We have all played that one game. The game that forever is embedded in your mind as a game changer. It was so amazing that if it could, your jaw would hit the floor. So, what is that game for you?
My inner child wants to say The Legend of Zelda: Ocarina of Time. I first saw the lush, textured greenery of Hyrule Field one nostalgic evening when I was hanging out at my cousin’s house. I was so drawn in by the game’s atmosphere, adventure, charming characters, and fantastical world that, the next day, I went to a little hole-in-the-wall videogame store and bought it, having seen only an hour or so’s worth of gameplay.
But I’m going to take this challenge literally and discuss a game that—again, literally—made my jaw drop.
I took a trip to Washington DC just in time to catch the Art of Video Games touring exhibit a couple years ago. My inner fangirl reveled in the pixelated glory that surrounded me. I browsed official artwork, watched some videogame documentaries, read up on my videogame lore, and even signed my name in the exhibit’s guestbook (along with a doodle of K.K. Slider, but that’s not important right now).
I walked into the demo room, where highly-acclaimed videogames were up for playing: Pac-man, the original Super Mario Brothers, The Secret of Monkey Island… You know: the good stuff.
That’s where I found myself face-to-face with a sweeping field of wind-whipped, green fields, spread across an enormous HD canvas. I could only watch, enraptured by the flower petals dancing across the screen, creating a hypnotic melody of rhythm and rhyme, with an ethereal soundtrack flowing seamlessly along with this artistic beauty.
Next thing I knew, my friend was tugging at my sleeve, asking if I was ready to move to the next room. I became aware, then, that my mouth was –literally—hanging open, gawking at the peerless petals on the screen like a big-mouth bass out of water.
“I think I need this game,” I remember saying, as I came out of my stupor. I glanced at the title card. Flower, it read: a suiting name for a game of such utter, simple, charm.
Needless to say, it was the first thing I bought—and played—on my newly-purchased Playstation 3.
The first game to make my jaw hit my knee was The Elder Scrolls IV: Oblivion. It was not during character creation. It was not while I was escaping the prison. It certainly was not while I was traipsing through the sewers. It happened when I emerged from the sewer and beheld the sky–specifically, the night sky–of Cyrodiil for the very first time. Never before in my life had I seen such a beautifully-rendered sky. I was genuinely awe-struck by how real it looked. There were hundreds of stars, and Masser was hung in the sky, almost beckoning to me. Once my infatuation with the sky had passed, I came to appreciate the vastness and variety of the rolling green hills of Cyrodiil. There were so many unique plants scattered around, and there were biome-appropriate animals inhabiting the area. You had wayshrines, Ayleid ruins, derelict forts, rivers & lakes and the occasional cabin. Truly, it felt like a masterpiece in my mind.
Victoria Grace Tucker
When I was a little kid, some odd little voice in the back of my head told me I’d never be good at video games. My sister and friends just moved so fast in Soul Calibur 2 and Super Smash Bros. I believed I couldn’t keep up. So I never played. At least not until I visited my cousin in Florida at the age of ten.
My sister and cousins had been kicking each other’s butts on Soul Calibur 2 on the GameCube at my older cousin Sarah’s house. They left to go play with Legos and Sarah noticed I hadn’t even picked up a controller. She said that I’d do better with a different sort of game. That’s when she slipped the Legend of Zelda: Wind Waker into the console. The game play was about saving people, it was slower, took more strategy than speed, and had a story going on in it. That was my sort of game. Thus began my love of the Legend of Zelda series.
Years later my parents finally got us a video game system. One of the games they purchased for our Wii was the Legend of Zelda: The Twilight Princess. This … this fantastic game was the game that made my jaw drop. At the part where the villains captured Link’s friends, my heart pounded in my chest. As Link transformed into a wolf for the first time, I couldn’t take my eyes off the screen. The story enthralled me. I desperately wanted to save Ilia and Collin and prevent the darkness from taking over. I played that game for hours at a time. I learned from Link’s sacrifice and love for his friends and grew just as skilled as my sister and cousins at gameplay.
The game hooked me line and sinker. It appealed to my writer side: compelling story, great characters and fantastic world. I love video games now, but ones that tell great stories. They’ve influenced my writing as much as they’ve influenced me for the better.
I still remember it like it was yesterday. It was 1995. I was 10 years old and our family was strolling around the mall for our weekly family event. It usually consisted of pizza in the food court followed by a trip to Pocket Change, the mall’s arcade. Dad usually let my brother and I head to K.B. Toys and check things out too.
