Coming of age: gaming with my stepson

Anyone who regularly visits Later Levels or watches our streams will know my stepson. Ethan’s observations on video games have resulted in several posts, a few of which are my favourites, and he occasionally appears on camera when he decides to come down from his bedroom.

Sometimes it’s hard to believe I first met him not long after he’d turned seven because it feels as though he’s grown up so quickly. He’s no longer the shy kid who always carried a cuddly giraffe toy and a 2DS with him wherever he went; he’s now a teenager who’s starting to find their way in the world. To celebrate his birthday and the person he’s becoming, here’s a selection of the games we’ve bonded over during our time as a family and the memories we’ve made over the years together.

The LEGO Movie Videogame

GEEK, expo, convention, video games, Nintendo DS, Mario Kart, EthanEthan played The LEGO Movie Videogame constantly when I was first introduced to him, so much so that I ended up learning the words to the annoying theme tune off by heart. He used to wake me up early on Saturday mornings while Pete was still sleeping so I could he could teach me about it, and it was during these times he said several enlightening things which inspired a post for an earlier blog. It changed the way I felt about writing and the subjects I wanted to cover, setting the future direction for Later Levels.

The Elder Scrolls V: Skyrim

GEEK, expo, convention, video games, Mario, costume, Ethan, cosplayMy young stepkid was slightly shocked to realise that ‘girls play video games’ when he met me and I had to prove my credentials during our first few times together. He ended up loving watching me play The Elder Scrolls V: Skyrim and used to stand behind me, waving his arms about while pretending to be a knight with a sword and shield. One evening Phil came over to my apartment to hang out with us and showed Ethan the bucket trick – and I remember him giggling so hard that he almost wet himself. Good times.

Journey

Rezzed, video games, gaming, expo, EthanJourney taught my stepson that video games don’t always have to be destruction, explosions and a hero who saves the world. After climbing the snowy mountain and reaching the final cutscene, he said: “So I’m the star and the next person playing right now will see me in the sky at the start of their game. That’s cool.” Yet again he came out with something which inspired one of my favourite posts. Even though shared-parenting can still be tough, I think we’re doing ok when it comes to showing Ethan how to use games responsibly.

Minecraft

Bits & Bytes, expo, event, video games, Minecraft, EthanIt’s Phil we have to blame for Ethan’s Minecraft obsession after he gave him a copy as a present. It was lovely to see my stepson become so interested in a game but it brought out a few negative behaviours in him, so it taught Pete and I a lot about responsible parenting and the importance of limiting the amount of playtime. It wasn’t all bad though: Ethan came up with an idea to use Minecraft to raise money for SpecialEffect a few years ago, placing a block of TNT in a tower for every £1 donated and blowing it up on stream.

The Legend of Zelda: Ocarina of Time


If it’s Phil we must blame for Minecraft-obsession, it’s The Legend of Zelda: Ocarina of Time we must thank for starting to bring about an end to it. We downloaded the title onto his Wii U as a surprise one weekend and despite us being a little worried that the retro-style may put him off, my stepkid ended up loving it. He forgot about bashing things in a world made of blocks and became more interested in helping the citizens of Hyrule. He even wanted to do a Link cosplay for Comic Con (until we told him he’d have to wear tights).

Fallout 4

Comic Con, London, Pete, Ethan, cosplayers, Bill & TedEthan’s obsession with Minecraft may have been bad but it was nowhere near as huge as his fixation with Fallout 4. He found out about it after catching Pete playing on his laptop one weekend in late 2015 and it’s only now that he’s starting to gradually lose interest. He read every book on the series that he can get his hands on; bought so many Funko Pop! Vinyl figures with his pocket-money; and purchased a Pip Boy we found at the London Gaming Market with his birthday money. His bedroom remains a shrine to the Sole Survivor even now.

Job Simulator

Ethan, Pete, Christmas, PlayStation VRFor Christmas 2018, everyone in the family clubbed together to gift Ethan a PlayStation VR and I’ll never forget the look of excitement on his face when he unwrapped the box. It’s now something we take to family gatherings and everyone gets involved. My stepson’s favourite game back then was Job Simulator thanks to his favourite YouTuber at the time and, although it was great to find a virtual-reality title suitable for his age, it turned out to be one of the most mind-numbing to watch. Everyone now groans whenever he asks to put it on.

