Real XP: Influential Gamer Moments

Headquarters Beercade Chicago, IL
Headquarters Beercade
Chicago, IL

I play video games in search of epic moments. When I complete a level or section that affects my character or my overall experience I have an emotional reaction. There is a true sense of accomplishment that comes with conquering an obstacle, but the best part of the experience is having the ability to be active within the story. Whether it’s an amazing plot twist, display of player skill or just a stunningly beautiful environment, some moments are more impactful than others. Not all of these gamer experiences happen in-game. Milestones, accomplishments and realizations in the real world can truly change a gamer. Here are a few of my own most influential gaming moments.

The first time I played a video game

During a routine visit to an aunt’s condo across town, I discovered a cabinet under the television that had a strange looking box with a stick coming out of it. I began pretending that I was a fighter pilot using the joystick to maneuver my jet. When my aunt saw me playing with the unplugged controller she showed me what it was meant for. A small tub full of cartridges with epic scenes displayed on each one was produced like a treasure chest of adventure. She plugged in the Atari 2600 and let me have at it. I began with the game she suggested, Pac-Man. I was enthralled by the ability to control a virtual character in another world. There was an instant bond between this hungry yellow circle and me. My determination to help him on his quest to eat everything and avoid being trapped by ghosts caused me to play so long that I didn’t have time to try another game before my mom decided it was time to go. I couldn’t stop thinking about the game and did everything I could to convince my mother that we needed to visit my aunt again. The next time we were there, I was smarter with my time. I tried Frogger, Pitfall, Missile Command, Space Invaders, Defender, Pole Position and many others. Needless to say, I was hooked and picked up every video game I could get my hands on after that.

The first time I beat a video game

Like any other nerdy 90’s kid, I rushed home to play video games after school. Most days, I was with a babysitter until my mom got home from work. The babysitter had a Nintendo Entertainment System. I would spend that few hours trying to get as far as I could into the games she had before the Nintendo had to be shut off. Without the ability to save, I’d have to finish the game in one sitting. The more I played, the quicker my completion of the earlier levels became. Finally, one day I reached the final world with plenty of time to spare and a hefty collection of extra lives. One level after another I failed and repeated until I advanced to the final stage. Several attempts later I defeated the final boss and reached the princess. Though there was no reward, I felt like I had truly accomplished something and I wondered if I could do the same with other games. So began my quest to conquer as many games as I could.

Winning my first multiplayer match in 007 GoldenEye

I began playing 007 GoldenEye on the Nintendo 64 after my 3 step brothers had already beaten the game and played against one another for several weeks. Once I was finally allowed to join in, I started losing right away. I was very inexperienced and unskilled as I had never played a first person shooter. My step brothers were ruthless and taunted me after every loss. I was determined to improve so that I could return the favor. The four of us played as much as we were allowed. We stayed up all night on weekends, sometimes falling asleep with controllers in our hands. I began to improve and after a few weeks, I began winning! We all knew it was inevitable, but I was so thrilled to have the opportunity to laugh at my step brothers as “Rank: 1st” flashed onto my section of the screen. I may have gloated a bit too much and was beaten up, but it was worth it.

Emerging onto Hyrule Field in The Legend of Zelda: Ocarina of Time

From the moment you are awakened by a fairy in your tree house, Ocarina of Time surpasses all expectations for a game from its time. The imaginative world in which the game takes place is full of beautiful landscapes and colorful characters. The contrast of the seriousness of the story and the happy, playful tone of Hyrule is just one of the reasons why this game is on many “best ever” lists (including mine). However, the moment you step out of Kokiri Forest and onto Hyrule Field, you truly realize the scope of the game. A quick pan over the landscape gives you views of the castle, Death Mountain and much of the field itself. After a quick chat with the owl, Kaepora Gaebora, you are free to roam the field and interact with its inhabitants.The excitement I felt when I discovered how much there was to this game has gone unmatched since. Every discovery and achievement made me more excited to explore. It was a world I never wanted to leave and it all began with that first step into Hyrule.

Buying my own console for the first time

I was lucky to have family and friends who played video games. I had been able to play a ton of Atari, N.E.S., Sega Genesis, Game Boy, Super Nintendo, Nintendo 64 and PC games. I was also given a Sega Game Gear as a gift from my mother, but I had never learned about a new game system through my own discovery. There was a commercial with the tagline “don’t underestimate the power of Playstation” that I had seen several times. It was the newest and most advanced gaming hardware of the time and the games themselves looked stunning. I knew I had to have a Playstation and I knew I’d have to find a way to buy it myself. So I began asking neighbors and family members for odd jobs so that I could start saving money. I shoveled snow, raked leaves, took out garbage, cleaned cars and even sold trading cards to my friends. I don’t remember how long it took, but I remember finally having enough to split the cost of a refurbished playstation with my mom. I may have only had one game and no memory card, but it was mine!

