Christmage Day 8: “Of Wonder and Hedgehogs”

 

inkstainedmage “The following is a contributor post by the Ink-Stained Mage.”

By the time the Sega Dreamcast was released, the world had had 3D gaming for a while. The Playstation and N64 had been out for years. But despite my brothers and I being big gamers, and my father being a nerd and an early adopter, we had never picked up either of them. Not that we weren’t happy, our Sega Genesis was still really cool, as was our NES. We were lucky to have those.

Imagine then Christmas morning and unwrapping what, to a bunch of kids, was the coolest gift you might ever receive. The Dreamcast was the first console we owned that had games on discs. Hell, it was the first console we owned that had a joystick. It was all so futuristic and modern and so darn cool. We hadn’t even plugged it in yet.

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It’s…so…*wipes away a single tear*…futuristic

Family arrived and we left our gifts to eat breakfast together, to spend time together, to see people we hadn’t seen in months. To this day opening gifts followed by breakfast is my favorite time of the year. I love spending the morning with my family, all back home from where we’ve moved across the country. My brothers and I play music, the family breaks out tabletop games, I chat on my phone with my friends, my found family, about their day.

But back to the shiny new gaming system under the tree.

Like I mentioned, I rarely had the chance to see games above 16-Bit. I played Smash Bros. and Mario Party at a friend’s house, but that was about it. This? This was something else entirely. We booted up the first game we unwrapped, and I’ve never looked back.

Sonic Adventure gets a lot of negative press. Most of it deservedly so. The controls are not tight. It’s full of glitches. Big the Cat and Amy’s stages…exist. (Pressing a certain direction on the control pad NEVER worked to catch Froggy don’t at me.) You can fall through levels and the story gets repetitive and the cameras are dodgy at the best of times. It has some problems.

big the cat

Just…whyyyyyyyyy?

I didn’t care. I didn’t see them. I was a kid, and was far too busy having my tiny pre-adolescent mind BLOWN by the fact that Sonic left footprints in the sand in glorious, beautiful, ridiculous graphics. They look horribly stilted now, sure, but nobody cared in my living room that day. That day, technology was astounding, and there was Sonic, in glorious 3D, and I could not have been a happier kid.

Not only that, I’d never seen so much story in a game before. Remember, I’d never left the Genesis, and most of what I played had story limited to text boxes and only the vaguest notion of plot. This had SIX playable characters with different stories, ancient ruins, mad gods, it was INTENSE.

buggin sonic

I still love you, you broken monstrosity.

I think Sonic Adventure, and the Dreamcast really, are a lot like Christmas. They get a lot of hype, you wait all year for them, and when they finally come, they’ve got some problems. It isn’t quite what you were promised. Some things aren’t as user-friendly and well-designed as they should be. But, if you’re lucky, none of that matters. I don’t mean to shrug off the idea that people have a rough time around the holidays. I absolutely get that. But for me, my memory, and I know how lucky I am to have it, is of sitting and playing Sonic with my brothers. For all its flaws, the Dreamcast brought wonder into our home. It made 10 year old me imagine what could be accomplished with games as a medium, though I wouldn’t think about in those terms for years.

Now, as we all know, the Dreamcast died a very sad and cruelly premature death. It never was treated as well as it should have been. Sonic Adventure got a sequel that refined a lot of what made the original charming. Shenmue, Soul Caliber, and Phantasy Star Online were brilliant and each represented something that would far outlast the console they were born into. Dreamcast was crushed by a multitude of things. But it gave us so much before it vanished, unappreciated in its own time.

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In two decades or so we’ll regret how popular this “Online Multiplayer” thing got.

As I’ve grown up, I’ve never lost my love for Christmas. And, as evidenced by my writing here, have never lost my love for games. For what they can be. For what they can do. For how they can bring people together. And for that, I’ll always remember a little off-white box, a cat with a stupid game mechanic, and a weirdly rendered and hard to control blue hedgehog for bringing wonder back into my life.

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And for this you all killed me.

 

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The Ink-Stained Mage, aka Andrew Turnwall, sells books, writes microfiction upon topical request every Monday on twitter @AndrewTurnwall, and has an undying love of all things story from books to games to whatever it is his dog and cat are staring at in the corner.

 

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