Games That Shaped My Life

Alex takes a trip down memory lane to discuss the games that had a huge impact on him.

Alex Keenby Alex Keen


Video games have existed every day that I have existed on this planet.  With almost 33 years in the bank, I have gone through a lot of hardware and even more software.  So I thought it would be fun to break down the games that defined me on each individual console that I owned or played. Welcome to Part 1 of “Games That Shaped My Life!”

Also, note that there is an obvious absence of Sega and Sony consoles.  During the heyday of the Genesis and the PlayStation, I was busy playing other systems.  Instead of the Genesis, I was either playing on my computer or on my SNES.  Instead of the PlayStation 1 or 2, I was playing my Dreamcast, PC, GameCube, or Xbox.  I do not regret these decisions because had I stuck with the mainstream I might have missed out on some life-shaping experiences.

Gauntlet (Arcade)

gauntlet_arcadeMy first experience with a video game was playing in an arcade.  Whether I was popping quarters at the local pizza place or the miniature golf course at the beach, I was having a blast reveling in the joys of the arcade.  Sure, I wasn’t very good, but at least I had fun and there were tons of new games to try.  I have fond memories of games like 1943, Punch-Out, Paperboy, Arkanoid, and Star Wars.  When I was older I’d spend even more time with the likes of Street Fighter II, Indiana Jones and the Temple of Doom, X-Men and Roadblasters.  However, at the end of the day, the arcade game that left the greatest impression on me was Gauntlet.  

Gauntlet was the first game that I remember encouraging friends to work co-operatively with me.  Sure, I always helped my brother strategize how to take down Glass Joe in Punch-Out, or which houses to deliver to in Paperboy. But Gauntlet made strategy a matter of life or death. I remember clearly dropping a ton of quarters into the machine in the local pizza joint to see how deep into the maze we could get.  Not only was the experience deep, but it had actual voices (“Warrior needs food badly!”) that still echo in my brain.  To this day, I still have a blast playing the original Gauntlet and wish that someone would return the spirit of this game to the fore.

Williams Slug Fest (Pinball)

williams_slug_festIn my day I played quite a bit of pinball.  Whether it was a bizarre billiards game or Medieval Madness, I was willing to giving any game a shot.  In college I was lucky enough to find a broken Guns N’ Roses game that gave me way more points that it was supposed to.  Therefore, I wound up with 99 free balls.  Despite that great experience, the game that had the biggest effect on me was Williams Slug Fest.  A baseball-themed game, Slug Fest was different than any other pinball game I’d ever played.  For $2 total, I could play a full 9-inning game with pitching, double, triples, and explosive home runs.  Not only was the game great, but it gave out free baseball cards for every run scored.  Sure, the cards sucked, but the joy of earning them was well worth it.  This is one of those great games that I hope to find on Ebay one day, refurbish it, and play it in my basement for years to come.

Pitfall 2 (Atari 2600)

pitfall_2After playing a ton of arcade games, the Atari 2600 was my first experience with a home console.  We had a ton of games like Yar’s Revenge, Return of the Jedi, Pac-Man, Outlaw and many others.  I had a tough time picking a game for this entry, but Pitfall 2 was the perfect fit (Warlords and Keystone Kops were close behind).  At the time, Pitfall 2 was one of the biggest games ever made including huge open expanses, plenty of exploration, and it was the sequel to an established blockbuster.  I’d compare Pitfall 2’s gameplay to an early version of Tomb Raider.  Players were forced to explore multiple levels while tracking down Pitfall Harry’s Sister, Quickclaw, and a diamond ring.  Doing this without game saves and YouTube made the game incredibly hard to tackle.  To this day it still ranks as one of the greatest games I’ve ever played.

Bard’s Tale (Computer)

bards_taleLike the other categories on this list, there’s a ton of competition in my backlog for the biggest PC title to shape me.  Long forgotten favorites include Moria, Shamus, Last Ninja, Autoduel and Castle Wolfenstein.  Despite how great all of these games were, Bard’s Tale will forever remain as one of the true greats.  One of many Dungeons & Dragons derivatives, I discovered Bard’s Tale at a friend’s house and was immediately hooked.  It was one of the first PC games that truly sucked me in and that was mostly due to its party system.  Unlike anything I’d seen before, Bard’s Tale required me to manage the skill and survival of six characters at the same time.  Furthermore, I had to memorize a ton of spells and songs while exploring a huge city and multiple dungeons. Bard’s Tale was tough enough that I had to buy a guide book to make my way through it. This wasn’t because I wanted to cheat, but because I just wanted to complete the story.  Subsequent follow-ups to Bard’s Tale have never lived up to the original; although, in games like World of Warcraft and Oblivion, Bard’s Tale’s influence is quite obvious.

Super Mario Bros. 3 (NES)

mario_3Unlike most kids of the 1980s, I never owned an NES. To this day, I’ve always assumed that this lack was the cause for my raised interest in video games as an adult.  Everyone else was shooting ducks, flying fighter planes, and eating mushrooms while I was stuck playing my Atari and the horrendous PC games that existed (looking at you, Wheel of Fortune). That said, Super Mario Bros. 3 was such a colossal game that its impact didn’t pass me by.  Despite not having an NES, I would regularly hang out with friends that did have the system.  And, without any hesitation, Super Mario Bros. 3 was the game that I gravitated towards.  I had played a ton of Mario Bros. on the Atari and knew my plumber mythology well.  However, once I put on that frog suit, I was hooked for life.  I would often visit my friend’s house early in the morning before school just to get some practice in.  To this day I have memorized almost every inch of this game and would drop Ming vase if it meant free time in Toadstool Kingdom!

Tetris (Gameboy)

tetrisOh boy, one of the biggest gaming days of my young life was the Christmas that I received my Gameboy. The old school black and white portable came with Tetris and some batteries.  I had to look to my relatives to supply me with such classics like The Punisher: The Ultimate Payback, Bart Simpson’s Escape from Camp Deadly and Super Mario Land.  However, for at least the first few hours of that fateful Christmas day, my family had endless competitions attempting to master the Hall of Fame worthy Tetris. I distinctly remember battling to top my dad’s then insurmountable 100+ rows cleared record. It was an epic experience and one that still sits with me to this day.

That’s my list so far. Keep an eye out for Part 2 shortly where I cover tabletop, SNES, N64, and Dreamcast games that affected my life. In the meantime, leave a comment below with some of the systems (and games) that left a lasting impact on your life!