Overwatch

Ethan, Spencer, ice-cream, boysWhen my stepson asked us if he could spend his pocket-money on a copy of Overwatch last year, we were very surprised and a little apprehensive because he’d always shown an aversion to any kind of competitive team-play in video games. Our fears were abated though when he told us it was his best friend who’d introduced him to the title. You’ll now find them playing together online every weekend, and it’s Spencer who’s responsible for encouraging Ethan to move on from Fallout 4 so they can have shared interests (including ice-cream).

Dungeons & Dragons

wedding, Kim, Pete, EthanAnother recent surprise for us was when Ethan told us he’d always wanted to try a Dungeons & Dragons game, because it was something we’d never mentioned before. We hired the skills of Kevin from The Lawful Geek to run a trial session for him last month and it went so well: we all made it out of the crypt alive, were able to prevent a town from sinking into a swamp, broke a curse and were transformed into knights. It made my stepson’s day and he asked if it’s something we can do again, so it might become a regular family thing.

It hasn’t always been easy: moving into your teenage years is tough for anyone and living in a shared-parenting situation can sometimes make it even more difficult. But I think we’re doing ok so far and we’re finding our way forward together. It’s been a privilege be a part of my stepkid’s life during the past six years and it’s lovely to see him starting to grow into the person he’s going to become. Hopefully there’ll be many more gaming experiences in our future and I’m sure his comments will continue being the inspiration for blog posts.

Happy birthday, Ethan. Have a good one.

Wonderful women in video games

Female characters in video games have come a long way over the past few years. When I was a kid, all we had to look up to was Chun-Li from Street Fighter and pointy-boobed Lara Croft from Tomb Raider. The industry may still have some way to go when it comes to representation but there are far more protagonists nowadays who are worthy of our admiration.

A big thank you to LightningEllen from Livid Lightning for including Later Levels in her Underrated Ladies! tag and giving me the opportunity to write about the following fabulous females. She’s pretty awesome herself so if you’re not already following this lady, do yourself a favour and make sure you check out her blog today. In honour of all the amazing women in video games and the blogging community, let’s take a look at some of the best female protagonists.

A heroine who is always overshadowed by the male characters in the story

Mass Effect, video game, female, FemShep, Commander Shepard, faceAlthough FemShep has a huge following, she’s always overshadowed by male Commander Shepard. He’s the one pictured in screenshots used in articles devoted to Mass Effect; and she was a half-hearted addition to the first game in the series after BioWare only bothered to record a couple of romance scenes, change the pronouns used in conversations and tweak the armour designs. But somehow she works and she kicks butt. In not particularly trying to create a great female character, the developer lucked out and made one of the best.

A heroine who is always overshadowed by the other female characters in the story

Night in the Woods, video game, kitchen, cats, conversation, Kandy, Mom, MaeMy favourite character from Night in the Woods was Candy Borowski. I love the way the story hints at her being more than just a mum: she’s had a history (one I like to think was pretty wild) and she’s dealing with issues she’s trying to keep her daughter shielded from. Although female protagonists Mae and Bea Santello take up most of the screen-time and are the focus of the story, it’s Candy who brings both a sense of humour and the warmth of compassion to the title with her comments about eels and town gossip.

A character who had potential but was greatly underutilised in her story

The Secret of Monkey Island, Elaine Marley, woman, pirate, face, Guybrush ThreepwoodAlthough The Secret of Monkey Island will always be one of my favourite games, I wouldn’t necessarily say Guybrush Threepwood was one of my favourite characters. He becomes more and more sarcastic and idiotic as the series progresses – and it’s poor Elaine Marley who has to put up with that crap. It was she who saved the day in the original title before Guybrush mucked it up and managed to defeat LeChuck through sheer luck – and I think that makes of worthy of being a playable protagonist in her own game.

A character who you want more backstory on

Dreamfall, The Longest Journey, April Ryan, face, womanThe first game in The Longest Journey series featured April Ryan as the primary character; then the next, Dreamfall: The Longest Journey, jumped forward ten-years in time to Zoë Castillo. April still made an appearance but she’d changed, the hesitant young girl replaced by a cynical woman hardened by the things she’d been through. Although Ragnar Tørnquist has said it’s very unlikely we’ll ever see a direct sequel to the first instalment, I’d love to find out more about what exactly happened to April in that missing decade.

