Introduction: Growing Up With Games

I remember being a kid and begging my parents to let me stay up past my bedtime just to watch my dad play the original Final Fantasy on the family Nintendo Entertainment System, which he had received as a gift from my maternal grandmother for Christmas of ’89. Though the game’s special battery allowed it to save player progress like The Legend of Zelda before it, Final Fantasy was so massive that it only allowed for a single save file. That file belonged to my dad alone, since the NES was, after all, his. In most other respects, though, the console was mine. I played Super Mario Bros. and Duck Hunt more than anyone else, fighting with my sister over who got to use the TV after school (she wanted to watch The Brady Bunch). The rule was that we had to take turns—she got to watch her show one day, and I could play Nintendo the next. Though the arrangement was entirely fair, I still complained every day that she got her turn (and I’ve never been a fan of The Brady Bunch as a result, regardless of whatever merits it may have).

The NES—and video games in general—opened new doorways for me as a disabled kid.
As far back as I can remember, video games have let me have experiences that were otherwise denied me by my disability. Growing up, I latched on to any that I could get my hands on. Though I “played outside” like most of the kids in my neighborhood, I couldn’t participate that well in all the “normal” things: running, jumping, riding bikes, playing football. The predominantly physical adventures other kids got to have were kept from me (though I was fortunate through all my childhood to have friends who tried to find ways to could include me). I could do all those things on the Nintendo, though: running and jumping in Super Mario Bros., playing football in Tecmo Super Bowl, or riding bikes in Pokémon Red Version (for the GameBoy, which would come later).

But due to its single save file restriction, Final Fantasy was different: I could only experience it secondhand, mesmerized by the vast world contained therein, the memorable music, and the game’s turn-based combat, with its colorful effects that I would for years associate with Independence Day fireworks displays. Final Fantasy offered the potential of an adventure unlike any of the others I had with the Nintendo, and more than that, it offered a connection to my father, whose office was (and is) full of fantasy and science fiction novels, comic books, and manuals for both basic and advanced Dungeons & Dragons. I was too young then for all those things, so my mother said (strictly adhering to the fact that the AD&D Player’s Handbook identified itself as for “ages 10 and up”), but I could at least watch Dad play Final Fantasy.

Watching my dad play games became something of a pattern throughout my childhood as I tried to get closer to all those things I was too young to enjoy directly. I remember looking on during those rare moments when Dad’s old D&D group got back together, wondering what it was all about or later watching beside him as he played Pools of Darkness, the fourth of the Forgotten Realms “gold box” games from Strategic Simulations, Inc. Later, after we got The Internet, I would sometimes watch him play a graphical online Multi-User Dungeon called Panumbra, which had the same dungeon-crawling first-person perspective as Pools of Darkness and many of SSI’s other D&D computer games. Panumbra may not have had a minimum age requirement like Dad’s AD&D books, but I still wasn’t allowed to play at first, since my internet usage was carefully monitored in those early days. As with so many things before it, I would sometimes watch Dad play with that same sense of interest and wonder that I’d had so many years before on the floor of the living room watching Final Fantasy.

Once I turned 10, true to her word, Mom let me get into Dad’s D&D books, and he ran some basic adventures using the Basic ruleset that summer. My first character was a Thief, if I remember right, but I couldn’t tell you his name anymore. I didn’t play D&D much after that at first, since we didn’t have enough people for a proper campaign, but once I had permission I dove into Pools of Darkness and the previous gold box installment, Secrets of the Silver Blades. Eventually, I got permission to play Panumbra, too, and in high school, Dad ran a short campaign for me and some of my high school friends. Panumbra itself eventually disappeared, but in a weird twist of fate, I wound up in an online, chat-based D&D campaign (using 3rd Edition) comprised of former Panumbra players and the creator of that game’s setting, who served as Dungeon Master. That game lasted over a decade, and along the way, many of us players ran campaigns of our own. There were numerous other games over the years, too, often intense “campaign busters” (where a whole world would be at stake), crammed into the months of summer vacations between years of high school and college.

The twin trajectories of (primarily online) D&D and video games converged in a life-changing way during my first year of college, when I was introduced to Final Fantasy XI, the first MMORPG in the series. Though I had originally been resistant to the idea of an online Final Fantasy, once I tried the game, I found something unique: an environment combining the simulations of exploration that I’d found in video games with the more metaphorical explorations of identities I’d come to value so much from D&D. From then on, MMOs became my preferred type of game, and I’d move from FFXI to World of Warcraft and FFXI’s “sequel,” Final Fantasy XIV (after its successful relaunch, anyway). Since that first foray into FFXI’s world of Vana’diel, I’ve never long been without a subscription to an MMO.

In the here and now, games have become a source of both entertainment and work for me. Mainly, I edit (and sometimes write) for tabletop RPGs with Jon Brazer Enterprises and write reviews for vanity outfits from FFXIV’s cash shop over on Fashion Ninjutsu. Alongside FFXIV, I keep a laid back presence in FFXI, play in a weekly Starfinder game with some of those old friends from Panumbra, and I’ve been getting back into console RPGs and collectible card games (which inhaled a good chunk of my high school allowance in the form of Magic: The Gathering), too.

With games having been such a central piece of my life for so long, it’s no surprise that I often have a lot to say about them, as evidenced by my occasional, overlong Twitter threads or those times when I stop fussing about clothes in FFXIV long enough to write about other aspects of the game on Fashion Ninjutsu. For some time now, though, I’ve had a need for a space to write about games (and sometimes, other things) in a more traditional manner. Twitter isn’t the best format for the thorough deep dives into topics that I’m overly fond of, and an MMO fashion blog is hardly the place for my thoughts on tabletop RPGs or other games.

So, here on Whither Then is where I’m going to be putting form to the many thoughts I have on games, mostly of the card, tabletop, and video varieties. As time goes on, the site may serve as a location to post homebrew tabletop content I’ve created over the years, too, once the new edition for Pathfinder (my tabletop game of choice) is finalized and I can decide whether to move to the new system or stick with what’s familiar. Every now and then, I’ll probably talk about other things of interest to me, too, like albums or books I’ve enjoyed, but for the most part, it’ll be games all the way down.

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