For better or worse, some of my fondest memories of childhood creativity go back to video games. The Legend of Zelda and Final Fantasy series especially tickled my imagination. On otherwise dull afternoons, I would find myself in a world of adventure, chasing the horizon or the next clue to solving a mystery.
Of course video games weren’t always fodder for creativity. They did, unfortunately, keep me glued to the television at times when I should have been playing outside like a normal kid. I didn’t need to try to beat Donkey Kong Country 3 on the Super Nintendo in one sitting or play Ken Griffey Jr’s Major League Baseball on a sunny afternoon when I had a father more than willing to play real baseball with me.
On the whole, however, I would say video games proved to be a catalyst for my thirst for domestic and international travel. In their own way, they broadened my horizons beyond what the suburban lawn could offer — something that was badly needed when development claimed the woods in our backyard that were once home to owls, foxes and even coyotes.
There are, of course, games that I have traditionally steered away from for one reason or another. I’ve generally stayed away from war shooters, the Medal of Honor series and World War II-set Call of Duty games being the only exceptions. Something bothered me about making entertainment out of what men and women my age were living every day. But making time to “kill some Nazis,” as my brother and I would say, was entirely different. Our teenage brains could more easily rationalize taking out those pixellated monsters.
Zelda has always been my go to, especially as the world within the respective games in the series has expanded. Ocarina Of Time for the Nintendo 64 was what really did it. For the first time as a 3D character that looked damn-near lifelike (at the time, anyway), you could explore a relatively realistic world. I still have the occasional fantasy of living a day as Link, storming through Hyrule on the back of my noble steed Epona, ready to strike the final blow against Ganon as the orchestral version of the Zelda theme song plays in the background.
Seriously, I’m a huge nerd.
Back to Ocarina Of Time, you could progress the story by searching for the next battle, or wander about as you might in real life. The Final Fantasy games offered similar opportunities with an extra dose of magic and occasional mythology. Perhaps this is a sad statement, but those games might have been my first taste of different cultures. Fake cultures, but at least the idea that different people and lifestyles are out there, waiting for me to interact with them.
Finally, there’s Tomb Raider. I would hardly call myself an ardent fan of the series, but I remember being heavily addicted to Tomb Raider 2 for the original Playstation. My brother bought it and I squeezed in turns whenever he wasn’t playing. The game took you as the acrobatic Lara Croft through jungles and tombs you weren’t supposed to go to. I can’t help but find a connection to my current passion for traveling to places with strong history, but a reputation for not being travel-friendly largely because of how they’re portrayed. If that game had anything to do with me getting to El Salvador, even subconsciously, I owe those creators quite a bit.
This may seem a bit convoluted or nonsensical to those with little history playing video games. It may even seem like a desperate attempt at a post in the midst of a hectic book-writing schedule. Nevertheless, I remain excited about the storytelling possibilities of the gaming franchises that have embraced that adventurous spirit and how that can potentially influence gamers to explore the world a little deeper after putting the controller down.