It’s fuzzy. Like an old TV desperately trying to find the channel it’s fading in and out in the midst of constant flickering. Every time it reconnects we are in a slightly different place, a slightly different time. I’m young. I’m looking gobsmacked at my older brother on our family’s old couch. He just looks so cool, so effortless in his actions. Connecting every jump with a mixture of confidence and ease. Every time the moment snaps back I am just staring at him, ignoring what’s happening on screen and marveling at this master of games, this champion of skills. I finally glance over at the TV in that darkly lit room and see a bright colorful, larger than life orange creature running, jumping, and spinning his way through all kinds of worlds. This moment, my brother basked in the glow of his many triumphs, the awe I felt, the cartoonish mascot lighting up our old TV, this was my introduction to Crash Bandicoot, this was my introduction in many ways to video games.
Except I’m not sure if this memory is real.
My older brother is five years older than me. By the time the original Crash came out, he was a cool nine-year-old. He had seen so much of the world, and visited strange cities like Atlanta. I was just a tiny, four-year-old kid who couldn’t tie my own shoes. I can’t remember very many things before playing Crash Bandicoot. I know I played Sonic at some point. Pong was thrown around my house too, but I was just a little kid. I hadn’t even been to kindergarten yet. I didn’t know anything about games, let alone of the larger world.
One day my brother walked over to the raggedy old couch we had, and booted up the PlayStation. He plopped in some crazy sounding game with a Looney Tunes-esque mascot, and it immediately drew my attention. It looked like a cartoon, and I loved cartoons. I sat down and watched. I was transfixed, and was taken away. It was a powerfully kinetic moment that, though I didn’t know it at the time, led me down a very special and different route in my life. From that moment on I loved video games. It was that simple.
Over time, my own love and appreciation of games would come to dwarf my brother’s interest. As he continued to drift away from the hobby, I kept at it. I kept playing titles like Jak and Daxter, the latest Medal of Honor, and licensed James Bond games. I became an evangelist of sorts, spreading word of good games to all those around me that would listen. This led to me building a web across diverse groups of friends and family, all of them connected by a sense of enjoyment from games.
I roped my sister into games. I forged an indelible bond with my two youngest cousins that lasts to this day. It was founded on playing video games for an entire weekend at the end of every week of school. This legacy, this lineage, this love of games all begin with one tiny little kid and his older brother playing bad PS1 and SEGA games in the corner alcove of their house. On a level of its own was Crash Bandicoot. It was the perfect game to draw in a loud, obnoxious, and silly kid like myself. The perfect gateway drug into the medium.
Yet, I truly don’t know if I’ve ever played Crash Bandicoot. As mentioned above, I have such strong and seemingly real memories of the game swirling around my head. Yet, I can’t seem to find the game in my house. Heck, I’m not even sure if my family ever even owned a PlayStation. The game released at the perfect window for me to both understand and enjoy games, yet also remember virtually nothing of those days.
Despite these concerns, playing Crash remains a powerful moment. It’s one of the strongest memories I have of an admittedly fuzzy and unclear age. It’s a moment I always go back to whenever someone mentions Naughty Dog’s first mascot. For just as long, though, this memory has been followed up by lingering questions as to its authenticity. Was it real? Did my brother and me ever actually play Crash Bandicoot? Was it all simply a lie, a case of imagination and hazy past running amok inside the mind of a hyperactive child?
When the N. Sane Trilogy released I thought I might finally find some answers. That I would finally knock loose some part of my brain that could shed some light on the truth. I would finally have that moment of clarity, and that uncertainty would be gone.
That didn’t happen.
Playing through Crash Bandicoot, I felt as though I remembered certain levels and certain moments. That wasn’t enough to confirm my suspicions, though. Was I merely remembering the let’s plays I watched? I didn’t have any memories of me actually doing any of it despite this vague familiarity. This led me down the rabbit hole further as I tried to picture the actual level I played. This was a fruitless exercise. Despite trying, I couldn’t picture it.
21 years ago, two brothers on the beaches of Florida sat down and played a video game. All details and cold hard facts would be lost to time, swept aside as easily as the sand on the beach outside their window. As thunderstorms loomed overhead and the world outside continued to spin, everything stopped for a few short minutes inside the house as something was born. Something was discovered on that day, a love of gaming that wasn’t known before. An introduction to something mysterious, weird, and brilliant.
It was on that day that I watched my older brother, a sibling I both idolized and shared a fierce rivalry with, play Crash Bandicoot. I never could’ve imagined what an impact that moment would have, but it set me on a path that would expand and add warmth to my life. A moment that would transform my goals and dreams down the line. One that would see me fall in love with beautifully told stories of heartbreak, loss, sorrow, and grief that rival the greatest told in any age. I’ve made many of my greatest friends, met personal heroes and people I look up to, formed an unshakeable bond with some, and grown quite considerably through the past 21 years of playing, fighting, and talking about video games. I have no idea if my brother actually played Crash Bandicoot all those years ago with me looking on. No idea even if my family owned a PS1. For all I know, it might just be a false memory I created, or multiple different events just smashing together under the weight of nostalgia and the haze of yesteryears.
What I do know though, is that it ultimately doesn’t matter if playing Crash Bandicoot back on that beachside house in Florida really happened or not. The legacy of it is what truly matters. Real or not, it left behind a genuine lasting effect. It brought together family and friends, and there’s no doubting those moments are real. I might not have ever played Naughty Dog’s platformer 21 years ago, but I sit here today as one of the studio’s most passionate advocates. As I sit here with Crash Bandicoot remastered on my TV screen, I know that this whole crazy journey might have began with a false memory. If that’s the case, then so be it. I might not have ever played Crash, and I still don’t love the game having played it, but few video games have had the legacy or the importance of that orange rascal. Real or not, that’s enough for me.