Nintendo has been around since the late 1800s. Back then, they made playing cards. They moved into the electronic gaming industry in the 1980s. I was a Nintendo loyalist until shortly after the second Zelda game was released for the N64 (Majora's Mask) in 1999. My final, salient memories of that erstwhile system took place in the last level of Majora's Mask. It was called the Stone Tower Temple and in it, you play through this oddly-yet well-designed labyrinthine series of outdoor rooms. Upon entering, you're sure to notice the walkways and door frames set into the ceilings and upper walls. What the? After defeating the weak ninja-like boss, you receive the "light arrows" then proceed to return to the entrance and shoot one of your new arrows into a similarly colored switch and then…! It all makes sense now. The world (literally) turns upside down. And you have to fight your way again through the same area you just conquered but this time, it's upside-down–a fitting metaphor for the coming upheaval. One false step and Link will fall into the sky.
When my brother Ian saw that, he freaked out and started crying. Then again, he was six. Bless his heart.
The second thing that stands head and shoulders above most of my good Nintendo memories came from a game called "Paper Mario". I began to sense an inherent loneliness in a certain level. At the time, I couldn't have put this into words but as we would play back through other games (James Bond: Goldeneye 007, for instance; I bought the system for that game), we felt it. A lifeless loneliness that permeated the level design. While this atmosphere is not endemic to all games, I think (personally) that it reflects on both the designers and the players. To each their own. I didn't game much at home during the divorce. Too much misery there. But we'll always have Zelda.
Powering up and moving on, I will share with you my post-Nintendo days.
I've since moved on to Xbox. It's all Halo's fault. I suppose I needed a broader (virtual) context with which to explore and lay down new imaginative roots. I remember my dad's only word of warning with reference to Halo: "just make sure you don't put it above God". Simple enough.
How can I succinctly synopsize the plot of the Halo games? I suppose I'd have to begin with the Flood. The Flood is a terrifying, monstrously parasitic organism (the Zombie element) linked via a central-intelligence called the Gravemind: a giant, grotesque, multi-tentacled thing. Sentient but for one purpose–to infect and subsume and conquer. They threaten all life within the universe (*gasp!*). Any planet unfortunate enough to host the Flood would find itself taken over within days. The Forerunners knew this, so hundreds of thousands of years ago, they decided to create the Halos. Self-contained, planet-sized rings–with ecosystems all their own–stationed throughout the universe at strategic points. Oh, and they also double as planet-sized particle beam cannons. One blast from an activated Halo and you could wipe out a (Flood-infested) planet. Each Halo boasts a network of intricate and sophisticated, futuristic machinery connected by a warren of tunnels and concrete-grey control rooms all set beneath the tundra and desert above. Ah…Science fiction! The Forerunners apparently strip-mined moons and planets in order to build these megalithic, fully-habitable structures. Blasphemous! Must. Suspend. Disbelief. Fast-forward to present-day, to the year 2552. Humanity has colonized the stars and also discovered the rings. Well, sorry to say, so has "the Covenant" a group of seven different alien races, banded-together and hell-bent on the complete annihilation of humanity. And whoever controls the rings, wins. Simple as that, right? You fill the shoes of Spartan-117–John, by name. The "Master Chief", he's the last of the augmented super-soldiers created by Dr. Catherine Halsey to stem the tide of alien domination. And off we go, all across the universe. So much fun. Incredibly appealing to the adventurous, adolescent male psyche. We'll always have Halo.
My brother and I, while very close, bonded even more through this game. It provided much needed distraction and respite through our parents' divorce and will always hold a special place in our hearts. We discovered it around Christmastime 2004. The second Halo game had been released a month prior. Like Zelda, we were latecomers to the movement. We spent an inordinate amount of time at a small local coffee shop called (appropriately enough) "Creature Coffee" playing to our hearts' content. Unlike many Nintendo games (not including Zelda) Halo never felt lonely. It didn't matter if you were exploring the ruins of "Old Mombasa" in Kenya while on earth (you get to fully explore "New Mombasa" in the excellent pseudo-sequel Halo 3 ODST) or searching out the "sacred icon" to activate the ring on Delta Halo (spoiler alert: the Gravemind is resident deep within the bowels of Delta Halo) many light years away, there was always a better atmosphere than many other games we'd tried. And it's something we routinely comment on with reference to new "Sandbox" (exploratory, open-world) games. There was something special about Halo. The original game is set for re-release in a month. Much like Ocarina of Time for Nintendo's 3DS, Microsoft is revamping the graphics and publishing a tenth-anniversary edition just in time for Christmas. We're stoked. The other thing about Halo that blows me away is the expansive atmosphere to the series. It's as if the universe itself has come within your influence and no limit is imposed on your mobility. Within reason, of course. And with God, that is true in actuality. All Heaven will (eventually) be open to our exploration. My appetite, in no small way, has been whetted through the stories of Zelda and Halo. And as long as I don't put them above God, as is true of any creative output and endeavor, I think it's fine as is.
"What shall I render unto the Lord for all his benefits toward me? I will take the cup of salvation, and call upon the name of the Lord." (Psalm 116:12-13, emphasis mine)