I have a confession to make: I’m not a fan of my birthday. Birthdays are just an excuse for the 20-plus members of my close-knit family to gather together. As grateful as I am, the annual party evokes memories of stares as I sit in the middle of the circle, everyone gauging how appropriate my reaction is to each gift — a nightmare scenario for someone who hates being the center of attention.
Despite my distaste for the annual June 22 occasion, there will always be at least one birthday I won’t forget. It was that glorious summer of 2006, when I received my first video game console. I stared, mouth agape, at the warped reflection of my small face in the screen of my brand new ice blue Nintendo DS Lite, not yet knowing how much it would affect my life.
Though memories of my childhood are dim, some of the brightest moments I can remember from that year revolve around “Pokémon Diamond.” Looking back, I’m sure my father was annoyed by my constant requests for help beating a game he had no clue how to play, especially while we made the long drive all the way from Michigan to Virginia. The remake of “Pokémon Diamond” releases in November, and I can’t help but recall the kindness my father showed instead of annoyance, and the genuine interest my grandfather had in the monsters that appeared from the virtual grass.
Now that I’m a taxpaying adult, I wonder what lengths my mother must have gone to eventually get us a Wii a few years later, when we could barely afford three meals a day. I was nine years old, extremely shy and struggling to connect with my peers at school, but my evenings were spent as the star of the show, beating the high scores of each of my mother’s friends in “Just Dance.” My parents tell me that I was quite the little charmer, offering juice boxes to my father’s guests and standing on counters to change the song on my mother’s speaker as she cooked for everyone she knew. Of course, the cuteness never lasts, but even as I crawled into a shell of fear and awkwardness as I reached middle school, Nintendo was by my side.
Throughout my pre-teen years I was glued to my purple 3DS, playing the “Professor Layton” series “Pokémon X” and “Phoenix Wright: Ace Attorney.” Ages 11 to 14 aren’t exactly the most pleasant times of anyone’s life, but those were the years I made my first true best friend, thanks to a mutual love of puzzle games. Sleepovers and recess were spent solving mysteries, debating which starter Pokémon to pick and discussing favorite characters. This friendship sparked a life-changing realization: I am never the only one like me. Sure, I wasn’t involved in sports or church activities like my classmates, but together my best friend and I could be an unstoppable team in our digital fantasy worlds.
Then, one day, my 3DS was gone. Whether it was lost in one of my many moves or at an airport I can’t remember, its absence commenced a nearly decade-long split from gaming.
High school was extremely busy. Between three bands, choir, drama club, dual enrollment and attempting to have a social life, I regularly experienced burnout. I was also lured into a habit of constant social media use that had negative effects on both my mental health and time management skills. At the end of the day, I thought I didn’t have time for gaming anymore. I viewed video games as a part of my childhood that I had to sacrifice, and none of my friends were interested in games either, so I went with what was popular. The games I was able to play were games I had seen online that required little to no time commitment.
Two years into college, I was in the best mental shape since childhood, falling in love and learning to finally take back my schedule. One of my boyfriend’s biggest hobbies is gaming, and we played “Undertale” together on one of our first dates. He showed me a trailer for “Animal Crossing: New Horizons,” and I fell in love with how adorable it looked. Next thing I knew, I had the “Animal Crossing” special edition Switch with a copy of the game “The Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild” and something from a familiar franchise — “Pokémon: Sword.” I was thoroughly sucked back into the world of video games thanks to warm, nostalgic childhood memories.
It wasn’t exactly a quick descent. I started with a few hours of “Animal Crossing,” which turned into multiple hours a day thanks to quarantine. “Breath of the Wild” didn’t click with me at first, but my boyfriend encouraged me to keep playing. Now it’s one of my favorite games of all time, and it opened my eyes to whole new genres. Of course, there was my first love, “Pokémon,” which I became instantly obsessed with and blasted through before other games even had a chance to enter my mind. As quarantine continued and the world became increasingly virtual, I had the time and energy to delve deeper into gaming.
I’ve branched out into nearly every genre and every console; I earned my first platinum trophies on my PlayStation 5 and invested over 100 hours in games like “Persona 5 Royal” and “Breath of the Wild.” When I listen to my boyfriend talk about his childhood afternoons glued to his GameCube, I think back on my own new experiences with video games and feel closer to him.
Over the past two years, I’ve learned something valuable about hobbies. No matter your level of interest, your experience or your amount of investment, life can sometimes get in the way of the things you love. I’ve encountered this with my other hobbies, too; revising poetry is an endless process, and embroidery takes a lot of patience. However, if you love something, it’s worth trying even when you think you’ve reached an insurmountable obstacle. Losing my 3DS was unfortunate, but what kept me from gaming the most was myself.
I turned 21 in June, this time without the fanfare — just my boyfriend and me watching a movie in our apartment. When it was time for gifts, there was a lot to be thankful for, but there was one present I’ll never forget. When I unwrapped a perfect little ice blue DS Lite, complete with some of my favorite games in-box, memories of the past 15 years filled my mind. I held it, noticing how big my hands had gotten, how different the reflection of my face was in the screen, and I found myself tearing up.
I can’t imagine a future now without gaming. It’s my biggest hobby and one of my favorite ways to connect with others. Four years ago, I never would have guessed that I’d be writing about games for The Michigan Daily. As graduation approaches and the only thing I’ve known for the past 16 years comes to a close, I can finally see links that have helped me along the way. I started my school career with video games being a big part of my life, and as I earn my degree and this chapter ends, I can happily say I never plan on letting them go again.
Daily Arts Writer Harper Klotz can be reached at email@example.com.