Marissa Tharp
Marissa Tharp

I grew up in a rapidly advancing technological world. When I was born in 1997, the cell phone industry was ruled by Nokia, TV sets were huge CRTs, everyone had collections of VHS tapes and the video game industry was rising.

My dad told me that when he and his friends wanted to play video games, they would go down to a mom-and-pop video store called “Granny’s Video” that used to be located where Family Dollar is in Stephenson. They would rent a Nintendo or Sega console for a weekend and play those classic side-scrollers like “Sonic the Hedgehog” and “Super Mario Brothers.” As my father put it, “It was an off-the-hook time to be alive.” Although, considering they had to buy a splitting cord so the console and the TV antenna could be hooked-up at the same time, I would say it was a pretty on-the-hook time.

Video games were so important to me growing up. They allowed me to see worlds and people that were different from my own. I have vivid memories of my brother and I playing “Donkey Kong Country 2: Diddy’s Kong Quest” and “Super Mario World” at our aunt’s house on the Super Nintendo. She had her own console, which was a rarity for my family in my younger years. I remember just being enchanted by the way the worlds of those games looked and sounded. The brightly-colored backgrounds and enemies and funky, yet simple melodies and beats are all still burned into my mind.

I spent a lot of my time playing “Donkey Kong Country 2.” I went through a lot of trials and tribulations with the atrocious underwater levels, the jumping alligators called “Kaboings” that were a pain to kill, the Hive levels in Krazy Kremland with the bees that chased the player and the legendary Lost World levels that I never actually beat.

My first personal console was the Nintendo GameCube. In 2006, having a console in my room was revolutionary for me. My parents didn’t have to see my intense breakdown when I tried to play that plinko level in Super Mario Sunshine. If you played the game, you know what I’m talking about; for those who didn’t, the player played as Mario and had to catapult themselves in the air, hope they landed on a tiny peg and collect one of the eight red coins in the level. You had to collect all eight coins to win and if you fell off… it was game over. Maybe my parents heard the muffled screaming into my pillows or the sound of a controller smacking into the carpeted floor when I attempted the infamous plinko level. 

I continued my passion for video games when I got a PlayStation 2. My brother and I both had one, and I would watch him play games like “Grand Theft Auto” and “Need for Speed Underground,” and that was our little bonding time. Those are memories that I will cherish forever as we both grow into adulthood. I played a lot of role-playing games (RPGs) like “Bully,” “The Sims Castaway” and “Persona 4.” RPGs quickly became my favorite type of game, video or table top. I was able to delve deep into another world and be someone that I wasn’t, or someone I wished to be. In older side-scrollers like Donkey Kong or Mario, their worlds were, morally, very black and white. But as consoles evolved, game developers could make more in-depth worlds and characters, and make everything else more three-dimensional.

There are so many ways I could talk about how video games changed the way music, animation and overall storytelling is done, but I don’t have the time for that today. If nothing else, I want people to take something away from this little piece. A lot of gamers play video games for escapism, which takes different forms for every generation. Escapism entertainment became very prevalent in the Great Depression. Life Magazine became a popular publication in the 1930s because they didn’t publish things about the Depression; they made the world seem fun, good and full of hope. And you can’t forget the ever popular radio with its numerous mystery serials, quiz shows, soap operas and epics that entertained and gave life to people in the 1920s, 1930s and 1940s.

That’s what video games do for a lot of people today. They give people an outlet for emotions and show people worlds they could only dream of. And with a world that is as rapidly developing as ours, I think we all need a little escapism every now and then.