How I Became a Gamer: A Manifesto by Tatjana Vejnovic

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Last January, I visited my mom in the good ol’ town of Cleveland, Ohio. I sat in her modernly decorated living room when I spotted the Nintendo Wii that I bought her for Christmas nearly six years back, and several games I recommended or purchased for her. Then it hit me; I could not remember a time in my life where video games were not in my household, or at time that I did not play them on the weekends. My family was one that loved games, and they allowed me to play a few hours worth of games per week; they were all gamers! Basically, video games have played a huge role in my life.

Kids playing games
Couch co-op was the shit in the 90s.

At my grandparents’ house there is a home video that perfectly captures my family’s video game love. It was Christmas 1993, a couple of weeks after I turned three years old. I was sitting on the family room couch with a big box from my godmother. My mother was telling me, “your Aunt Donna wanted to get you something real cool! Open it up!” So like any three-year-old on Christmas day, I ripped the wrapping paper right off that sucker to unveil the most amazing gift I had ever received: the Super Nintendo Entertainment System.

SNES Super AllStars
This image sent me back twenty years.

My SNES came with the Super Mario Bros. All-Stars pack. The cartridge included Super Mario Bros. 1 through 3 , and the Lost Levels. I eventually added Yoshi’s Island to my collection, as well as Super Street Fighter II: Turbo, which ultimately changed my life forever. I was as happy as I could be. My mom was always working, so I would be at home with my grandmother. I taught her how to play Super Mario Bros. with me, so we could play together. I can still hear her voice in the back of my head, “god damn turtle killed me again!”

As the years went by, I rented countless games from my local Hollywood Video. Starfox, Beavis and Butthead, Civilization, Donkey Kong Country, Doom, Earthworm Jim, F-Zero, Final Fantasy — the list goes on. And believe it or not, the last sports game I played was Madden NFL ’95. (Okay, that’s a lie.. I tried to play FIFA 15; I’m terrible at it.) I never understood the concept of sports games, so after two days of opponents ringing up safety after safety, I cried for my mother to take me back to Hollywood Video and picked up Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles IV: Turtles in Time instead. Don’t even get my mother started on the late fees.

I never had an original Game Boy, or a PlayStation (my friend Joshua down the street had one, so my mom would just send me there to play with him). Heck, I didn’t even get an N64 until after I got a GameCube! One summer, I went over to my cousin Danny’s house and played Pokémon Red. I loved it so much (and it kept me so quiet), my mom took me to the Funcoland down the street to buy me a purple Game Boy Color and Pokémon BluePokémon opened up a digital black hole that sucked me in and wouldn’t let me escape.

Pokemon Red Blue and Yellow

Pokémon became an obsession. I discovered the anime in the later parts of the third grade, spending my entire summer playing Blue and watching my VHS tapes of the show over and over again. In the fifth grade, Yellow hit retail and was damn near impossible to find. I had to get a raincheck at Toys-R-Us! One day after church, my mom and I went to see if any copies were available, and alas, there were. I was so excited to show my grandmother my new score that en route to the car, I tripped on a hole in the parking lot, and ate shit –Yellow went flying through the air, and my face went right to the asphalt. Lucky for me, my mother’s bitch level that day was very low, so she prescribed an ice pack to the face and a night full of Pokémon.

My obsession for the show died around the sixth grade, but my love for the game lived on. In my elementary school, there weren’t very many nerds. I often got made fun of, and had one friend, Maiove, who to this day is like a sister to me, and would bring me cool magazines she found with Pokémon articles to read at recess. In middle school, I discovered the group of friends I would stick with until I had to move away to college. We called ourselves The Holy Damn Table.

I got my GameCube in the sixth grade, and my PlayStation 2 in the seventh. The purple cube was a big deal for my best friend Nikki and myself. I saved up all my birthday money for that and a small television for my bedroom. Nikki and I were Super Smash Bros. Melee champions. We were unstoppable. She played as Link, and I as Fox. Together we tore my cousins and our friends apart. After school, we’d sit on the phone for hours on end, playing with computer characters and on Melee teams with NPCs to better our skills and avoid doing homework.

The Holy Damn Table’s hangout was the GameCrazy about a mile from our school. We would walk there on Fridays after school, and hang around. We were good kids though. When it was time for us to leave, we asked the managers for a broom, glass cleaner, and a roll of paper towels to clean up our mess. When the big bosses were there, we knew to respect their space and hang out at the grocery store deli. Our group was so close with the staff there; my mom would make them a giant bucket of her homemade Christmas cookies every year. We were literally the only kids in town they could tolerate.

