Category: Random tidbits

Gaming as a crutch, some honest reflections

I’ve often wondered about my interest in games. Why is it so strong? Since I was a young kid, absorbed in (terrible) Amiga games, through to my Gameboy, PC and N64 in the late nineties, through to today with a whole raft of systems, gaming has always loomed large. With all this extra time at home since March 2020, there was a moment I realised something that should’ve been painfully obvious: games don’t make me happy. That principle goes for all media: music, books, TV, film. It doesn’t matter how good any individual title is, it can’t make me happy, because at the end of the day that film/game/book is a fleeting experience, it has to end and then it’s back to reality. And if you aren’t happy with your reality, how then can a piece of media make you happy given that it can’t change reality?

I’ve always known this on some level, but in practice many of my behaviours and actions have contradicted it. There was a part of me that conveniently ignored or overlooked it. And so gaming at various times has been an obsession or a compulsive habit, beyond sensible limits. Some areas where I’ve let things get out of hand: collecting, shopping, researching, following news… and those are just behaviours outside of playing games themselves! That’s not even including the most obvious and indulgent of all, binge-playing games. When I think about binge-playing, some of the main series that spring to mind are Fire Emblem and Xenoblade. (Funnily enough, I don’t think of local multiplayer all-nighters in the same way as those are always social.)

Just to be clear, I don’t believe there’s anything wrong with playing and enjoying games. (Nor do I believe there’s anything bad about writing about games on a blog like this one!) Games are a great form of leisure, and especially right now, with world events such as they are, I’m more grateful for them than ever. But I also recognise that I have many times run roughshod over what I personally consider normal or healthy: games have been my escape, my crutch, in unhealthy ways, and I’ve used them to avoid looking honestly at my own life and making changes.

I turned to games for relief at a time in my life when I was young and most needed support. Games weren’t my first choice – they aren’t anyone’s – but I turned to them and isolated myself because I couldn’t find support from people around me. What happens when you look for comfort in gaming as a young person? In my case it planted the seed of desire to find and play all the best games. To collect all the best games. To overinvest in fiction and virtual worlds.

Part of being unhealthily invested in games is dissociation. Unless someone was around me to prompt me, I could easily lose track of time, miss appointments or forget things I needed to do that day. It was easy to find myself completely immersed and acting under a compulsion. The same was true of other activities too like reading and listening to music.

I’m not writing this to blame or demonise gaming. Yes, games are addictive by design. They inspire that “one more go”/”one more quest” feeling. But all commercial entertainment does this, past and present. When novels first became popular, there was a widespread fear of people becoming addicted to them, in the same way there is now with videogames. Nowadays no one seems to fear the addictive quality of books, and describing a book as a “page turner” is seen as high praise, rather than a threat. I’m confident that when games are no longer the new kid on the block, there’ll be less suspicion and fear of them.

So, out of all of this reflection, what have I learned and where do I go from here? This pandemic, tragic and tough as it has been, provided a unique opportunity to get to know myself and face my demons. I understand some of the methods I developed to cope in the past. And I’m also learning to show kindness to myself – there were good reasons for things I did then. With the benefit of hindsight, it’s now possible for me to move on, to make better choices and to implement positive changes.

Thanks for reading, and I hope all of you out there are taking care and keeping safe.

When Akon worked on Sonic the Hedgehog

I just had to share this fun bit of Sonic trivia that gave me a good laugh today. (And you know it’s going to be good because Sonic the Hedgehog is involved. Sonic’s involvement is a must for trivia to be considered good in my book.)

This story begins with Sonic 1 and 2 for the Megadrive/Genesis. We’ll get to Akon later, rest assured. Now, the music for the first two Sonic games was written by Masato Nakamura. Nakamura was the lead composer for a popular J-pop band called Dreams Come True. I’d vaguely heard of Dreams Come True but hadn’t ever listened to them until recently. I shouldn’t have been surprised, given the early Sonics have easily some of the most iconic videogame music there is, that Dreams Come True look to be a really good band. I know basically nothing about J-pop but this group makes me want to know more about J-pop. They sound a bit like classic Michael Jackson but with a great female vocalist.

Here they are performing live in 2014. Look out for Nakamura on bass!

