Five Games that changed my perspective on gaming

Each life on this earth has milestones. Those defining moments that seem to find their way into our personality as we move ahead with life. Sometimes those milestones can be great. Graduating, getting your first job, having a child. They can be negative as well. Losing a loved one, moving cities, failing at something. But these moments, these grand cathartic displays are what define us each as individuals. We all have different stories to tell and while we share the same soil, none of us have tread on it the same.

The same philosophy can be applied to gaming. Our preferences in genre and even what platform we prefer comes down to those key central milestones. Maybe you found some random game on your dad’s computer that turned you into an RTS nut. Maybe you spent your childhood sitting cross-legged in front of a TV playing NES games and platformers now have a nostalgic place in your heart and playing them fills you with the innocent joy of youth. Maybe you grew up in the multiplayer revolution, finding friends and using gaming as a social tool rather than one for contemplative enjoyment.

Each of us has a different story to tell. I want to tell you mine. Here are five games that completely changed my perception of gaming, going in chronological order.

Sonic & Knuckles

A bizarre game to find on a list of defining games, but this is what set me off initially. This is my childhood game, that first breakthrough discovery of the world of gaming. My genesis was earlier when I was playing knockoff NES games, but it wasn’t until Sonic & Knuckles that I realised what gaming was capable of. The colourful visuals overwhelmed my young senses and that feeling of overcoming a challenge was placed within me and took hold.

There are many more glamorous games I could have turned to that others cite as their genesis. Games such as Super Mario Bros. or a game in the PS1 era or something. I even hold those games in very high regard today. But this silly little Sonic game set me off on my gaming journey and I’ll forever be grateful to it. It instilled into me the first feelings of real joy and connection that I had with gaming. We can argue until winter comes about which early game really defined gaming back then. But to me, the first game you really clicked with will always be your most important one.

Grand Theft Auto: San Andreas

Let’s forgo the fact that I was in primary school when I played this and my parents could definitely see by the artwork that this might not be kid friendly. Regardless, San Andreas was a revelation. I got my share of good storytelling in some other fantastic games that I got to play such as Final Fantasy VIII and Monkey Island, but to see it in this form was a defining moment. This was mature storytelling within an industry where mature themes were not the norm. Swearing, social issues and all that stuff opened my eyes to what gaming can do as a medium as well as just the world in general.

These days I still praise games with mature themes and stories with actual realistic depth to them since they teach you about the world we’re in. No sugarcoating or grandstanding, just an ugly, messy world that it is. The GTA franchise was a trailblazer with this, but it was with San Andreas that I personally got to see that hey, maybe this isn’t just for kids and nerds. This is the real deal. That’s a big perception change right there.

The Elder Scrolls IV: Oblivion

This was basically my entry into the modern gaming generation. Where we moved past polygons and low texture graphics and into a new world. It began earlier with some launch games on the Xbox 360 and PS3, but it wasn’t until Oblivion when I started to see things really start to change. A gigantic world to explore, hundreds of different options, quests and weapons, and it all looked gorgeous (at the time). Coming from the PS2 generation, this was the moment for me when I went, yes, this is the future.

I played the everlasting snot out of Oblivion since we had like 10 games back then on consoles and the magic feeling was so powerful that it intoxicated me. I couldn’t stop playing and that addiction fueled my love for so many things. Storytelling, RPGs, open-world games. Oblivion was a real watershed moment for me. Many more graphically impressive games existed on the PC, but it was far outside my bound of capabilities. But Oblivion ushered in what I found to be the golden age of gaming.

Halo 3

The information age was starting to happen at this point in the timeline. The internet was becoming a real thing and connectivity with the outside world started becoming regular. ADSL lines came to South Africa and we suddenly had affordable access to the internet that wasn’t dial-up. Online gaming moved from something a privileged few would have to becoming widespread. It was a golden age of online discovery.

Halo 3 was the game that ushered in multiplayer gaming for me. I LANed before like everybody else my age, but playing with other people all over the world at any time of the day? Sign me up over and over. Halo 3 was so high profile and popular that it felt like a global phenomenon. You could feel the energy as people were excited for this shooter, not just for the campaign, but the amazing multiplayer as well.

Xbox Live acted as a support device for it and before you knew it, you were shooting people in the face all over the world in search of complete domination. That chase to be the best doesn’t ever stop and multiplayer gaming started becoming a very real thing for me. It showed me that this hobby that I’ve been treasuring on my own, is now a shared one.

The Witcher 3

Yes, I will always find a way to talk about this game. But seriously, this is the last step in the list. You may ask, why such a big time skip? Didn’t we just blaze past the whole 360/PS3 generation and into the current? Yes, but let me tell you why. There were still many defining games on the journey. BioShock, Half-Life 2, Guitar Hero was a big one for me, Fallout New Vegas, Mass Effect and just so much more we’ll be here all day. But they were all just refinements. Different stories, a couple of new ideas and nothing as groundbreaking as the games I mentioned before.

However, The Witcher 3 has been my favourite game ever and it hasn’t stopped being it since 2015 when it released. The richness of its complex and mature narrative, the brilliantly written characters, the sheer amount of world-building and just the scope of it all. It’s a game that I can always find more to talk about. When somebody brings it up in conversation I will be that one weird guy that wouldn’t just shut up about some game.

I always find new mechanics to fanboy over or get an even deeper look at the narrative by reading the novels the game is based on. Since I’ve played The Witcher 3, I’ve given two other games a 10/10. Persona 5 and Red Dead Redemption 2. I would have given God of War a 10/10 as well. But The Witcher 3 shows us that a perfect score still isn’t perfect. Because not one of those games was better than The Witcher 3 for me.

I’ve since been looking for something to usurp the game’s title from me. Finding such a game will most likely be my next grand awakening and perspective change in gaming. Because if you can get better than that, something incredible has happened and I can’t wait to witness it.

Conclusion

You’ll not find many of these games mentioned when we talk about games that defined gaming as a medium. Then you would default to the simple answers, the big breakthrough hits and the commercial success. You might align them with trends like how Wii Sports became the first brush of gaming for millions of people. But perspective is the word I used in the title. The games that changed my personal perspective of gaming in my life. These were my milestones. What are yours?

I am way too tall, played way too many games and I love to write about what we love about games. In the end, I'm just being #Thabolicious

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