Why I Got Rid of My Game Consoles When I Became a Game Developer
By Scott Lee
April 18, 2019
Many hardcore gamer friends I have discussed this with wince when they hear it: back in 2015 I took my entire collection of games and consoles from my childhood and sold it all off on eBay for about $600. I had lots of old classics: an original PlayStation, Nintendo Entertainment System (NES), Super Nintendo Entertainment System (SNES), two N64s, a GameCube, a fairly large catalogue of games for all the Nintendo consoles, and a number of accessories. All of that would be valuable to any starting collector who wants to experience videogame history.
In case you are wondering about my gaming credentials, or how 'legitimate' of a gamer I am, I can tell you that I grew up with lots of classics, put thousands of hours in, and had a strong love for Nintendo. Probably my favorite game for years was Super Metroid, I can easily annihilate the average person off the street at Street Fighter 2 (most of the time), and some of my earliest memories involved Super Mario Bros. Later in life, I started a YouTube show called gameFINITY
devoted to applying my knowledge of the classics to issues in the modern game industry. The show was part-review, part-commentary, and part-prediction on where the industry was headed, and why.
In 2015, I had carried the consoles with me but was caught up in life. I had gone from job to job since graduating college, and while I thought about games somewhat regularly, I scarcely had time to play anything at all, much less justify making new console purchases. Throughout the Wii years, Nintendo had also disappointed me. I just was not interested in the Wii (and still can't really stand it).
Nonetheless, I considered myself a diehard lover of games, an advocate for the industry even. Throughout my teens and youth, I strongly desired to create my own games and go into game development. Throughout a lot of thought and a few conversations with my parents, I decided that trying to become anything even remotely related to a game developer spelt doom. If you were a level designer, you would not get paid as well as being a programmer. But programming in games was hard to come by, especially at the time. But I hated programming (and then of course now do it for a living). I thought programming would be unbelievably dull, so what about something like 3D modeling and animation? Too competitive, I thought.
Still, I loved games. I loved playing games. I loved some time I had spent modding games too - I created a few mods for Freespace 2, designed some levels for Age of Empires II, and generally if I owned a game on PC I was looking into how to mod it so that it could be even more my own.
After all of that love for games and making games, I wanted to get rid of all of my game consoles and accessories. And I DID get rid of them. But why?
It can be said that, admittedly, I might have been going through a little bit of an emotional crisis. I mean, not anything serious like depression, but certainly some turmoil about my future and some angst that I have never gotten rid of as I have grown up. It was this turmoil that lead me to my current path: becoming an indie developer.
I suppose this is a common story but throwing out the consoles? How does that fit in exactly?
Becoming a programmer is different than becoming many other things, like maybe an artist. At the time, I had been writing code for a couple years and had seen some of my first magic moments
. The experience of programming gives you a view into what is possible. One is made aware of what is possible through watching blazing fast processes that used to take humans hours suddenly take microseconds, or discovering that the amazing things one grew up with are suddenly now able to be done by one's own effort.
Being granted the power to will into being what you grew up with in your childhood means that you no longer have to grasp onto those consoles anymore. Or maybe it is not consoles you have, maybe it is an old computer, or even just some object of nostalgia and sentimental value. The big secret is that the force that created that nostalgia is present inside of you. At least, that is the situation as it stands for me.
In retrospect, I realize that for someone such as myself who so closely associates videogames with a lot of my own identity in a number of ways this was a big deal. Frankly, if the consoles would not have sold for any reason, small a chance as that was, I might have thrown away the consoles. They had to be gotten rid of, period.
Mentally, it could be sort of symbolic. It was a way of telling myself that these physical pieces of technology were not the height of my gaming existence, or my existence in general of course. There was more to be done and there was just this segment of the self that screamed, "I will make these games happen for myself and I don't need the creations of others anymore!"
Frankly, my home still does not have a place for a bunch of retro consoles. So many people's houses are packed to the brim with accumulated *stuff*. Some gamers have to invest sizeable amounts of cash just in the amount of space that is required to hold multiple shelves of amiibo, controllers, or other collectibles. Or, you know, if they are teens who are amassing giant collections then maybe their parents are dishing out a large bedroom. After all, it is not the worst hobby a young person could have.
But how could I? So many have asked.
The ability to create new things means that you are no longer bound by the limitations of your current things. Maybe a way to think about it might be: was Steve Jobs attached to having his very first iPhone? Of course not - Apple went on to produce millions of those things, they generally got better over time, and his mind was always on the future. Does Elon Musk care about hanging on to his very first Tesla? He might, actually, but he also knows with 100% certainty that he never has to worry about not having his favorite car again: he could just produce a new one if he wanted.
Okay, okay, enough comparing to people like Steve Jobs or Elon Musk, who are ultra-mega-billionaires. What about normal people? Well, does a carpenter care about no longer having their favorite shelves? Of course not. They know that if they need to, they know exactly how to just go down to a hardware store, pick up the raw materials, and create a brand new high quality shelf for themselves.
I understand that games are not the same thing. The general response at this point would probably be something to the effect of: games require millions of dollars to produce and a single person could not possibly hope to reproduce the most impressive games out there.
And yeah, I suppose we could kind of say that but my favorite games have basically never been games with millions of dollars and hundreds of people's extensive labor poured into them. Super Metroid was produced by a tiny team. Years later, an amazing metroidvania style game that became extremely popular was Axiom Verge, and Axiom Verge is produced a single person named Tom Happ.
Popular games that sold millions of copies throughout the 1990s had what are today often known as cult developer personalities like Sid Meier, the creator of the Civilization series. Or there was Chris Sawyer, who produced the RollerCoaster Tycoon games and was the primary driving force behind the first game's completion.
One of my favorite, more modern, games is Production Line. Production Line was developed mostly by a couple people: an artist and programmer Cliff Harris of Positech Games
. Lots of people saw Indie Game: The Movie, where huge hits became known like Braid, Fez, Super Meat Boy. In all 3 of those cases there were tiny teams, usually just an artist and a programmer working together.
The moral of the story, and of my psychological awakening to all of it is: never underestimate your own potential. Do not be held down by what you feel are remarkable, nostalgic experiences that you believe can only be found in the past. The best of games is not to be found in the past, as great as so much of the past was. The best is yet to come, and it is on the horizon ahead.