A character with traits that are sadly overlooked by everyone

The Legend of Zelda, Ocarina of Time, Navi, fairy, LinkEveryone who’s ever played The Legend of Zelda: Ocarina of Time really dislikes Navi. I’ll admit she annoys me too with her constant ‘Hey, listen!’ but she has a lot of good traits that are continually overlooked. She’s loyal, staying by Link’s side throughout his quest to save Hyrule; she’s patient, teaching him the controls and providing clues to solve puzzles; and she has his back during battles, becoming his focusing target. So many great and caring aspects to her personality yet all we do is yell at the fairy to shut-up.

A morally-grey character

Fable II, video game, Theresa, babyIt’s difficult to share much about Theresa here as her Fable backstory is so detailed. But the most intriguing thing is the fact you’re never quite sure whether she’s on the side of good or evil: is she telling you all she knows, or has she seen the future and is now trying to guide you down a certain path? Zoë Wanamaker does such a great job at portraying the Seeress, with a perfect balance of mysticism and threat in her voice. Now whenever I see a television advert voiced by her I feel as if Theresa is trying to sell me something.

A character who should be more famous

Cognition, An Erica Reed Thriller, Erica Reed, FBI, face, gunShe may be a kickass FBI Agent who’s searching for the evil Cain Killer, her brother’s murderer, and her ‘psion’ powers might give her an advantage by enabling her to see into the past. But Cognition’s Erica is by no means a superhero and her weaknesses are exactly the reason why I love her. Raleigh Holmes does an amazing job of portraying her as a real person who’s struggling with a stressful job, tragic past and powerful secret. It’s her wonderful voice-acting and some great writing which bring Agent Reed to life.

Thanks so much once again to LightningEllen for the tag and giving me the chance to talk about these wonderful ladies! I didn’t respond to all of the prompts as there were a couple I couldn’t quite decide on answers for, so head over to her post to see the whole set. Hopefully I’ve done enough today though to celebrate wonderful women in video games and she’ll approve!

Video game items that need to exist in real life

I may have already written a response post to a very kind Sunshine Blogger Award from Ian over at Adventure Rules in response to his question about endings and beginnings. But he asked another one of his nominees that deserves some consideration: which magical item or technological marvel from a video game would you use for completely selfish purposes in real life?

Ian himself said he’d choose the Ocarina of Time from The Legend of Zelda for several very good reasons. He’d be able to teleport to work so he could sleep in then make the day go faster to get home sooner; and as I’m sure many other parents could appreciate, hold the ability to instantly put his son to sleep whenever he needed a nap. This got me wondering which items other bloggers would pick – so it’s time for a little collaboration article!

Pokéball from the Pokémon series

Chosen by Lucius P. Merriweather from A Most Agreeable Pastime

Pokémon, Let's Go, video game, Pokéball, stars

“The first item I thought of was the hidden blade from Assassin’s Creed for some reason. Probably just because it looks cool. But then I actually thought about what it would be like in real life and I quickly realised that having a hidden blade would be a terrible idea. I’m sure it would keep going off at inopportune moments. I could easily see myself spearing the toaster by accident while making breakfast, or gouging a hole in the sofa as I reached for a cup of tea.

“But then I thought of something that would be really useful – a Pokéball. Granted, there aren’t many Pokémon in Darlington, but the physics-defying properties of these seemingly magical balls would be useful in all sorts of other ways. I’m presuming that they’re able to suck in things other than Pokémon, in which case they could have all sorts of uses. Struggling to move house? No worries, just suck the sofa into a Pokéball and spit it out in your new house. Can’t afford two tickets to a concert? Easy, just capture your friend or spouse and then extrude them again once you’re safely inside the gig. The possibilities are endless.”

Radiant armour from The Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild

Chosen by Luke from Hundstrasse

The Legend of Zelda, Breath of the Wild, video game, Link, amour, glowing, skeleton, Radiant, rain

“… and up next we have a very special item; Link’s Radiant Armour from The Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild. Yes, this item has freshly been shipped into our warehouses directly from the Gerudo Town Secret Club and until this moment was exclusive to that location, but can now be yours for the low price of two-thousand, four hundred rupees and of course the nine luminous stones required to produce this dazzling and classy effect. So let’s take a look at it in action!