Owning a pinball machine

I spent a fair amount of time in arcades ignoring the pinball machines for the newer games like Tekken, San Francisco Rush, Time Crisis as well as some classics. During elementary school, my stepfather made a deal with a friend that included a pinball machine. It was delivered to our house and lived in our garage among the junk he had gathered. My mother was not happy with its presence and immediately suggested he sell it. None of my siblings seemed particularly interested in it either. I decided to give the game a try. It was a generic machine with no real defining features, but it was well built and had quite a few targets with varying difficulty. After spending an hour playing and trying to earn a replay, I started to see why people enjoyed pinball. I began spending hours at a time playing after school earning every high score spot. The machine was sold after a few months, but I stopped ignoring the pinball machines in the corners of arcades.

My first LAN party

Being primarily a console gamer, I was not aware of the idea of Local Area Network gaming until a few of my best friends all bought copies of Halo: Combat Evolved for the Xbox. We played four-player split screen until we tired of passing the controllers. There were enough people to justify trying a system link. We had those who lived nearby bring their consoles and televisions over and we were set. It was great being able to play all together with nobody having to sit out. The group met to play regularly for about 5 years. In that time there were more than a few 12 hour sessions. I can recall finally going to bed at 7 AM with empty Dorito bags and Mountain Dew bottles strewn about among wires and batteries. We played different games on different consoles and at different locations, but we had setting up the network and getting started down to a science. Having your team sitting next to you communicating and working together was such a rewarding experience. Whether we won or lost, it was always fun, but being able to trash talk right to my friends’ faces after destroying them was by far the best part.

My biggest video game rivalry

While in college, I was introduced to Mario Kart for the Nintendo Wii as a drinking game called DUI. I had never really played other games from the series, aside from the N64 version briefly. Burnout was the only game I really spent any time on from the racing genre. I thought Mario Kart was more of a loose, casual game geared towards children. However, my competitive gamer nature urged me to find ways to win. One of my best friends played with me regularly. He was much better at the game and seemed to harness some hidden knowledge that a casual player wouldn’t be able to access. Through my quest to beat him, I quickly discovered the hidden intricacies of the game. Memorizing the layout of the tracks allowed me to focus more on reacting to the other racers and the items. I learned the best way to use the items and which ones to save. Secret paths and shortcuts became visible to me and the nuances of the different characters and kart types were obvious. I finally found a character/kart combination that allowed me to keep up with my friend and I was ready to really compete. After months of playing, we were more evenly matched and the races became closer and wins more evenly distributed. We found that our matches had evolved to epic battles with tremendous displays of skill. We even noticed crowds gathering to watch us play at parties and the occasional commentator giving play-by-plays. Spectators picked sides and trash talked on our behalf. They cheered and kept our drinks full so we could focus. It was the closest I ever came to truly competitive gaming and some of my fondest memories of college revolved around Mario Kart. To this day, every time that friend and I get together, we make sure to play at least a few races.

Headquarters Beercade

As an adult, my love for video games has not dwindled and I still make time to play regularly. I get excited about new game releases and stay up-to-date on gaming news. However, I do enjoy more adult activities like going out for drinks with friends. For my birthday in December of 2012, my girlfriend invited some of our friends and took me to a place called Headquarters Beercade in Chicago. I was aware that it existed, but did not know we’d be going. I was also skeptical of the experience of combining young, drunk Chicagoans with video games, but was very pleasantly surprised. The atmosphere was inviting and the crowd was interesting. A fantastic selection of beers complimented the arcade options perfectly. All of my old favorites were there. Pac-Man, Street Fighter, Simpsons, Defender, Space Invaders, Frogger, Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles, Rampage, Galaxian, Ghosts n Goblins, Super Off Road, Mortal Kombat and Donkey Kong were just a portion of the cabinets that lined every wall. The games at Headquarters are free to play, the beers aren’t outrageously priced and it has tripled in size after taking over the bar next door. Now there are 4 bars, a DJ booth and a ton of new games including a whole slew of classic pinball machines, plus they are opening a second location. Headquarters is my favorite bar in Chicago and I still go and try to earn the high score on Frogger all the time. (Check out the Headquarters website)

Other notable experiences

  • Quarters on the arcade to save your spot
  • Wearing the Tanooki suit in Super Mario Bros 3
  • Finding the Golden Gun in 007 Goldeneye
  • Battle with The End in Metal Gear Solid 3: Snake Eater
  • Finding shortcuts in the San Francisco Rush Arcade
  • Being laughed at by the dog in Duck Hunt
  • First broken console
  • First online gaming experience
  • “Toasty” in Mortal Kombat
  • Curb Stomping and chainsawing in Gears of War
  • Playing Time Crisis in an arcade
  • “Would you Kindly” in Bioshock
  • Call of Duty Modern Warfare multiplayer
  • Midnight releases
  • Fighting a dragon in Skyrim
  • Questing online in Diablo II
  • Side by side Co-op with my best friend (Baldur’s Gate: Dark Alliance)
  • Many, many others!

