PlayStation 4 looks set to happen sooner rather than later. Brenna looks back at a brand that grew up alongside her.
PlayStation has literally saved my life. It has changed my life. It has, in many ways, been my life, and I’m not the least bit embarrassed to admit it. Bring on the PlayStation 4, Sony. You’ve had my pre-order for 16 years.
At the end of 1996 I was over video games. I grew up a Sega kid in a country town and when much-mourned Australian magazine Megazone folded I started to lose interest in our Mega Drive. Hardly anyone I knew played video games, a Saturn was way too expensive for my sister and I to save up for, and with no monthly reminder of all the games I was not going to get for Christmas or my birthday – and the two that I would – gaming just fell off the radar. I’d recently discovered human beings were physically attractive and that if I wanted to do something about it I’d better start learning clothes and hair and make up and how to talk without making an idiot of myself. I had shit to do in the real world.
I can’t imagine how different my life would be if that had lasted. One year later we were living in the city, I was attending a much fancier school and my chances at romance had been completely axed by a total lack of progress in any of the learning areas mentioned above and a developing case of persistant, severe acne. I was a small frog in a big pond, awkward, unhappy, and lonely.
As at so many similar times in my life my dad came to my rescue. This was the dawn of the golden era of PlayStation TV commercials, when gaming was just starting to look “cool” again after a disastrous decade of utter nerdery. I summoned my courage, cut out an ad from a Toys-R-Us catalogue complete with dauntingly large price tag, and posted it off to my father – who, as the non-custodial parent, had been landed with the traditional role of gift vending machine.
In consultation with my mother, who purchased a game (Disney’s Action Game featuring Hercules – don’t laugh, it’s actually pretty solid and I love that bloody movie) to go with the new machine, the unspeakably dear package arrived under my tree on Christmas Day. My sister was by then too old to be particularly keen on children’s pursuits (don’t worry, she came back around almost immediately) but we sat down together anyway, watching the tech demo of tyrannosaurus rex and manta ray and marvelling at these feats of brilliance.
A console-less friend gave me a copy of Tomb Raider II he’d won in a competition, and I used all my savings and birthday money to pick up Final Fantasy VII barely a month later. My three games lasted me eighteen months and triggered two lasting passions – Tomb Raider and RPGs of all shapes and flavours.
The popular girls did not flock to my house to check out my amazing new machine. Some of the kinder ones indulged my rabbiting about it before sitting me down for makeovers. I was still not cool, not attractive, not interesting, and deeply unhappy. But the adventures of Cloud, Lara and Hercules helped me not to dwell on it, and a few months later a brooding young man from a group of “rejects” would tell me something amazing about materia.
Several of those rejects are among my best friends today. I suspect all the talented, intelligent, attractive and interesting people I’ve met in games were rejects. I’m so glad I was.
The day I flew home from my aborted Japanese school exchange sometime in mid-2002 was one of the worst days of my life.
I was so unhappy in Japan – sick and confused – that eventually my parents in Australia freaked out, my host families and school complained, and the exchange program sent me home. I was so glad to be coming back to a place where I had family and friends that I didn’t argue, but I didn’t stop crying for months.
I really, really wanted to come home. I didn’t know it then, but I was struggling with a black depression which would return to haunt me at intervals. It made me moody and self-obsessed, difficult and unfriendly, lonely and uncommunicative. It made me fail at the one thing, the one life goal, I’d ever set for myself.
Going to Japan had been my dream. I’d never been good at anything – I don’t play an instrument; I can’t draw; I’m terrible at sports; I’m not very good at academic work; I’m not stylish; I’m socially awkward. To win a scholarship to visit the country which produced the games, martial arts, movies and comics I was so interested in was a dream come true. I was the envy of my friends. During a year in which I should have been studying for my final exams and coming out of my shell socially, I instead saved most of my after-school job earnings and worked extra shifts to help fund my trip.
It all fell through. I thought, this is it. I’ll never achieve anything. I can’t even just quietly go to school in another country. I’m useless. I cried so hard and was so generally pathetic that my mother, in a panic, sent me to stay with my dad, hoping he could find out what was wrong.
He wouldn’t, of course, because he loved me and believed in me and could never, ever accept my negative opinion of myself. But in one of my bouts of trying to tell him anything at all, I choked out that I would like to spend the remainder of my savings on a PlayStation 2, then about 18 months old in PAL territories. My dad approved this request instantly.
One of the first games I got was Grand Theft Auto III. Those who weren’t there will never understand what a revelation this game was. Huge explorable worlds like that had rarely been seen before, and the freedom to do what felt like anything was amazing. It ate my life. Any time I wasn’t working or sleeping, I was playing, and my dad left me to it; while I was gaming I wasn’t thinking about hurting myself.
The following year I moved back to the city to start uni. I got in touch with my old friends, and made new ones at my seriously geeky classes in software engineering. All of them had stories to share from Grand Theft Auto. I had achieved 100% completion in both GTA III and Vice City by then and knew more about them than anyone I had ever met. This made me slightly famous; people would ask me how to complete various missions and where to find collectibles, and ask me over to play through tricky parts for them. I was happy.
