What does the scariest moment of my life have to do with my history as a gamer, and particularly my original XBOX?
While fashion has been a key hobby for me in my 20s, for which I now control by following my own form of minimalism, gaming is a lifelong passion of mine. My history with playing games on computers and games consoles goes back as long as I can remember. My gaming history is not especially unusual for a child of the 1990s, except perhaps the fact that my first gaming experiences were on the Amiga 500 computer, an extremely successful personal computer in Europe at the time. This was before Windows was really a “thing”. Our first PC was a Windows 95 machine, but we did not have that family computer until 1999. Windows 95 was soon upgraded to 98SE, and the PC became the primary focus of my gaming life. Strategy games and RPGs indulged and developed my passions for history and stories, a thread that has run through my whole life, even into my career (as an English literature academic with an English and History undergraduate degree).
My gaming history (in short)
In between, and alongside, the Amiga and the PC however were my Game Boy Pocket (I remember my confusion that the Color model came out soon after I got my shiny new present – although I cannot say I truly cared because I was obsessed with playing Pokemon, even if it was in black and white) and my Sega Mega Drive (model 2). I had the chance to own a PlayStation at its most popular point, but I was a 7 year-old who was obsessed with the idea of being able to play Sonic the Hedgehog at my house rather than at a friend’s. And I loved that system, as outdated as it was. I eventually did get a PSOne, but I am pretty sure that the PlayStation 2 was breaking sales records at the time. I couldn’t avoid the PS2 whenever I went round a friend’s house. Maybe it was because all I ever really played were wrestling and Gran Turismo games that I was never that highly enthused.
All of this may make me sound spoiled; but, as I am bound to think, I was not. I owned very few games, but played them a lot. Not enjoying a game was an immense disappointment. I became incredibly passionate about certain games, playing them so many times and in so many different ways that I became an expert (Baldur’s Gate 2, Final Fantasy IX, Medieval and Rome: Total War come to mind). Apart from our (second) family PC, which for a few years was capable of running the latest games in a reasonable way, I was always a “generation” of gaming behind. So everything was cheaper and more low-tech. But that didn’t mean these games were not deep, complex experiences.
“Nothing compares to the power of X” – XBOX development team mantra.
And then came the XBOX in 2002. Or, as we have to call it now, because of the XBOX One’s silly name, “the Original XBOX”. As a PC gamer I was very familiar with Microsoft, especially with their first-party titles like Age of Empires (so much so that my parents were coerced into buying a Voodoo graphics card so that I could play AOE2). And I was a follower of games news at the time, as limited as it was back in early-2000s-era Britain. Ceefax/Teletext was one source, although I struggle to remember really using it. YouTube was a few years away of course, which launched the same year as the XBOX 360. Probably my favourite source of news was the extremely “of-the-time” TV series shown on British digital television channel Bravo, called Game Pad, presented by the affable Violet Berlin. I have recently watched an episode on YouTube, and while there is some editorial in there, it was essentially a way of seeing game trailers and incredibly concise, almost trivial, reviews of games on your telly. I eventually became a subscriber to PC Gamer’s UK magazine, although it is difficult to sort out the chronology of all this in my head. Rome: Total War was a practical obsession of mine for a few years, from previews all the way to actually playing it (and, of course, it is a masterpiece).
I did not get an XBOX at launch; I reckon I got one roughly around 2003-2004. I was only able to afford one because of one of the worst, scariest experiences of my life. Around the Spring of 2002 my mum, dad, and I were involved in a head-on car crash. My mum’s Nissan Micra was written off (her pride and joy, being the only car –even since – that she ever bought new). We were on our way to a meal or some kind of event on the way out of our town. See my illustration.
Unluckily, my dad, who was driving, chose the route we usually took to such things. Because of the way the road works on the way out of my hometown, it was a guaranteed crash, because the person who hit us drove the wrong way up a one-way road by driving on the wrong side and reading the junction as terribly as you can. My dad broke his sternum, leaving him in hospital, because the airbag in the car did not inflate as his body was thrown into the steering wheel. When he did come home he had to sit upright for a long time while he recovered. Luckily the 2002 World Cup was on and he had some entertainment, watching as many televised games as he could. My mum hurt her wrist. My seatbelt didn’t lock, and my only saving grace was that I was thrown head-first into the headrest of the seat in front of me (the car was all MOT-ed and had its maintenance up to date, making the series of safety failures quite incredible). I was left with a very sore head, and luckily I did not suffer anything worse than that, although the hospital staff were initially very cautious about my neck.