Resident Evil REMake

One day, as I flipped through my GamePro (shit, I feel old typing that), I saw a review for the Resident Evil remake on the GameCube. The graphics were mad crazy! My grandmother took me to GameCrazy, and despite the M-rated warning label, felt I was mature enough, and let me go home with the strategy guide and game in hand. I went home and locked myself in my room, and was scared shitless for the rest of my life.

‘Til this day, the remake of the initial Resident Evil is the scariest game I’ve ever played. If you don’t remember, or never played, let me remind of you the awful Crimson Heads. If after you lift the shotgun off the wall (and almost became a Jill Sandwich), you didn’t burn all your corpses, they would rise and run towards you with claw hands. I remember playing as Jill and bending down to burn the last one and WHAM! Claws knocked Jill’s head right off her shoulders. I didn’t play the game for a week after that.

I had to tell my friends how awesome the series was. Kat and Nikki were the ones who liked it the most. Nikki bought the books, and would let Kat and me take turns reading them. Kat was the biggest fan out of all of us, buying the comic books and replicas — she had quite the impressive display in her room. Not to forget in high school, when the Outbreak titles came out, Nick, Devon, Christian and I started our own gaming clan still known as (OBK) on the Left 4 Dead servers.

The Resident Evil movies came out, and we’d make it a tradition to see them all together in the theaters. They were awful, but we found the zombies badass. Not to mention that Sandi, Kat’s mom, was the only mother willing to sit with us through the gore-filled flicks. I often have to remind myself how awful the movies are, but quickly remember how much fun I had watching them with my best friends.

Super Smash Bros. Melee

Ah yes, Sandi. I love that woman as if she was my mother. We all did, and still do. There were frequent sleepovers at Kat’s house where we’d play Resident Evil, Smash Bros., or whatever the hottest game was at the moment. She’d take us to Scandia so we could play arcade games, and we’d all have our birthday parties there. Dance Dance Revolution was a huge hit among the group, and I still envy Alan’s ridiculous skills. We were a bunch of nerds with parents who didn’t try to change us. They let us play games, and didn’t try to force us to play sports or do girly things.

The arcades are what started my Tekken craze. I was the athletic one among the group, doing anything from figure skating to soccer. To my luck, my figure skating rink (where I also had many birthday parties) had a decent arcade, too. I cannot tell you how many quarters I inserted into that Tekken 3 machine, but I can tell you I kicked many asses using Mokujin, Nina, and Julia Chang. If a kid at the rink dared challenge me, they were in it knowing they were losing. My mother would end up having to pull me by the hair to get me to leave. If there weren’t any kids around, I would stick around the Super Puzzle Fighter II machine, which my mother would actually play with me.

It wasn’t until high school that my gaming love rose to a whole new level, and at that time there was a game that ate my life; and it was perfect. It was paced so I could do homework while camping notorious monsters and waiting for events. Nearly every person in The Holy Damn Table played it. We raided our parents’ credit cards and got away with it for years. That game was Final Fantasy XI.

Final Fantasy XI
This was my life for seven years.

Not World of Warcraft, not Guild Wars, but yes, Final Fantasy XI. I’d pour my change jars and save up my allowance to give my mother that $13.95 a month. Some months I’d get away with it, other months I wouldn’t. We revolved our entire lives around that damn game. We’d ask our parents for “teleports to the kitchen,” and cast spells on each other through the halls. Shit, my high school graduation ring (which was nearly $400, has a platinum band and a giant Topaz rock) has an engraving in the band that reads: “Siyra of Diabolos.”

I made some of my best friends in that game, and even found the person who I considered the man I was supposed to be with. My friend Dave, who lives all the way in Rhode Island — who I didn’t meet until last year — I consider one of the closest people to my heart. I’ve known Dave for eleven years. I cried on the phone with him when he went through breakups, we’d call each other and talk all night about random bullshit. Shit, sometimes we still do. We even worked for the same companies and had the same positions (managers at both Hollywood Video and GameStop).

Up until PAX East 2014, I had never met Dave in person. He always lived too far away. Although my mother moved to Cleveland, a drive from Cleveland to Rhode Island would take at least half a day, if not more. There was no way I’d get away with taking her car and driving to Rhode Island. No sir. I called Dave last year a few days before I went to Boston and said, “I’m coming to Boston again. Let’s do this. Let us do this once and for all.”