“As you can see this is clearly evening wear with the glowing skeleton motif being visible only in the hours of darkness. I guarantee that from the moment that you slide this form hugging ensemble on you will feel compelled to bring mischief and mayhem to any and all settlements on your route. The anonymity afforded from the hood and the playful yet far fetched visage of a glowing skeleton climbing over rooftops, looting chests, and cooking fried wild greens will undoubtedly aid you in remaining both anonymous and mythical. That’s not all, order now by calling the onscreen number and we will enchant the item to afford the wearer an extra level or stealth! So what are you waiting for, call in now for the finest costume available in the Hyrule region!”

Navigator Head from The Secret of Monkey Island

Chosen by PiecesOfKate from Musings of a nitpicking girl

The Secret of Monkey Island, video game, voodoo, dead, head, eyeballs, Navigator Head

“I would love my very own Navigator’s Head from The Secret of Monkey Island. Navigation isn’t my strong point, so I would find it very handy as my own, personal GPS system for getting around. Not sure what street to turn down? Simply check which way the head is pointing. No more relying on having a fully-charged phone with internet connection – as long as I’ve got my head, I’m sorted.

“Of course I’d have to carry it around in a Sainsbury’s bag or something, so not to alarm people. And when I’m not using it I’d display it in a cabinet and tell people it’s an artefact from pirate history. It’d make a nice alternative to a pumpkin at Halloween – and no, it’s not watching you as you walk down the driveway, you’ve just had too much punch.”

Chocobo from the Final Fantasy series

Chosen by Pix1001 from Shoot the Rookie

Final Fantasy X, video game, Chocobo, bird, chicken

“If I could choose any item from a video game to have in real life it would have to be a Chocobo from the Final Fantasy series. Strictly speaking this is a bird, not an item, but I don’t just want it as a pet. They have practical uses too.

“As someone who doesn’t drive, having a Chocobo would allow me to get around town easily without wearing through shoes or getting squished using public transport. It would also allow me to travel out of town. I live pretty near some really beautiful places, but at the moment it is difficult to get to them because of things like rivers, mountains, lochs and other forms of wilderness. Some Chocobos however can cross rivers and climb mountains and even cross seas, which would really open up the world. Whilst out exploring they also have an uncanny ability to find treasure, so it would be good for my bank balance too.

“When travelling in these inhospitable environments it is possible that we might meet scary creatures like lions or bears, but a Chocobo would come in handy here too, as some of them will actually help you out in battle. Finally though, as I said at the start, they are not just items; they are also wonderful companion animals and if I had one I think it would be the start of a beautiful friendship.”

Plasmids from BioShock

Chosen by Nathan from Hurricane thought process

BioShock, video game, plasmid, fire, hands, palms

“The item I have chosen to bring into the real world would be the plasmids from BioShock. Not only would they make life a bit more fun, they would also have their uses. Just think about the fire and telekinesis powers, along with the swarm or bees! And as for the side-effects of going insane, well I think I’m already halfway there.”

The Groovitron from the Ratchet & Clank series

Chosen by Chris from OverThinker Y

Ratchet & Clank, video game, Groovitron, disco, dance, robots

“I think it’s kind of heartening that, while Ratchet spends a lot of his time shooting aliens with a variety of shotguns, laser beams, flamethrowers, missiles, plasma whips, and, uh, beams that turn people into ducks or sheep, one of the most powerful tricks up his sleeve is the power of dance.

“The Groovitron is a recurring gadget in the Ratchet & Clank series, and it’s basically a portable disco: engage the device, and it’ll shoot out a floating disco ball complete with party lights and funky beats. Every enemy in the area will just be compelled to get their groove on, including a lot of bosses, which leaves you totally free to wail on them until they explode in a shower of funk. The fact that the Groovitron works on almost any enemy in the series, and will give them a unique dancing animation to boot, makes it one of the single most useful bits of kit in Ratchet’s arsenal, proving that sometimes you’ve just gotta take a break from blowing stuff up and have a bit of a boogie.”