The compensation for me, after a good year or more, was about £500. So what does a 13-14-year-old who has been given that amount of money do? So that’s how I got my original XBOX – because of the scariest moment in my life so far. There are, objectively, worse accidents to be in of course. Luckily the only thing to be destroyed was our family car. 16 years later I can still remember, fairly vividly, the sharp pain and shock of that impact. It is hard to convey to someone who has never experienced a genuine catastrophe. And as I look back, I think it made me a better person. I had to walk a lot more, be more independent, not be able to rely on a lift at all. I lived in a small town so it was not a huge deal, of course, to walk everywhere. And picking myself up after such a shock was certainly a test of my character at an age when I was beginning to become a teenager / young-adult.
The silver-lining was that I adored that XBOX. It may sound trivial now, in 2018, when we have smartphones, Netflix, YouTube etc. I did not have it hooked up to broadband (we had dial-up) so I never experienced the early days of XBOX live. But what I did experience was playing through Halo and Halo 2 in co-operative mode with a lad who became one of my best friends (unfortunately I have not seen him in years, but I always smile when I look back on those memories). He lived up the road from me (a novelty, as almost all my friends lived in neighbouring villages), so walks home became excuses to shoot some Covenant or hunt each other with sniper rifles and shotguns in Blood Gulch, Coagulation, or Foundation.
It was our family’s first DVD player, although I had to save up and get the “kit” that unlocked the feature (for the uninitiated, you had to install a peripheral into one of the 4 controller ports, which allowed you to use a remote and unlocked the DVD film restriction), unlike the lucky ones who just used their PS2 controller. Around the time of the accident, my grandma suddenly passed away, and eventually my distraught grandfather had to come live with us. He took my bedroom and I moved into the smaller bedroom that was supposed to be my sister’s (who, at the time, was living away). I was not thrilled, but looking back, I was very adult about the whole affair. My parents clearly thought so, so they bought me my first TV (with a glorious VHS player built-in) so that I could escape to my room. Eventually my XBOX travelled upstairs. I found new uses for it, playing CDs and music in the morning from the console’s revolutionary internal hard-drive. It was the first time I was “up-to-date” with my favourite hobby, outside of the PC and ‘90s Pokemania.
Fast-forward to gaming now.
So why am I dredging up all these memories now? I have owned an XBOX 360 since around 2009-10, and it is a superb console. And yet, for some reason, despite being a genuine fan, I have never played games original XBOX games on my 360 through the backwards compatibility feature. And the current generation of XBOXes have recently begun to receive support for O.G. XBOX games, too. My primary form of gaming entertainment is definitely my PS4 nowadays. It serves as our media centre for watching Dawson’s Creek, Gilmore Girls, Star Trek or whatever else when we get free time in evenings and weekends. Which leaves my 360 dormant. I have sold or given away a great deal of 360 games, but I still have a decent enough collection.
(tbf, this is how I imagine my wholesome early adulthood being like)
As a minimalist, I am obviously self-trained to avoid the accumulation of “stuff”. This is a problem with gaming, which is a hobby that is partly about the collecting of stuff, whether you like it or not. Editing your gaming collection can be a fun part of the hobby, or a drag. And then there are collectors who are playing their own game, trying to find full sets of whatever they deem worthy of collecting. Over the past year or so I have toyed with the idea of building a small collection of Nintendo GameCube or PlayStation 2 games. The prices of GameCube games are, for many reasons, crazy. And the only PS2 I have is an incredibly noisy, dusty machine that a friend of mine gave to me as part of a clear-out. But, at least for now, the original XBOX is cheap. The most expensive games are still less than current-generation games. Compare that to the high, peak prices of SNES, some PS1 and GameCube games that are being driven by people collecting for the sake of collecting.
This is what we would call in the gaming community the lowest point/trough in the o.g. XBOX’s price cycle. I can almost guarantee that in 5-10 years time these games will not cost pennies-£2.50. And there were plenty of games that I would have owned at the time if I had the chance. I have no idea where my young adulthood collection has gone, either. Lost in some house move, I suppose. I loved most of those games, and the majority of them are incredibly cheap.
(this video sums up my thoughts better than I could put here – it’s well worth a watch)
To collect for the passion of gaming, not the passion of collecting.
The only question I have for myself now is whether it is all worth it. I can tell from having dug out my (still-working) childhood Sega Mega Drive that playing older games on their original hardware is an unbeatable experience. Emulation and remasters are cool, but you somehow forgive all flaws and enjoy the game in a new (or old?) light when you play them as they were intended. And in the future, depending on how backwards compatibility rolls out on XBOX One, I may be able to consolidate. So I am contemplating picking up an original system; in the meantime I will see how much joy I get out of reigniting a passion of mine from that time in your life when the most trivial of things (music taste, knowledge of film/tv) seem so important, on my 360, finding a new use for something that adds real value to my life.
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