Gaming has been a big part of my life and there are many other big moments that come to mind. These are just a few of the many experiences that helped define me as a gamer and a nerd. Hopefully the industry continues to flourish and developers strive to provide experiences as impactful as these.

Completionist’s Plight: Gaming for 100%


I have been a gamer since I was able to hold an Atari joystick as a young kid. Playing video games has always been something that relaxes and comforts me. However, “gamer” is a very broad term with a number of sub-categories that describe the type of gamer that someone may be. There are terms that describe the amount you play, like “hardcore” or “casual” gamers. There are also those who play computer games (PC gamers) as opposed to playing on an Xbox, Wii or PlayStation (console gamers). There are many other gamer sub-groups, but I identify with those known as the “completionists.”

A completionist is a gamer who is compelled to achieve all that a game has to offer. These people feel the need to finish every side quest, find every collectible, earn each alternate ending and even hunt for Easter eggs. A completionist will search every nook and cranny of every level in search of that hidden piece of loot or a clue to the game’s story. Extra time is spent reading arbitrary text or interacting with uninteresting objects for fear of missing some small detail. While “completionist” hasn’t made its way into Webster’s yet, it is a common and universally understood term in the gaming community.

Game companies are very good at knowing their customer and truly understanding how and why they play. It is one of the few industries where those who create the product, those who sell the product, those who review and rank the product and those who purchase the product are mostly the same types of people. Game developers have begun to appeal to gamers who strive to conquer games in their entirety. Some developers even encourage and reward the obsessive behavior of completionists. Many games have a scale to tell you how close to one hundred percent you have come. Some have an extra-challenging difficulty level that unlocks only after you have beaten the game once. Others have in-game rewards, like costumes or skins for characters that must be unlocked. Xbox and PlayStation have the “achievement” and “trophy” systems. Rewards are given to players for finishing a specific part of the game. Over time, some rewards have become more obscure and difficult to earn.

I recall the time a friend earned an Xbox360 achievement for the game Dead Rising. The challenge was called “7 Day Survivor” and it required him to keep his character alive for seven days of game time. This amounted to over twenty-two hours of real time. The character’s health depleted, so he had to continually search out food to keep himself alive while fighting off hordes of zombies. The first time he attempted it, he fell asleep at hour fifteen and his character perished. The second time, his console froze at hour ten and he was forced to reset. He finally finished the challenge after several failed attempts and never played the game again.

There are some great rewards available to those who are willing to put forth the extra effort and you can feel quite proud of certain achievements. However, being able to tell friends the story of how you earned a difficult trophy or discovered that secret path can be the best reward you earn. For all of the great things that can come from completely finishing a game, there are also some negatives that come with it.

Completionists can obsess over accomplishing something seemingly trivial in a game. Sometimes, the reward does not appear to equal the time and effort required to complete a task. Repeated efforts to get perfect scores can lead to several hours being spent on one small area of a game. This can make more difficult games or games with lots of tiny details very frustrating to a completionist. I have had a personal struggle with The Elder Scrolls V: Skyrim. One of my favorite games of all time also causes me a lot of stress. The sheer size of the game and amount of minute details that went into the creation of that masterpiece is seriously daunting. I have owned the game for over two years and have sunk hundreds of hours into playing it. Still, I have not even been to every major city, let alone completed the main storyline. I have had to stop playing for extended periods of time and revisit the game to keep from getting sidetracked by books in abandoned dungeons or long-winded conversations with NPCs.

Open-world games like The Elder Scrolls, Assassin’s Creed, and Borderlands are becoming increasingly massive. Game developers are advertising the enormous size of the playable world, but when is a game too big for a completionist? I shudder at the idea of playing Grand Theft Auto V. It may be one of the greatest games ever created, but there are so many things to do and see that I would easily become overwhelmed. I suffice to watch a few friends play and read reviews from trusted sources. Some of my favorite gaming experiences in recent memory are from playing games that are more linear than open-world. When there is a specific task to accomplish, you can focus on finding those hidden items or completing side quests without the stress of deviating far from the intended path. The Bioshock games, Bastion, the Lego games and Dishonored are a few that come to mind. You are playing one story line with only a few different options on how to play, but there are also hidden items and other rewards for sleuthing that fulfill my completionist tendencies.

Open-world games are definitely my favorite type. They appeal to the part of me that started playing in the first place. The creation of an exciting, interesting world that I can become completely engulfed in is (to me) the greatest accomplishment that a creator can achieve. It is hard to know I have to pass on some magnificent games because I simply don’t have the time or energy to invest in the completion. Video games are becoming more and more innovative as the industry matures and I am so very excited for what comes next. I only wish that I had been handed an Xbox One controller as a child instead of an Atari joystick. It would have been great to run home from school to explore Los Santos or slay dragons with miles of digital land to comb for treasure.