Paraglider from The Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild

Chosen by Carla from Pop Culture Literary

The Legend of Zelda, Breath of the Wild, video game, Link, Hyrule, flying, trees, sky, hang-gliding, Paraglider

“If I were to choose one video game item to use in real life, it would probably have to be Link’s hang-glider from Breath of the Wild. I’ve always liked the idea of being able to fly, and jumping off of things and gliding is a very close second to this concept. Yes, I know there are real hang gliders that I can learn how to operate. However, based on video game logic, Link’s glider seems to collapse instantly into a pocket-sized item, and it pops open equally quickly. You can’t exactly make a quick escape out of a tall building and pull out a real-world hang glider to save your life mid fall!

“I would understand, however, if the powers-that-be wouldn’t grant me the glider due to popular demand. My second choice would have to be the pocket tool from the LittleBigPlanet games. Imagine having a closet in your pocket all the time? Sudden wardrobe changes for breakout musical numbers would never be a problem again. This tool also offers environment-enhancing decorations that would allow me to do any number of things, from beautifying my surroundings with baubles and stickers (hey, it’s not vandalism!) to manipulating the landscape to my advantage (I’d have a pop-up hiding place anywhere I went! And fences would no longer be an obstacle).”

Dubstep Gun from Saints Row

Chosen by Brandon from That Green Dude

Saints Row, Saints Row IV, dupstep gun, dancing, twerking

“I choose the Dubstep Gun from Saints Row IV. It allows you to defeat your enemies with the power of dubstep. It’s a really funny and cool weapon and even though you are just shooting music at people, it’s incredibly powerful.

“There is DLC that allows you to change the genre and I would choose rock and metal. If I could shoot people with the power of Jimi Hendrix’s music, Motörhead or Queen, I would be very happy.”

Pip-Boy from the Fallout series

Chosen by Edu from Random Select

Fallout 4, video game, Pip-Boy, computer, arm, screen

“I chose the Pip-Boy. The main reason is that with smartphones and wearable sensors today, it seems more likely than ever to have a device that monitors your vitals, can tell how you’re injured, and how much XP you’ve collected (based on age and other metrics like your job, marital status, etc).

I’d love to have the added functionality of managing my inventory: I’d like to know how I’m doing with groceries before having to reorder (or, you know, go scavenge at the local supermarket). Most of all, I’d love to be able to keep track of all places I’ve visited, see places nearby that may be interesting to visit, and of course FAST TRAVEL!!”

Save points from most video games

Chosen by Kim from Later Levels

Rise of the Tomb Raider, video game, Lara Croft, base camp, save point, fire

“They say you should never have regrets in life but we all have at least one. Whether it’s that time you called your teacher ‘mum’ in school in front of your friends, texted the worst possible message to the wrong person or walked out of the ladies with your skirt caught in your knickers, we all have an experience we look back on and feel embarrassed. You don’t have to worry about that any more however with your very own portable save point!

“Go back in time and correct those mistakes using this handy tool. A save point would allow you to record a ‘version’ of your life so if an event didn’t work out in quite the way you wanted it to, you could return to the past and make whatever corrections you needed to. And if there was a particularly awesome day you wanted to relive, you could experience it all over and over again providing you don’t save over your previous file. It’s like time-travel but without the messy space-time-continuum thing.”

So there you have it. I think we can all agree that there are some excellent items here, none of which could possibly cause any kind of accident or harm to life in the real world… ahem. Which video game object would you pick for yourself?

The Later Levels Official Album

Other than hearing the radio alarm go off at a ridiculous time in the morning, I don’t often listen to music. My other-half, stepson and I have tastes which are so completely different that it makes finding something we all want to hear pretty hard.

