Featured image description: White text on a pink background that says: “What I Learnt Revisiting Childhood Games in 2020″. On the right is the a logo for the blog, ”Trans Autistic Feminist” (a gold neurodiversity helix on a black trans symbol) with the blog name in purple.
Lately, I’ve been a bit exhausted by various political issues happening in my country. So after the last two quite serious posts, I’m going to talk a bit about something more lighthearted. I’m going to talk about replaying (and actually finishing) many childhood games during my long period of homelessness and what I learnt from it.
A bit of background
I used to be pickier with games growing up in some ways. If a game didn’t hook me immediately, I’d stop playing it and usually sell it after a while. I wasn’t sure why as a kid, but later as an adult, I’d realise a lot of it came down to the slow burn nature of many games, especially Japanese RPGs.
Instead, what I do remember, was becoming more interested in games like Dragon Quest, Persona and most regrettably, Hyperdimension Neptunia. I think the lighthearted cartoon aesthetics those games had helped draw interest there. Additionally, the linearity for many of those games in comparison to something more open like Xenoblade was less overwhelming for me. I can understand why this would be the case, but it led to missing out on what were many of the best games for the Wii, 3DS and other platforms back in the day.
It was only a couple of years prior I had finally left games journalism. This was partially due to the burnout that was caused by having to review video games to tight deadlines. Many of these games were not accessible to some degree, such as PC games (because I find playing on a PC complicated) and games with lots of grinding. Since then, I was learning to re-enjoy my hobby, especially as lockdown and prolonged homelessness/trauma meant I couldn’t even attempt to address employment issues. Hence one goal I set was to try to beat some of the games I didn’t play as a kid.
Two fashionably late RPG reattempts
The first title was the Switch version of Xenoblade Chronicles: Definitive Edition. It quickly became one of my favourite games due to the epic world-building, storyline and music. Additionally, the revised gameplay (and accessibility tweaks) meant this was perhaps one of the most accessible and easy-to-play RPGs I’ve ever played. After around 60 plus hours of playing the game, it emerged as one of my favourite games.
I don’t remember much of the original, aside from that I didn’t get far. However, the lack of accessibility features, the confusion over where to go and the visually bland art style was likely why I lost interest. All of these were standard features of older RPGs in particular, meaning players often had to resort to guides to work out how to proceed.
The other game was the 3DS version of Tales of the Abyss. A while after it came out back in the day, I got it from a game shop when I picked up a copy with an incorrect price tag on. I played it for a couple of hours, then sold it a while later.
During the lockdown, this was another game I picked up again. This was partially due to being stuck in unsuitable accommodation where I could do little else but survive, so it was essential self-care. I knew going in again two things – it’s considered one of the best Tales of games and the main character, Luke, is an incredibly selfish asshole for the first arc of the game. After playing it, that game too became one of my favourites. Much like Xenoblade, the story and world-building were fantastic, as were the characters (including the asshole’s complete 180-character development mentioned arc earlier).
The grand replay
Super Mario 3D All-Stars was something else I was really looking forward to. This is because this compilation of classic 3D Mario games finally gave me the chance to replay one of my favourite games of all-time portably. That game was Super Mario Galaxy. It was fantastic replaying it again after so many years. Being able to see visual enhancements as well as significant audio improvements by having the music replaying in my headphones helped immensely with immersion, for example.
I was also able to finally play Super Mario Sunshine as I never had the chance to play the GameCube original. It wasn’t a perfect re-release particularly for Super Mario Galaxy (the motion controls were a barrier for me and completely inaccessible for others). However, a handheld version of Super Mario Galaxy but was something I personally wanted for ages and could access, so in that sense I was satisfied. Everything else was the icing on the cake. However, I do believe this re-release should have been better overall. This is for the following reasons:
- absence of Super Mario Galaxy 2
- being a limited-time physical and digital release
- no physical bonus (unlike the 25th anniversary SNES Super Mario All-Stars re-release on the Wii)
Curation and accessibility are critical
The key reasons why I enjoyed these games more – much like gaming in general – are because of the following:
- I pick versions with the most accessible formats – this meant prioritising handheld versions of games, plus games with features like turn rewind, accessible difficulty mode, hint movies, option to disable motion controls/vibration etc.)
- More maturity
- More awareness of both gaming and cultural differences meant I could better understand the design approaches many developers took.
- Better understanding of problematic and triggering content (including both in games and behind the scenes). This is, so I knew what to play and what to avoid. I haven’t played a Hyperdimension Neptunia game for years nor any recent AAA game, for example.
So, in other words, I learnt to rebuild my love for video games on my terms. Gone were the obligations from reviewing games that meant I could not take my time or drop games I wasn’t enjoying or could not play. Gone was the consumption of inaccessible games which forced lots of grinding and repetition that led to burnout. Gone are the toxic weeaboo and far-right gamer communities I didn’t know I was in till after I left. Various forms of bigotry are commonplace in many gamer spaces.
It was going back to games from my past and rewriting experiences so that they were more positive all around. It was moving away from mediocre RPGs like Hyperdimension Neptunia and investing time in games that are worth playing. It also meant looking more towards games that have good LGBTQ+ and neurodivergent representation if not directly led by marginalised people themselves.
It’s time to heal some more
Thinking about this on a deeper level leads to more interesting thoughts. Firstly, this is also another form of empowerment, that can be used to make incredibly traumatic periods of life less so. The comfort, escapism and monotony of video games can aid recovery from bad situations. This helped me during the roughest period of my life to date, both in terms of coping and being able to devote more time to solving my situation constructive. As a result, I become more robust emotionally and skill-wise, plus better able to cope and get stuff sorted.
To deviate a bit from the initial discussion at the start, this is why many marginalised people used to social isolation are drawn to games, such as LGBTQ+ and neurodivergent people. This is why many of us play games, and others develop them or ramble about them in some way. I do so on my Twitter and is one reason why I tried to crack games journalism in the past. This is why there has been a more significant push for LGBTQ+ representation in video games in recent years as marginalised people got their seat at the table.
As it is, most of the main protagonists in the games mentioned in this article are cishet men. How different could things have been if I had played a game with a transgender woman as a protagonist? At the time, I thought I was cis. I hence didn’t question representation as abled cishet manhood was society’s default perspective and thus mine. This isn’t to say the cishet male protagonists I played as were terrible – not by a long stretch. Shulk, the protagonist of Xenoblade Chronicles, is a favourite of both Nintendo and Japanese RPG fans for a reason.
The same applied to accessibility, yet as an adult, it is now one of the most important things I look for in games. I hope that as games with marginalised people have full creative control become prominent, we will see regular multiplatform releases. Previously these games were limited only to PC or mostly tokenistic rep in the mainstream space. Celeste is an excellent example of a game that oozes charm only neurodivergent creators could produce.
If games had more good experiences with LGBTQ+ and accessible content growing up, perhaps this would have helped us mentally. Maybe it would have helped us persist through games and genres with aspects that aren’t particularly enjoyable, such as grinding. For me, this is the underlying message of going back through these games and playing through them properly. A trip through time can put a lot of opinions into perspective.
Regardless, it’s essential to give us space, safety and accessibility required for us to enjoy games irrespective of age, background and life circumstances. After all, games are for everyone. This includes replaying childhood titles.
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