, for this brilliance and brightness. He felt that he knew the word, but he also felt like saying the word would have spoiled it somehow.

This, he realized, is what I was made for.

There was no transition back into the open plains, no shedding of golden walls, or fading of golden treasures, or softening of golden music, but a sudden and painful and forceful return to the present. Swati was there, of course, his hands warm and his smile sincere.

“What was that?” Ohone gasped.

“One day, you will understand that and so much more,” Swati said. “Do you trust me now, Ohone Beru?”