The recent news of Robin Williams’ passing hit me pretty hard. From what I had known about the man before the British tabloids ripped him to shreds, he seemed, and still does in my eyes, like a pretty wonderful human being. He visited sick children in hospitals, entertained troops on active service and brought joy to millions of people with his comedy. But he was also a man with demons, which is a terrible shame. But, this article isn’t going to be a discussion of the stigma that surrounds mental health issues, it isn’t going to be taking a look at the British tabloids, and the news as a whole, and their penchant for sensationalism no matter the cost. No. This article is going to be discussing childhood, and growing up.
Despite what people might say, or the news might report, Robin Williams represented something to me that wasn’t necessarily shaped by truth. I think everyone has a slightly different image of Robin Williams, which depends quite heavily on your generation. For some, Robin Williams was an outrageous stand-up-comic, who tackled tough issues like politics and drugs by tickling their funny-bone. For others, including me, he was a childhood hero who played fantastical characters, like Peter Pan, Mrs. Doubtfire, or Gini. These characters weren’t real, and they weren’t an accurate representation of Robin Williams. However, as a child, you can’t help but build an image of a person based on the characters that they play. You recognise his voice (or multiple voices), you spot the faces of characters that you grew up with in the faces that he pulled and all the while you remember those fond memories from growing up. Much like the nostalgic feelings that I experience when looking back at the old performances by Robin Williams in films like Jumanji, video-games have the same effect. Games like Mario, Sonic, Metal Gear Solid and Pokémon all share a part of me, in some shape or description. So it’s only natural that when I hear about the twentieth Pokémon game being released, or the one-hundredth Mario title, a little corner of my brain ignites; that special space where I keep my childhood memories locked away.
Those feelings of nostalgia have been hitting me pretty hard of late, what with the recent passing of a well loved childhood figure, and it’s got me thinking about other things from my childhood that I seem to miss today. For me, my days growing up were split between a few things; school, friends, sports and video-games (not necessarily in that order). Those were the variables that were, and still are in some shape or description, ever present whilst growing up. I’ve had the same group of friends since I can remember, I’ve always played football, I’m constantly looking for opportunities to learn and I’ve never stopped loving video-games. So, when I think back to the games that I love, it’s only natural that a load of childhood memories get dragged up with them.
For me, Sonic really encapsulates my early years of gaming. The original Worms, along with the first Tomb Raider, were the first games that I ever owned, but they weren’t the first games that I ever played. I remember playing Sonic on my cousin’s SEGA Mega Drive, way back in the early 90s… when I was about 6 or 7. At the time I’d never played a video-game before, because my parents couldn’t afford to buy me a console and there were never any arcades about for me to take myself off to for an afternoon of Metal Slug or Time Crisis. I can remember being mesmerised by the brilliant colours, the blurry, bright blue of Sonic and the deep reds and oranges of Dr. Robotnik. The fast paced play style had me hooked almost instantly, and I was sucked in by the speed of the game; it felt like I couldn’t take my eyes off of the screen, through fear that Sonic might fly off of the tracks. Sonic was the first game that I ever completed… strangely enough I went back to the game last year and couldn’t get passed the second level – Six year old Alec 1 – 0 Twenty-Four year old Alec. Now, every time I see that little blue hedgehog I can’t help but think back to the summers I spent at my cousin’s house, playing fantastic games like Sonic and The Lost Vikings together.
If Sonic was my first introduction to gaming, Metal Gear Solid was the game that cemented my love for the pass-time. MGS was one of the first games that I played on the PlayStation and, having missed the first two games on previous consoles, it was also one of the first shooters that I’d ever played. The thing that I remember most about MGS, other than the characteristic ringtone of the Codec and the screams of “Snake?… SNAKE? SNAAAAAAKE!” every single time you died, is the story. It was the first game that really got me hooked on the story it had to tell, and not just on the action or the graphics. I think it was really aided by the Codec screens and voice-acting, for which Paul Eiding can take massive credit for, along with David Hayter and the rest of the brilliant cast, for voicing the Colonel and Snake respectively. I still spot Eiding’s voice in games and TV shows now, and it always brings me back to the fond memories of playing Metal Gear Solid.
There are tonnes of games in between and after Sonic and Metal Gear Solid that send me flying back to my childhood. Games like Tomb Raider, Worms, Oblivion, Earthworm Jim, Pokémon, Tekken, Spider-Man 2, all hold a special place in my heart as the games that developed my love for my favourite pass-time. I think one of the things that made me so sad about Robin Williams’ passing was the realisation that my childhood is long gone. When you’re a kid, you experience the world in a very different way to an adult . You seem to actively seek out the joy, and ignore the bad things that happen around you (in most cases). Just like looking back at Jumanji, or Aladdin, or Pan, looking back at old video-games fills me with a strange sense of joy and apprehension. I miss the fact that those days have passed, but I love the joy I still get, and that sense of nostalgia that fills me up, whenever I think about the best games from my childhood.
So, what games frame growing up for you?