The year was 2007, just three short years after the release of Pokémon FireRed and LeafGreen – additions to the Game Freak repertoire developed as enhanced versions of the super success games Pokémon Red and Blue. After a long year of great game releases, including titles such as Call of Duty 4: Modern Warfare and Halo 3, December rolled around – and with it came the promise of my first grand foray into gaming. With last year fresh in everyone’s memory, boasting hits such as New Super Mario Bros. for the Nintendo DS and The Legend of Zelda: Twilight Princess on the GameCube (as well as the recent release of the new console, the Wii), all eyes were on Nintendo as the holiday season drew closer and closer. Their newest installments of the Pokémon franchise, Pokémon Diamond and Pearl, had been released in North America in April, just seven months after they released in Japan and became the top-selling game of that year. Anxious to get his hands on a copy, my younger brother was quick to draw up a wish list to Santa and document his interest in the game – something I would do as well, though I didn’t quite know why.
The truth of the matter was this: I had never played a Pokémon game before. I didn’t even own a DS. My exposure to gaming was limited to the PlayStation 2 and the few games my family owned for it, though I spent far more time watching my brother play it than I ever did playing it myself. By all accounts, I was no gamer. I didn’t know what a Pokémon was. I didn’t know the objective of the game, or the playstyle, or why anyone would be excited for it. All I knew was that my brother was interested – and that was good enough for me. As children we had always followed the other’s example, our likes and dislikes bouncing off one another and becoming some amalgamation of both. Naturally, this was no different – although, at the time, I could never have predicted how following in his footsteps would alter my life entirely.
The holidays came and went, and both he and I received Nintendo DSes as well as copies of the Diamond and Pearl games. Where he had Diamond, I had Pearl; where his DS was black, mine was red. This was to set the precedent for all Pokémon games (and DS games in general) to come – we would always get whatever the other didn’t, so we could distinguish his from mine as well as trade version exclusives to one another to fill our Pokédexes. Gradually, I learned what the essence of Pokémon was and how to play it – I learned that certain types held advantages against others, learned that there was merit in choosing specific moves and switching out Pokémon, learned that building a versatile team could be critical to the player’s overall success. For the first time, I had a solo gaming experience that I had enjoyed – and could share with others. Through my interest in Pokémon, I made friends at school, held discussions with my brother, and got to trade with other kids in my neighborhood. Being able to experience the game had directly allowed me the opportunity to bond with others, and I was certain that other games would yield the same result – giving me access to more communities of like-minded people that I could become friends with. In fact, I met some of my lifelong friends through a mutual interest in Pokémon. When Pokémon HeartGold and SoulSilver released, I would spend each recess running around with my Pokéwalker alongside my best friend – who continues to be my best friend even 10 years later. Can I solely credit Pokémon for this friendship? Perhaps not, but it planted the seed necessary for the tree to grow.
In the years that followed, my love for video games skyrocketed. Where it was once solely Pokémon, my interests quickly branched out into other genres – I dabbled in platformers, tried my hand at RPGs, and took a shot at FPS games. Though I was not automatically good at each genre, and thus felt somewhat discouraged, the comfort that the communities brought me was enough to keep me going. Eventually, through the expertise and guidance of peers more practiced in the games than I, I found myself able to truly enjoy the content that I was engaging with. Video games stuck with me all throughout my middle school years, up until grade 10 in high school. At that point, something… changed. Shifted. I dropped video games and withdrew myself from the communities I had previously been part of. The friends that I had made because of them faded alongside my interest, and for two years it seemed that I had given up gaming altogether.
Until, once again, I followed in my brother’s footsteps.
FromSoftware’s Bloodborne was a game he had mentioned in passing – a Souls-like game that a teacher of his often played and occasionally spoke to him about. My experience with the Souls games thus far had been, admittedly, anything but pleasant, so I found myself hesitant to even look into the game. After all, I had attempted to play Dark Souls II: Scholar of the First Sin a year prior, but had little luck even getting past the first boss. The playstyle that suited the game best did not mesh with the way I wanted to approach it, and so I quickly discerned that the Souls games would not be for me – yet Bloodborne had a completely different atmosphere about it, and from what I had gleaned, the playstyle was vastly different as well. On top of that, it was a complete standalone game – it deviated from the Souls series in ways that made the two hardly comparable, and I thought that, perhaps, it was something I could master. Through the sheer kindness of his teacher, we were lent the game, and I felt something I had not felt in the entire two years before picking up Bloodborne: excitement. Not just excitement that, at 17, I was playing my first M-rated game (I grew up with strict parents and such a thing was unthinkable otherwise), but excitement at the promise of an entirely new experience. So I dove into Bloodborne headfirst, immediately immersed in the eerie, gothic architecture that surrounded my character and the human-but-not-human enemies that swarmed the streets of Yharnam. I was completely and utterly entranced; the game had charm, it had atmosphere, and it had downright incredible music that set the scene perfectly for each boss fight. The rush I felt when I beat the first boss on my first try was unparalleled. Here, I thought – here was a game I could hone my skill at, and one I, apparently, had a natural aptitude for. The aggressive yet strategic hack-and-slash gameplay was exactly what I had been looking for, and it was enough to convince me to give games as a whole a chance again.
Today, I continue to revisit Bloodborne for the nostalgia it brings me and for the chance to attempt new builds, new playthroughs. I play well-known free to play games such as League of Legends and Valorant, I play MMOs like Final Fantasy XIV, I play Destiny 2 and Fire Emblem and even picked up Dark Souls III. Through each of these games, I have met and connected with such a diverse cast of people that I would otherwise have never made contact with – and I consider myself better for it. Though I may not have all of them by my side today, I still carry with me and cherish the times we spent together as companions on the rift, or in Eorzea, or on Jupiter’s moon, Io. Video games have brought me such a unique and irreplaceable experience that has completely sculpted the way I approach new situations and people, and I could never be more thankful for it than I am today. No matter how young or old a person may be, video games can – and always will – deliver an experience that allows you to connect with others and create ties that may lead to lifelong friendships. Take it from me – if you’re considering picking up a new game, or even just a first game – that beginning step is the best one you’ll take, because once you take it, you’ll have new friends beside you to walk the rest of the way, too.