That makes responding to the Shuffle the Music Tag from Halsdoll a little difficult. But there are plenty of tracks which bring back memories of times spent with family, events with friends and playing excellent video games, that would go into my list. So for your listening pleasure, may I present to you and dedicate to Halsdoll

The Later Levels Official Album



1. I Feel For You
By: Chaka Khan
Released: September 1984
Reminds me of: Going too see ZoonNation perform Into The Hoods in London and wanting to do the robot whenever I hear this song since. Although I’ll never be able to do it as good as the dancers in this video.
2. Waterfall
By: Toby Fox
Released: September 2015
Reminds me of: Christmas last year and playing Undertale for the first time. I love the way the song builds into something that captures both the loneliness and hope of Frisk’s journey at that point in the game.
3. Be the One
By: Jack Peñate
Released: June 2009
Reminds me of: Buying my first flat and feeling very grown up doing so; it was so tiny but I loved being in that place. I had the Everything is New album playing while unpacking boxes and getting convered in dust.
4. Hold My Hand Very Tightly (Very Tightly)
By: Whistlin’ Rick Wilson
Released: August 1989
Reminds me of: Watching my other-half play Lumo while writing blog posts last year, dying a hundred deaths and screaming a thousand curses. This song has an interesting backstory and ended up getting stuck in our heads for days.
5. Turning Japanese
By: The Vapors
Released: 1980
Reminds me of: My other-half and stepson. Wherever this song comes on the radio, they do this stupid dance where they kick their legs and wave their arms as fast as they can – they can be a pair of loons sometimes.
6. Shop Theme Acapella
By: Smooth McGroove
Released: March 2013
Reminds me of: Introducing my stepson to The Legend of Zelda: Ocarina of Time and curing his Minecraft obsession. Plus Smooth McGroove’s cat (a minute into the video) looks just like our very own furball Link.
7. Music Sounds Better With You
By: Stardust
Released: July 1998
Reminds me of: Being a teenager before adulting became necessary. Dodgy nightclubs, luminous alcopops, too-high heels and singing at the top of your lungs – don’t look at me like that, I know you’ve all done it.
8. Moves Like Draugr
By: JT Machinima
Released: March 2012
Reminds me of: Naughtily showing this to my stepson and watching him almost wet himself laughing! It features a guy in homemade armour, dancing around a forest with a sword – it’s immature but what’s not to love?
9. Little Bit
By: Lykke Li
Released: May 2008
Reminds me of: Getting dressed up for a Christmas do with friends and getting the chance to wear a purple 1950s-style evening gown. An aerial hoop artist performed to this track at the event we went to.
10. Everything’s Alright
By: Laura Shigihara
Released: November 2011
Reminds me of: Playing To The Moon, one of the first indie games I tried, and crying my heart out at the end. I now can’t hear this song without getting a little tear in my eye – let’s see how I fair with Finding Paradise.
11. Never Too Much
By: Luther Vandross
Released: July 1981
Reminds me of: Going to a Halloween party with a few friends and my other-half. Pete dressed up as a zombie, had a few too many beers, got drunk and serenaded me with this song on the dancefloor at the top of his lungs.
12. Passing Breeze
By: Hiroshi Kawaguchi
Released: September 1986
Reminds me of: Stealing my brother’s Game Gear when we were kids (I had a Game Boy instead) just so I could play Outrun; and then getting into many arguments with him when I ran the battery down.
Bonus: Young Hearts Run Free
By: Candi Staton
Released: 1976
Reminds me of: Take me to a karaoke bar, buy me a few glasses of wine and this is the song you’ll hear. I’m not going to say anything else right now for fear of incriminating myself further.


Favourite games tell a personal story

Video games aren’t just about saving loved ones, blowing stuff up or grabbing as much loot as possible. Whether it’s that classic you played as a child and bonded with family over, or a newer release which made you change your outlook on life, there are titles which hold a special meaning for each of us.

Megan from A Geeky Gal very kindly nominated Later Levels for the Mystery Blogger Award last month and I’m incredibly grateful! One of the questions put to her nominees stood out for me: which TV show, book, or game has most impacted you personally? The following post is dedicated to this lovely blogger, and it has been wonderful being able to to talk about the titles which have had a positive impact and brought amazing people into my life.

The Secret of Monkey Island

The Secret of Monkey Island, video game, Guybrush Threepwood, pirate, man, surprised

Admit it: you knew this was going to be the first entry on the list, didn’t you? It would be impossible to talk about video games which have influenced me without mentioning The Secret of Monkey Island. Although this wasn’t the first title I ever played, it was the first I played for myself after receiving an Amiga 500 as a kid. This was the game that started my lifelong love of the adventure genre and a crush on wannabe pirates.