This particular day, we’d gotten our food and were already done with Ridge Racer and Street Fighter in the arcade. As I walked into the toy store, something incredible caught my eye. There, on the desk near the cash registers, was a small TV set up with a newfangled PlayStation console. Two kids were playing the demo of the first game to ever actually make my jaw drop – Tekken.
My 10 year old eyes couldn’t believe what I was seeing. 3D? This was as real as it had ever gotten! These folks are flying around the ring, fighting so fluidly, and Law, a Bruce Lee-like character, was literally RUNNING UP guys and doing flips off them. So crazy. Fighting games (and the world of video games in general) would never again be the same for me.
I’ve been into video games since I was a little kid watching my older siblings play Pitfall on the Atari. I grew to love RPGs like Final Fantasy and it would have been Final Fantasy VII on this page but for a certain game to come out a year earlier, in 1996…
I had saved enough money to buy a video game, and I look back with a certain cold dread to realize that Dragonheart: Fire and Steel was in my hand. (“A knight is sworn to valor!”) But thankfully I had a friend behind the counter of K.B. Toys that day, and he recommended this game I’d never even heard of…
“The way of a fool is right in his own eyes, but a wise man listens to advice.” (Prov. 12:15)
And thank God I did.
Like most of my favorite games, Tomb Raider’s graphics are laughable these days, but when I was a teenager, those polygon wolves looked amazing.
But that’s not what made my jaw drop.
For the first time, I felt like I had total control of a third-person character and free range of motion. I could run. I could jump. I could climb. I could shimmy! I didn’t even know what shimmying was until this game! This wasn’t like being in a First Person Shooter, which had a gameplay style that felt really constricting to me. (It still does, and I love the Bioshock series) What Tomb Raider gave to me was a character I could control that wasn’t constrained by those gimmicks that usually hampered me. (You ever played a game that doesn’t allow your character to jump? That’s what I’m talking about.) Lara could even swim! All in glorious 3D! The amount of mobility and freedom she had as a character was unparalleled.
It felt like all the old constraints were gone. Here was where video games were headed: characters that could go anywhere in their environment, do anything the player wanted them to.
The story was incidental. Something about a recently freed villainess from the lost city of Atlantis trying to use you to find an artifact that would allow her to conquer the world. Who cared? I was gunning down dinosaurs, climbing up pyramids, diving into vast underground lakes, and running through gauntlets of deadly traps.
It might not seem like anything special to anyone who’s been Booker DeWitt, flying the friendly skies of Columbia with his trusty skyhook in Bioshock Infinite, or Cole MacGrath climbing up buildings and surfing electrical wires like he does in Infamous, but the freedom and control that the original Tomb Raider gave its players when they climbed into the body of Lara Croft was like nothing else I’d experienced in a video game, and I was amazed.
Having been a lifelong gamer, not a whole lot truly surprises me. Gamers are often jaded by constantly being transported to vibrant and imaginative fantasy worlds in virtual form, so I would say that we’re not very often completely blindsided by something amazing in game form. My pick is a game that truly messed with my psyche and provoked an almost embarrassing IRL response; Metal Gear Solid 2: Sons of Liberty.
*Spoiler Alert* If you haven’t played MGS2, what are you waiting for?
Many already recognize Hideo Kojima as a maestro of messing with the mind. Most recently, P.T. completely terrified me by using mostly atmosphere and sound design. And who can forget the Psycho Mantis boss fight from Metal Gear Solid where you have to switch your controller to the second port so he can’t read your mind? But in the second “Solid” offering, the story really started messing with me. At one point in the game, you find out that the entire incident on the Big Shell is just a simulation of Solid Snake’s mission at Shadow Moses that is being conducted by an AI, called GW, that filters all the information we see or read, and the AI is controlled by a secret society that runs the entire country, called The Patriots (a conspiracy theory that I still buy into to this day).
But the part that really made my jaw drop was when you finally gain access to Arsenal Gear, Colonel Campbell calls you on your CODEC and begins speaking erratically and sternly tells you to turn the game off now because you’ve been playing too long. I got to this point very late at night. I had been playing for hours. It freaked me out so much that I turned off my PlayStation 2 for the night. When I picked it back up the next day, I realized that the 4th wall breaking was part of realizing that Colonel Campbell was really just the AI giving you orders all along and the game continues to mess with the player; like showing the Game Over screen in the middle of a fight and constantly trying to discourage you. It makes the player feel like that the AI is messing directly with you.
Hideo Kojima has made many masterpieces with a cerebral twist, but Metal Gear Solid 2 was the first game I played that I consider jaw-dropping.