Having WiFi in-flight, I was able to communicate with Dave the entire way. I gave him updates on my location, and he on his (he took a train from Providence to the Boston airport). When I landed, and walked outside to find a taxi, there he was. The man I considered one of my closest and best friends through a screen for ten years, welcomed me with open arms. It was probably the best hug I’ve ever received to this day.

Dave & Me
Dave.. Friend for life. <3

Dave and I went to dinner together. We must have had at least five drinks a piece, had a three course meal, and dicked around for hours. We caught up on our lives, flipping through photos, laughing about our exes, and old times on Final Fantasy XI. It was one of the greatest nights of my life. It wasn’t weird.. It wasn’t strange.. It was perfect. I felt so comfortable around Dave when we met; it was like we knew each other all along. And quite frankly, we did. This year, we’re meeting up again in Boston; hopefully this means it will be an annual tradition.

The man I thought I supposed to be with? Well, that’s a whole story in itself, and a story only a few people know. Distance was always a factor, and I moved around a lot after high school. I haven’t spoken to him in a few years. The last time we did speak, it was brief. Part of me wonders if my life would be different if we got back in touch, but part of me also wonders if I’d be married today if we did. I still remember the day I met him like it was yesterday. I was seventeen years old, and shook like a small wet Chihuahua in the Alps when I made eye contact with him for the first time. Life is weird. It takes you on an unexpected road of twists and turns.

Yes, you read that correctly. I got married. If I wasn’t the gamer I was, I probably would not have gotten married, either. My now husband was a regular at one of my stores at a GameStop store I managed on the Central Coast. He came in at least three or four times a week—long before I was even at that particular location; he even knew all of my friends. At first, our marriage was a secret, a thing of convenience, really. But later down the road, we shrugged our shoulders and realized we loved each other, and had the most laid-back, honest, and real marriage on the planet.

But back to being gamers and how the marriage never would have happened if we weren’t gamers.. In my close group of friends down in San Luis Obispo County, we referred to each other by Mass Effect character names. They all decided I’m Shepard, my friend Caleb is Wrex (his wife is Eve, and his daughter’s middle name is Tali, no joke), Meywin is Mordin, and Trevor is Garrus (which is so accurate it terrifies me). When my husband, Jared, became more of a part of the group, we decided he’s Joker, the sarcastic guy who pilots the ship (and it fits him perfectly).

You may wonder why I’m telling you this bit of my love life. I have zero shame that the love I experienced in my life was somehow connected to video games. None. Not a single bit. Some of you might have a love like this, and are ashamed to admit it. I have two words for you: Don’t be. We’re all at that point in our lives where we need a type of love that we are comfortable with. That type of love that we can all relate to, the internet and the gaming world gives us just that. My ex met her husband on LiveJournal, and I know another couple who met on World of Warcraft. This is the modern day and age! We use the internet to find love — shit, my mother met my stepfather on the Internet! And guess what? They’re happy!

Sonic Adventure 2
I can sing the entire soundtrack.. By heart.

The games we’ve grown up with, the games we enjoyed — these have all created not only memories, but also standards and styles that cater to us as individuals. I played Street Fighter for many years, but it wasn’t until I picked up Tekken that I realized my skills were higher in that particular fighter genre. This has created a taste, and the years of Tekken have created a style, which I use to defeat my opponents.

Resident Evil scaring the living daylights out of me as a tween has also created a standard for horror games. Eternal Darkness: Sanity’s Requiem was a close call on that note, screwing with my head at times. Games like Left 4 Dead and F.E.A.R. were more on the jumpy and gory side, but never quite cut it for me [in terms of survival horror]. The early Resident Evil games are my definition of survival horror — and always will be.

Sure, there were many more games that impacted my life. Sonic Adventure 2 was one of them (dat soundtrack)! But I’m not going to sit here and go through each one. My purpose was to show you as gamers, we’ve all been touched and affected one way or another. We may call ourselves gamers, but we often forget our roots and how we got to the point we’re at today.

And now it’s the year 2015. I’ll be twenty-five years old this year, and here I am, Operations Manager for The Koalition, writing my own personal gaming manifesto for the world. I’m glad to be sharing all of my memories with you, without a shred of shame that I am, one hundred percent, a nerd. I hope in ten years that I’m still doing what i’m doing today; that is, writing about games and nerd things, and most importantly, being a relate-able figure to those who are ashamed to admit their own nerdiness. Lastly, I hope that in due time gamers can throw away all hesitations they may have in confessing the loves they have found walking around the geeky plains, or in my case — an MMO.

If you are ashamed, there is no need to be. We are gamers, and we are one.

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