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From Gamer to Cynic and Post-Modern Critic

May 5, 2014 Written by John VanderSchuit

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I’d like to tell you a short story about myself, but first let me start by asking you a simple question, mostly to jog your memory and maybe stir up some nostalgia. I want you along for the ride, both in the head and in the heart.

When did you first pick up a controller or a handheld console?

As for me, my 1989 GameBoy “Fat” represented my first foray into the wide world of home video game entertainment, and I was innocent. Naive. Young. A fresh face ready and willing to be groomed into a long-time fan and consumer. I was filled with an avid and insatiable sense of wonder. Each button press brought me into a state of broader and deeper euphoria that fueled what would turn into a core component of my overall lifestyle. I had become a gamer.

I connected with the games. They affected me. I sought an escape into adventure and I found it. It was everywhere around me and I simply couldn’t get enough of it. And that’s how it stayed for about 13 years (from the age of 4). Elementary school and early middle school flew by in bright flashes of Pokemon: Blue, Zelda: Ocarina of Time, Super Mario World, Medal of Honor, Twisted Metal, Goldeneye, Contra, F-Zero, Super Smash Brothers…hell, even Lego Island. Everything seemed fresh, wonderful, ultimately fulfilling and downright fun. I frequented my local GameStop and savored every page of Game Informer. I was the first of my friends to know about new games and systems and I was the go-to guy for recommendations for stuff to play or avoid.

But then something happened.

The seventh generation of consoles rolled around (PS3, Xbox 360, Wii), and something in me changed. Was it that my taste in games had shifted? No, it was deeper than that. Was it maybe that I was saturated with sequels from previous generation games and was bored? To some extent, but no. Was it my jaded attitude towards paying for being able to play versus or with my friends online? I don’t even think it was that. You know what, I have come to a realization, and here it is:

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Peter Molyneux gave me trust issues.

The neat thing is, I’m figuring it all out as I’m writing. I did begin this piece with a general idea of where I was coming from and where I was headed to, but oh my. Talk about a revelation!

If you will, for the sake of this continuing editorial work and for the sake of remaining with me in my train of thought, go back with me to the times of the original Xbox. It was a machine that represented graphical breakthrough. Full of potential, nearly off-the-shelf PC parts, and a hard drive in every system as well as some rockin’ online capabilities (don’t deny that Xbox Live really shoved us into the future as far as console online play is concerned), the Xbox was bursting with versions of multiplats that looked better and exclusives that were very easy on the eyes. It was the perfect platform for the already well-known Peter Molyneux, of Populous and Black & White fame. He saw it as his method to his madness. So out of excitement, he got up in front of the world, and promised us the universe on a disc.

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A universe called Fable.

Upon hearing Father Molyneux preaching the good news from the pulpit, I noticed that I was more excited and filled with wonder than I had ever been as kid. This was new and different, unlike any game we’d ever played. Every decision we made mattered, and we were going to be free to explore a massive world that was indelibly affected by the player’s presence.

I put the disc into my Xbox and booted up the game some time later when release day had arrived, and discovered something. I was able to literally count on two hands the features that didn’t make it into the final product. I felt taken for a fool. The joy was ripped out of my experience faster than if it had been a simple breath escaping my lungs. The moments of repeated shock at the half of a universe I had received on my disc had, that day, turned me into a cynical gamer.

That was a defining moment of my young adolescent life that would send waves well into my adulthood. The ripples from it are still hitting me. Ever since that day I dropped fifty bucks on Fable, but got kicked to the curb by Monsieur Molyneux, I had vowed to never trust an outspoken game designer again. I had been exposed to the detriments of unchecked and unrealistic ambition. “Wary” became my new middle name, and the previously joyful experience of picking out a game at GameStop turned into a laborious chore. I developed a blatant and outright distrust of large publishers and developers. Buyer’s remorse plagued my decisions and I spent countless hours combing through review after review of every game in search for something that would be worth my precious money and long-term time investment.

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It wasn’t until almost half a decade later that Metal Gear Solid 4: Guns of the Patriots on PlayStation 3 brought me above the clouds and I saw clearly for that glorious 26-hour-straight gaming session. I went into it blind though, without expectation, and boy was I blown away! So, you see, it didn’t directly address my “gaming insecurity” issue. It sort of indirectly sat opposed to it. I hadn’t followed the development. I hadn’t paid any attention to Kojima-san all the way up until the date of purchase. Nothing was put in place that could break my trust. I guess you could say it was a smart move. Maybe if I had planned it that way I would call it that, but that’s not how it happened. The game just wasn’t on my radar because I hadn’t been a huge Metal Gear Solid fan in the past, and because my instilled negativity demotivated me and I gave less attention to gaming companies than I’m sure they would have liked.

After the completion of MGS4, I noticed that something about the powerful experience (which was so different and meaningful) nudged me toward wanting to share it with people, and that’s where Anthony Severino came into the picture, presenting me with an opportunity to edit and write about other moments and games that mattered to me and to you, our long-faithful readers and community.

The person I am today, a post-modern game critic and copy editor for PlayStation LifeStyle, is the culmination of a perfect storm caused by a great dichotomy. My horrendous and deep seeded trust issues arising from my experience with Fable propelled me toward the dark, indecisive and cautious depths of insecurity in my gaming choices, yet my incredibly uplifting right-angle turn with Metal Gear Solid 4: Guns of the Patriots sent me sailing into the skies, and I was once again dreaming about what was possible in the video game world.

Here I am, armed with the cautious nature of my late youth and the hopeful attitude of my adult life, tossed from one side of the console world to the next. I’ve been taken for a fool but also been given wonderful gifts in disc and download form. I’ve learned to dig deep when it matters, stay shallow when it doesn’t, expect when it’s realistic to do so, and withhold expectation when it’s not.

In short, it’s been a very twisted road, but I’ve grown up.

Have you?

In the comments below, tell us about a moment, or moments, that changed who you are as a gamer.