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In a fantastic thread started by Colin Spacetwinks over on twitter, a question that short-circuited my nostalgia brain was posed: essentially, was there ever a game you saw in magazines or in a store as a kid that piqued your imagination and curiosity? But you never played it until much, much later in life, or perhaps, you never played it, so it exists somewhere in between memory and imagination?
And just like that, I was transported to a late evening in 1998. I bought a Tips and Tricks Magazine, which was a monthly edition of walkthroughs and FAQs for games, ostensibly so I could 100% Yoshi’s Story. But that night, on a vacation with my family, sitting up by a light in the bathroom in a hotel room, I read through the entire walkthrough for Resident Evil 2 (on the Playstation, a system I didn’t have). It was a walkthrough, without much flavor text, but the screens and the layout—and the basic descriptions of the action—were more than enough for my 14-year-old brain to enjoy an evening of freaky horror.
I’ve still never played that game, outside of maybe the first five minutes a few years later, on a friend’s console.
Similarly, I recall a walkthrough of Hexen 64 in a late 90s issue of Nintendo Power that I obsessed over, learning the layout of the stages, knowing what each enemy looked like and fought like. I even had preferences for lighting and textures.
But I’ve never played Hexen 64.
This wasn’t rare for me. I had a very lucky, comfortable childhood, but video games were expensive, and they were the realm of Christmas or birthday gifts. Maybe something I’d save up for months to buy. Maybe, something I’d rent, but that wasn’t a common occurrence. So, buying gaming magazines was how I’d get my fix, and I’d pour over every screenshot and hang on every word, for games on systems I didn’t own, that my friends didn’t even own, that I’d probably never play.
Sometimes, I’d even buy full game guides—the kind that Prima Games made—or read through them for hours in a bookstore. I grabbed the guide for Resident Evil 0 on the cheap once, and loved reading about the action. That one, I actually did play later on, but it was over a decade on.
It was just a treat to have that much information about a game—and the world of that game. It always felt like holding the treasure map to some ancient, profound secret. It didn’t matter that I never had the intended experience. I had a pretty great one.
It’s easy, in most cases, to see a game in motion now.
I fear this particular phenomenon—the discovery by book or magazine—may be a little more rare now. It’s easier to get information about a game, or to watch walkthroughs or lets plays or speedruns. It’s easy, in most cases, to see a game in motion now.
That certainly doesn’t discount the deep dive into a wiki rabbit hole (and thank god for that), or the other genuine pleasure of this era: the rare, awesome lore video that actually explains the world-building and relationships and context of a given piece of media.
If you grew up at all pre-internet (or pre-internet being as ubiquitous as it is now), it’s a safe bet you have one of these stories. So, dear reader, what’s a game you saw in a magazine as a kid, (and always imagined…) and never played it until far later on? Let us know on the forum!