The Catalyst to My Fandom: When I Knew I Was a Gamer

Nick Nunziata
Final Fantasy Games
Final Fantasy Games Nintendo

Today it seems as if the family of gamers has never been as diverse and fulfilling as it is right now. Whether playing on phones, watches, tablets, or gigantic cutting-edge televisions, gamers are united. There’s no fringe. We’re all gamers and whether it’s Words with Friends or the latest Tropico game that excites you, today is a great time to be playing video games. In a special edition of our “Catalyst to My Fandom” series, here are a few recollections from staff and contributors of when they realized they were gamers.

Putting in the Time

I can remember the exact moment that I knew I was a gamer. Actually, there was two but they are connected. Back in 2002, I was hooked on Spyro: Year of the Dragon. Before then, gaming had just been a passing fancy. But then I hit a snag. I had reached Midday Gardens – the second homeworld – and immediately went to unlock the Sgt. Byrd character and play Sgt. Byrd’s Base. Obviously playing as the world first flying penguin, I was utterly enjoying myself. But – midway through the level – I found a treasure chest that I couldn’t break. Deciding to move on, I made it to the end and found another obstacle that wouldn’t break – a giant glass wall with a prize on the other side. This was my first moment.


Nothing I tried would work. I couldn’t smash through the wall, I couldn’t break the chest. It was infuriating. The next few weeks revolved entirely around trying to discover ways through. I played forward now and then but always reverted to Sgt. Byrds Base. ‘Sure-fire’ ways from friends fell flat and I didn’t have internet access at the time so I was on my own. It took a while – more time than was probably healthy – but I managed to find my way past the glass and to open the chest (it was the bombs found near the end). Once I finally found my way in, nothing could compare to the feelings of elation at getting results after dozens of hours of work. This was my second moment.

I keep gaming for that joy at getting past tough bosses, grabbing all the achievements and clearing the impossible quests. Game on! [Fan Contributor Graham Host]

Total Immersion

I knew I was a gamer when I watched someone else play. I had enjoyed games since early childhood, dipping my toe in everything from Pitfall to Tetris to Mario Kart. But it wasn’t until a close friend showed me something truly revolutionary that I realized just how important video games could be to me.

My brother’s friend Cody had a PlayStation. Well, his mother’s friend who lived downstairs from him had a PlayStation. Cody somehow got his hands on Final Fantasy VII and took to his neighbor’s apartment to fire it up. My brother and I didn’t have a console but we did have Cody and so, through proxy, we all played FFVII. This is how it would work: A few of us would lay around Cody’s living room while he battled through the Square Enix masterpiece. We would eat snacks, listen to music (lots of Matchbox Twenty in those days) and watch as the epic story unfolded on screen. It took Cody several months but he finally made his way through the entire game and we were there every step of the way.


The thing I realized when watching was that nothing engaged me the same way video games did. Even though the controller wasn’t in my hand, I was so immersed in the storytelling, the action, the entire experience. I was young and didn’t feel ready or even worthy to play a game on my own but that soon wore off. I knew that that playing would affect me unlike any other medium, even my beloved movies. So I graduated from spectator to player. The rest is history. Watching my buddy Cody defeat Final Fantasy VII convinced me that this was going to be a hobby I would love for a very, very long time. [Fan Contributor Brandon Marcus]

Everything Old is New Again

It’s hard for me to pretend to be a gamer now, as I don’t undertake in the craziness that I used to go through to get games. For the younger readers, let me paint a picture. NES games used to stay crazy expensive for ages. Marble Madness didn’t undergo a price drop until its fourth year of existence. Naturally, if you were an elementary or middle school aged kid, your options to purchase were limited. Gamers would rent games, but it would be the same amount of cash-starved kids fighting over the same copies of Bart vs. The Space Mutants and Solar Jetman every single weekend.

That’s when I grabbed a copy of the Bargain Mart or Thrifty Nickel to start hunting down better deals. Used or not, these games were still good. The bizarre locales that my second-hand journeys took me are a testament to my mother’s ability to put up with my childhood antics.

My copy of Mike Tyson’s Punch-Out!! still has its game cover art torn off. Why? Well, the kid that sold it to me through the mail slot of his front door said it was because Tyson was a Blood and not a Crip. How could he tell? The color of his boxing gloves. So, my NES copy of Punch-Out!! to this day still doesn’t have proper cover art.