I fell in love and shortly thereafter moved to New Zealand. It rained almost non-stop for the six months we occupied our tiny Queen Street love nest, constantly in each other’s way, both stuck at work for long hours, paying off a joint debt, fighting (in my head) like Andy Capp and Flo.
The make-ups were as violent as the disagreements. We were about as broke as it is possible to be and maintain the image of middle-class respectability, but my partner vowed to buy me everything I ever wanted, forever. (We ran out to a department store instantly to pick up a Wii – it hadn’t even been released, narrowly avoiding an alternate future dominated by Marios.) I picked out a magnificent flatscreen TV for purchase on our return to Australia, to go with the shiny new PlayStation 3 we would buy not years later but on release day, at full price, so as never again to miss out on the wealth of new games a console launch brings.
It didn’t happen. International moves aren’t cheap. My partner’s career went on pause for a year thanks to a surprise thesis defence. My proper grown-up government job drove me into a nervous collapse for months of miserable unemployment. The Day The Debts Are Paid Off kept being delayed. We stopped fighting and knuckled down to a strict budget; I stopped thinking of myself as a person who could buy things.
Sometime in late 2007, my partner rang me from Europe and told me to buy a PlayStation 3 for myself. The debts would be paid; the career was back on track, although it would separate us by the space of two continents for a full year.
With no mixed feelings I purchased the biggest of big black boxes. I still didn’t have a decent screen to plug it into (that would come on another birthday, a purchase partially financed by my unexpected success as a freelance games writer) but here it was: a promise fulfilled. I was all alone and carrying a much too heavy box, but I didn’t even care. I was loved. The box more than proved it.
I wanted a PSP at launch so badly I could almost bring one into existence by sheer will. I couldn’t afford an iPod, even as the ubiquity of iDevices loomed on the horizon, but if I got a PSP I’d have a portable music player and I could play games and watch movies on it. The graphics – “somewhere between PSOne and PS2”, previews enthused – astounded me and I longed to possess this smexy device.
I put it off, and put it off, and eventually quite forgot about it – I got an iPod as a gift, the PlayStation 3 came along, and there weren’t that many games I was interested in, anyway. It wasn’t until 2008 when I came down with a serious illness and ended up largely bedbound that the idea came back to me.
My partner flew back from Europe to look after me for a month, during which time sitting up in front of the TV was strictly rationed. I was mostly confined to the bedroom, but occasionally I’d be let outside to remind myself other humans existed and absorb some vitamin D. On one such expedition I came across a limited edition silver PSP branded with the Final Fantasy: Crisis Core logo. I was, at the time, a tragic sucker for everything Final Fantasy, and the thought of leaving this sure-to-sell-out device in the store nearly killed me then and there. But knowing that The Day The Debts Are Paid Off was still far away, I let it go.
Half an hour later, sitting over lunch, my partner announced we would get the bloody thing, fuck it, the flights back and forth cost ten times as much and nobody batted an eyelid.
Any gamer who has been ill for a significant amount of time knows just how good portable consoles can be. You can make yourself comfortable in a bed without straining to see a screen, you can face any direction, you can put the device to sleep when you yourself suddenly fall asleep. I smashed Crisis Core, and then Warriors Orochi, a game which seemed to hold as much content as could possibly fit on any device, and then it was December and thanks to the months I’d spent in bed literally twiddling my thumbs I was well enough to move to Europe and possibly get on with my life.
I bought a Vita on launch day. In the intervening years, The Day The Debts Are Paid Off came and went, and I, somehow, ended up pulling in wages for writing about games. There’s simply no question of not buying a console should I want one; it’s still a financial strain, because these things aren’t exactly cheap, but it’s now a tax deduction and I honestly need them. It was the first console – the first device – I’d ever purchased at release and slapping my credit card on the table felt like a validation of the years I spent wondering what the heck was wrong with me because the only things I wanted to do and had any aptitude for were playing video games and writing things down about them.
I wish there were more games for the Vita, but I take it with me whenever I travel and I take pride and pleasure in it. Even if I stopped using it, I’d keep it with me – a reminder that all the years of being told to stop wasting my life with video games were worth it.
And into the future
Writing this article I realised how PlayStation console purchases have punctuated my life, tied up with events and transitions; it’s easier to remember things as “just after I got the PS2” then to put a year to them.
Since I bought the Vita, I’ve broken up with my partner of seven years, the one featured in two of these stories, and have accumulated a debt of my own. I have no idea when The Day The Debts Are Paid Off will come again, or if it ever will. But if I have to put that day off a few more months because Sony wants to bring out a new console before the end of the year to shore up its ailing business, I’ll do it, with a ready smile.
I grew up with PlayStation. PlayStation has literally saved my life. It has changed my life. It has, in many ways, been my life, and I’m not the least bit embarrassed to admit it. Bring on the PlayStation 4, Sony. You’ve had my pre-order for 16 years.
Sony has called a PlayStation meeting for February 20, where it is expected to reveal the next PlayStation console ahead of release either this year or next. The original PlayStation first debuted in 1994.