You can read more about that story here in a post which was created for the first Charming and Open event held by Ian from Adventure Rules last year. This was a great way of getting to know the host a little better as well as meeting other bloggers who have since become friends. It was Guybrush who got me into gaming in the first place; and it’s events like Ian’s which remind me just how brilliant being a member of the WordPress community is.

The Legend of Zelda: Ocarina of Time

Rezzed, video games, gaming, expo, Ethan

I first experienced The Legend of Zelda: Ocarina of Time in the late 1990s after a boyfriend had cruelly broken my heart. My younger brother invited me to play it with him to take my mind off things and it worked; we spent countless evenings up in his bedroom just running about the fields of Hyrule and fishing in Lake Hylia. It was the first time we hadn’t had a sibling argument in ages and I didn’t give that boyfriend a second thought.

Years later, my other-half and I had the pleasure of introducing my stepson Ethan to the game and it even managed to cure him of his Minecraft obsession. You can read more about that tale here in a post which was created for another event: The Legend of Zelda retrospective hosted by NekoJonez. It’s one more example of how hard the writers around us work to produce amazing projects and bring the community together.

Street Fighter

EGX, video games, expo, event., gamers, Kim, Pete

Speaking of my other-half, it was Street Fighter that first got us talking four years ago. Pete and I met in a local pub after he overheard me talking about the game to a friend and then started trying to guess my favourite character; and in a conversation over a couple of drinks, we realised we’d grown up in houses located on parallel streets before moving to the same town as adults but had never come across each other before. It’s a small world.

He’s been my player two ever since and I wouldn’t do without him. It would be hard to encapsulate just how awesome he is in a couple of sentences here (and I know it would make him blush) so let me just say that he plays video games, can cook a great steak and makes me laugh every single day. Pete and Ethan are top of the list of things which make me happy and I love them both to bits.

Journey

Ethan, Pete, Duxford Air Museum, hangar, planes

Gaming has always played a part in my relationship with the boys and it’s something Ethan and I bonded over when we were first introduced. He was surprised to find that ‘girls play video games’ and there was an initial period when I had to prove my credentials, but we now sit down together with a game every weekend as a family – one such title being Journey.

We decided to get him to play it as part of an effort to teach my stepson that video games don’t have to be about explosions and guns to be fun. When he reached the end, he said: “So I’m the star… and the next person playing right now will see me in the sky at the star of their game. That’s cool.” That’s exactly what we wanted to hear and it was that line which inspired me to write one of favourite posts last year.

To The Moon

One of the first indie titles I ever played after being introduced to this side of gaming by a friend was To The Moon. It absolutely broke my heart and I was in tears by the credits; and it taught me that video games are more than just entertainment or pixels. If there’s anything we should take away from this one, it’s that life is too short to have regrets so if there’s something you want to do, do it right now.

After coming across a piece of music by Chris from OverThinker Y on his site early last year, we started talking and realised we’re both massive fans of Freebird Games’ project. We had to wait a long time for the sequel Finding Paradise, and now that it’s finally here we’re planning to play at the same time and then have a long chat about it afterwards. Expect a post about that in the near future!

Gaming for good

This entry on the list is dedicated to all titles instead of an individual one to highlight the good that gaming can achieve. SpecialEffect is an amazing UK-based charity which puts fun and inclusion back into the lives of people with physical disabilities by helping them to play video games. Using technology ranging from modified joypads to eye-control, they find ways for individuals to play to the very best of their abilities.

I’ve supported the charity since meeting their team at EGX five years ago and have volunteered on their stand at various expos since. Seeing their work closeup in these situations makes you appreciate how easy it is to take the joy of gaming for granted sometimes. That’s why we’re taking part in their annual marathon GameBlast18 later this year; find out more about the event and how you can get involved here.

Thank you once again to Megan and congratulations to all of her nominees! If there’s a video game which has had a profound impact on you, let me know in the comments below or write your own post on the subject; we’ve all got a story to share.

The Legend of Zelda: the cure for obsessions and broken hearts

This post is part of a series exploring the history of The Legend of Zelda and its major entries. Be sure to check out the hub article on NekoJonez’s Gaming Blog for links to all the great retrospectives written by other bloggers, and to find out more about what makes this Nintendo franchise such a classic.

Image above courtesy of Pieter-Jan Casteels.