Around the time of Sonic 2’s release in 1992, it seems Nakamura decided to use a melody from Sonic 2 as the basis for a Dreams Come True song. The melody he used shows up in Sonic 2 in a few different places: it’s most developed form is in the ending music, but there’s a short form of it used in the options menu. Here’s the ending, which has the fullest version.

Personally I always liked this tune but have to admit it never jumped out to me as having potential to be a pop hit. Well that’s why I’m not a superstar music producer, clearly…

Is it cheesy? Sure, a bit. But all things considered, this is a cracking arrangement and performance. I find the English vocals by Miwa Yoshida especially impressive – she sounds completely comfortable and natural singing in English despite (presumably) not being a native speaker.

This would be a nice story on its own, but unfortunately I have promised Akon content, so here goes. More than 10 years after Sonic 2 and Sweet Dream (also known as Sweet Sweet Sweet), the game commonly referred to as Sonic ’06 saw a number of bands and acts hired to record songs for the soundtrack. The results are both amusing and cringeworthy, like with one of the game’s main themes performed by Zebrahead:

Zebrahead remind us here in the chorus, lest we ever forget: in Sonic’s world, life is an open book and compromise does not exist. Sega knew that, which is why they hired then-superstar Akon to remix Sweet Dream by Dreams Come True for Sonic ’06! 

In this one remix everything comes full circle. The scales have fallen from my eyes and life suddenly seems somehow complete.

14 years after Masato Nakamura walked away from the Sonic series, he returned (in a fashion) for this oddity of a game. To recap: a song from Sonic 2 was arranged and performed by a Japanese band. Akon covered the band’s song and contributed those ridiculous autotuned vocals that made him a household name in the mid 00s. Sega then put the end result in Sonic ’06 and a trivia is born.

A nostalgic lens on ailing businesses in The Lost Arcade (2015)

The Lost Arcade is a well made, nostalgia-steeped 2015 documentary about New York videogame arcades. It charts the rise, but mostly the decline of arcade culture through to the mid-2010s. The people and themes it looks at are a much more ambitious and frankly, much better done, form of what we at Very Very Gaming were interested in with our blog posts about game stores in the UK. As a film it looks at the histories, the people, the stories, the owners and their passions in and around New York’s arcade scene.

Continue reading

A new venture!

I have some exciting news. Since neglecting this beloved site I have been secretly working on a new project together with Maya. While there is still work left to do around branding and things, I couldn’t wait any longer to announce it on VVG.

Here is a prototype video essay put together by us on the subject of flight in videogames. In a move designed to shock and deceive, we named it ‘Flight’. The video essays we have planned are, in many ways, takes on our favourite subjects and themes from the blog and the podcast. It’s hard to believe that we’ve been kicking around these thoughts online here for just over six years – wow. The biggest difference here of course is the new (to us) medium of the video essay, and so far it’s been a challenging but rewarding one to work in.

In case anyone is curious about the games featured, the video includes footage of the following games (in order of first apperance):

  • Demon’s Crest (SNES)
  • Panzer Dragoon Zwei (Saturn)
  • Soukyugurentai (Saturn)
  • Super Mario Bros 3 (NES)
  • Skies of Arcadia Legends (Gamecube)
  • Sky Odyssey (PS2)
  • NiGHTS Into Dreams (Saturn)
  • Sonic the Hedgehog 2 (Genesis/Megadrive)

I’m really curious to know what you guys think of our approach with this video, so if you have any feedback we’d greatly appreciate you letting us know with a comment below. Thanks!

Run ‘n’ gun history, part 1: Gunstar Heroes (Megadrive) vs Contra III (SNES)

Cuphead has inspired me to reflect on my personal history with this wonderful genre. We’ll be covering heavyhitters like Contra, Gunstar Heroes, Metal Slug, as well as some more obscure entries. Introducing the classic sidescrolling run ‘n’ gun:

I grew up in the 32-bit era with only limited exposure to the 16- and 8-bit systems. As a result my first encounters with traditional run ‘n’ gun games were via the Wii’s Virtual Console. Here, I played two of the most iconic run ‘n’ guns ever made – Contra III and Gunstar Heroes. Let’s kick off this trip down memory lane with a by now classic debate, a mainstay of 16-bit console warring. Contra III vs Gunstar Heroes: which is better? Continue reading