Next, my copies of Donkey Kong Jr. and Disney’s Adventures in the Magic Kingdom come from a rather rich kid who didn’t want to sell them. His parents were making him do it, so he could save money for a car. While I handed over the money, he pretty much stared me down for destroying his childhood. Somewhere, somehow, I hope that kid still hates me.

Do not say anything bad about this game. No, seriously.

How did I know this made me a gamer? Well, because you have to love something so much to undertake so much flack. I watched kids get beaten up for playing collectible card games. I can’t count the number of Trekkers that I saw get stuffed into garbage cans. But, if you said anything bad about Bionic Commando, I was ready to throw down. You only care about the things you love and I loved those games. [Fan Contributor Troy Anderson]

Putting the “Old” in “Old School”

I was lucky to have been born in an age where Pong was new. I got an Atari 2600 shortly it came out and I was lucky to have a wealthy uncle in the family who hid about fifteen of the games around the house. Even then deep inside I knew these were primitive games but it didn’t matter. The ability to dive into something and let your imagination run wild was the perfect fix at the perfect time. I wore out two Adventure cartridges and for some reason the Haunted House game fed on my love of horror and took my hand, carrying me into a new universe.

This game and its world-shattering graphics blew my damn mind.

I was in at the jump, but each new generation brings with it a brand new sense of renewal. The great joy, aside from that first Atari wave, is in seeing competition. Colecovision vs. Atari 5200. The NES vs. the Master System. The Saturn, N64, Atari Jaguar, Playstation era. The 3DO and the Phillips CD+I. And so on and so on. The competition between systems has fostered killer apps exclusive to consoles that force players to choose sides, or if lucky, to buy them all. I’m reminded why I’m a gamer routinely. Usually, it is most obvious when the real world is just too much to stomach. It’s amazing how booting up Blood Gulch in Halo: Combat Evolved and throwing sticky grenades into a friends’ face has such therapeutic value. [Nick Nunziata]

Nintendo Memories

My next-door neighbor had a Nintendo when I was a kid, and I thought it was the best thing ever. I would beg to play it every time I went over there. We would spend hours playing Super Mario Bros and an assortment of Bible games. My brother and I teamed up to beg my parents for a Super Nintendo for Christmas. Once we got our very own game system, we were hooked.

My younger brother and I would play our favorite games so much that we would eventually tire of the 16-bit background music and play our own. To this day, I associate ’90s boy band music with hitting B to jump. The Nintendo 64 launched around that time, so we were able to get Super Nintendo games on the cheap. We had tons of games, ranging from Boogerman: A Pick and Flick Adventure to Super Metroid and Starfox. I was better at racing and fighting games, my brother was better at side-scrollers. For the first time, we really bonded as siblings.


We grew up and graduated to more complex systems, but I will always love Super Nintendo games. The games are almost all bright and colorful, and feature simple gameplay that’s addicting. Many indie games today are cashing in on the retro craze, like Shovel Knight and Stardew Valley. Whether I’m playing something old school, something brand new, or just wiping out humanity on my phone, I can always look back and remember sitting on my basement floor playing A Link to the Past way past my bedtime. [Fan Contributor Danielle Ryan]

I’ve Never NOT Been a Gamer

Been there. Done that.

There isn’t a time I can remember where I wasn’t a gamer. I’ve had the privilege of growing up alongside the medium. I’ve been there to witness and play along throughout some of video gaming’s greatest milestones: From the early days of text-based adventures on primitive PCs and Macs, to the glory days of arcades, to the first big home video game boom (and its subsequent bust), to Nintendo‘s revival of the medium with the NES, all the way to present day, where traditional games are constantly pushing the boundaries of graphical fidelity and immersion alongside booming indie and mobile markets, as well as VR technology on the verge of becoming mainstream.

My passion for video games drove me to get a job in the industry, something I have managed to turn into a fairly decent career so far. Games have and (hopefully) always will play a big part of my life. As I get older, I sometimes wonder where the future of games will lead me, and what games will be like 10, 20, and 30 years from now. I know one thing: I will be right there with them, controller in hand (if controllers are still a thing), with a smile on my face. I’ll end with a quote from Giant Bomb’s Vinny Caravella, “It’s the best time to be playing video games.” I couldn’t agree more. [Executive Games Editor Matthew Allen]

Nick Nunziata
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