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A couple of years ago, it seemed as if Minecraft had completely taken over my young stepson’s world. He talked about it non-stop for the entire time he was with us every weekend. He woke us up at 05:30 each day just so we could play it together (despite being told to go back to bed). He explained that we were exploring ‘Minecraft world’ whenever we went out to the park for the day; and all of his imaginary games involved enemies that looked suspiciously like creepers who blew up when hit with a sword.

You could say it was a childhood obsession but we noticed Ethan’s behaviour changing. After picking up the controller he’d start to get tetchy: he stopped taking on our suggestions for things to build because they were ‘silly’ and did the opposite of whatever we proposed when he asked what armour or weapon he should take on his adventures. This title about ‘creativity’ seemed to bring about a more aggressive side in my stepson that we weren’t expecting – but luckily, a green-suited hero on a sure-footed steed came to the rescue in our hour of need.

Ethan has always had a fascination with castles, knights and all things noble for as long as I’ve known him. It therefore wasn’t much of a surprise when he chose a Link Amiibo to go with the Wii U he received for Christmas that year. Other than a short amount of time spent with The Legend of Zelda on his dad’s old Game Boy he’d never had any contact with the character, but the sword in his hand and shield on his back convinced him that this was a mighty, powerful warrior worthy of spending his pocket-money on.

His slightly distorted view of Link may have been based on his imagination rather than the developer’s intended design but he came to like him so much that other characters featured in Mario Kart 8 stopped getting a turn on the track. It was therefore a sign when I heard Nintendo were making The Legend of Zelda: Ocarina of Time available on their Virtual Console in 2015, and we decided to download the game as a surprise before we picked him up one Friday evening.

We were a little worried it might be too difficult for him or that the retro-style would put him off playing but my other-half and I both had such fond memories of the title that we thought it was worth a shot. I first experienced it back in the late 1990s after a boyfriend had cruelly broken my teenage heart and my brother invited me to play it with him to take my mind off things, and it worked: we spent hours in his bedroom just running around the fields of Hyrule and fishing in Lake Hylia. It was the first time we hadn’t had a sibling argument in years and I didn’t give that boyfriend a second thought.

It turned out that Ethan loved Ocarina of Time just as much as we had when we were younger. We raced on Epona while trying to get to Lon Lon Ranch before the skeletal Syalchildren came out at night. We became entangled in the Lost Wood on several occasions and drew maps on scraps of paper to help. We turned day-into-night and night-into-day more times than I can remember so we could learn the Ocarina notes. We befriended Kokiri and Gorans, found lost puppies, made staggering leaps of faith – and yelled at Navi to keep quiet whenever she nagged us to listen.

It’s proof you don’t need fancy high-resolution graphics, endless open-worlds or complicated gameplay to make an amazing title. An awesome video game will stand the test of time regardless of technological advances and this one still holds up since its release almost 20 years ago. Yes, the graphics may now look dated and yes, Navi can be really bloody annoying when she wants to be, but many people the world over still refer to it as one of the best titles ever made and you can almost guarantee its place in any new ‘top games’ list.

Its legacy is pretty clear to any gamer. As one of the first 3D action-adventure games, it introduced many aspects that would become staples of the genre in future years – just look at the lock-on Z-targeting and the context-sensitive actions as good examples. This is a game held in such high esteem that it’s sometimes easy to forget how ground-breaking its mechanics were, and how accomplished they remain all these years later.

Ocarina of Time also seemed to have a great effect on my stepson: he stopped being all about bashing everything in sight and filling Nether fortresses full of chickens (although that was pretty funny), and became more about saving the world. I think it was the actions-and-consequences element of the storyline that did it. If we didn’t help the citizens of Hyrule – even if it was only finding their lost puppies, reorganising their crates or selling them masks – the evil Ganondorf would triumph, and that was something Ethan didn’t want to let happen.

Rezzed, video games, gaming, expo, Ethan

Link may not have turned out to be the ‘mighty warrior’ of his imagination but he now sees him as more than just the Master Sword and Hylian Shield. He’s also getting to have his own experience of playing and it’s sweet to think that perhaps he’ll end up showing Ocarina of Time to his own children one day. Those familiar notes will sound on the Ocarina, he’ll remember the battle for the Triforce, and he’ll be transported straight back to the beautiful land of Hyrule.