Here it is, folks! Playing old Nintendo games every Thursday night!

Follow me on Twitch, @Nintendo_Legend!

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I really enjoyed the Netflix series Stranger Things. I have some thoughts.

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The acting was tremendous. Characters went through some compelling arcs, with performances that justly conveyed such transformations. Could Winona Ryder’s role been played any more pitch-perfect than what she gave us? And those kids, all of them, so great.

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One specific element that I really like in my entertainment media is telekinesis. So, there’s that.

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Stranger Things is a great example of visual media with a familiar-yet-refreshing presentation — in the midst of a popular culture that has verbalized a weariness of rehashes and reboots (yet, notably, continues to support them at the box office), it was a powerful recipe to gulp down: Every frame feels like it is utterly known in a sort of distant-sentimental way, yet with enough newness to keep things moving and interesting. I think Guardians of the Galaxy and Star Wars: The Force Awakens reaped a similar benefit from this effect. In all these cases, the end product is not absurdly wacky, neither is it jaw-droppingly revolutionary, but it combines just-enough innovation with a cozy, almost-intimate style that we cannot help be drawn to.

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Another rare feat that Things achieved was, in my opinion, serving up a satisfying beginning-to-end story while also leaving plenty of unanswered questions.

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I liked how the series normalizes geekdom. What I mean by that is we see four boys who regularly play hours-long Dungeons & Dragons campaigns, and although they are clearly identified as little nerds (through their participation in AV club, relationship with their teacher of similar persuasions, etc.), this is never really (really) treated as a trait that is scornworthy, nor vilified.

Now, I am sure there were groups of kids who did similar things in the 1980’s, but even in my own era, this treatment serves as a contrast to a society that sometimes tends to try to downplay and even demonize (quite literally, if you grew up in an evangelical Christians setting) these geeky pursuits. Their shared adventures in a role-playing game are never played up for laughs at their expense, and just played to the camera straight, as a mutual experience. It was cool, I thought, but it is likely growing more common in shows as well.

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Considering its popularity, I assume a season 2 will be in the works. This is fun, because I have no idea what direction they would go (if they would even keep the same characters, etc., or go in a whole new pathway), yet I am excited all the same.

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It looks like Nintendo is finally back on top. The release of a little game called Pokemon Go saw the value of the company skyrocket. And then there was the news that they’re releasing a miniature version of their classic Nintendo Entertainment System, which was met with glee from both children and nostalgic adults alike.

Earlier this month, Nintendo announced a new version of its classic console called the NES Classic Edition that connects through an HDMI cable and fits in the palm of your hand. It brings back the golden age of gaming when 8-bits were all you needed and Super Mario Bros. 3 was the height of gaming brilliance. The retro gaming device will include 30 classic games including many of the NES’ greatest hits. Among these titles will be the first three Super Mario Bros. games, Donkey Kong, the first two Legend of Zelda games, Mega Man 2, Castlevania, Metroid and much more. There’s even something for sports fans with such beloved titles as Punch Out!! and Tecmo Bowl.

However, those of you with a box full of old Nintendo cartridges shouldn’t get your hopes up. The system won’t be an internet-connected device and can’t play old cartridges, so the initial 30 games are all you’re going to get. And without an internet connection, don’t expect updates or new games via download. But for an announced price of $60, it’s still a bargain as you’d easily twice spend that amount trying to purchase the same games from the Wii U Virtual Console.

As a new generation of 20 and 30-something professionals have more disposable income, the nostalgia for their childhoods has never been stronger. Just take a look at lists that are all about ’90s nostalgia. Much like the newfound popularity of Pokemon GO, the new Nintendo is perfectly placed to take advantage of consumers in their late-20s and early-30s desperate to recapture a portion of their childhood innocence. And there’s no better way than through video games.

It also boils down to the fact that there some styles of games just never go out of style and continue to remain popular practically forever. This is further evidenced by the simplicity of many mobile gaming sites that offer new takes on classic platforming games and matching puzzles. Another style of gaming that continues to be played by millions, although not nearly at the peak it once knew, is online poker. The game has remained a popular staple since its inception more than 150 years ago and that popularity reached a fever pitch at the turn of the millennium with the advent of online poker tournaments that allowed gamers to instantly play with fellow fans all over the world. The simple rules and accessibility help to appeal to new fans year after year while still retaining its timeless sense of fun.

Unfortunately, throwback gaming fans are still going to have to wait a little bit before they can fire up the new console. The NES Classic Edition is set for a Nov. 11 release date, and we’re getting excited for the mushrooms and magic whistles already.

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Had a fun exchange on Twitter recently.

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This is actually a tricky question, though; or, at least, I felt that way as I browsed the NES library.

Most NES games just… aren’t easy, whether that’s because the gameplay is friggin’ hard or the whole design is confusing and non-user-friendly. And to answer the question, I don’t want to merely name some games that are impossible to ‘lose’ (Mario is Missing) or made for small children (the Sesame Street titles are certainly not hard, per se). I think I can assume that the intent behind this question is to also have fun playing these titles, right?

So I thought along the lines of accessibility, and difficulty curves, and fairness, and what are some games that allow the player to ease into an enjoyable experience while neither babying nor torturing them?

I am convinced there is plenty of room for healthy discussion on this idea, this topic, so I only hope to add a constructive voice. You can slice this quandary many different ways. Here are my eight choices for easy NES games to recommend, in no particular order, with a brief note of explanation for each.

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Rampage — Of all the 8-bit arcade ports, this is definitely among the friendliest. You can literally play without any concern for your character’s health and still end up destroying a handful of entire downtown skylines before the pesky military finally brings you down. Honestly, it’s just fun, too, to cause so much destruction and discover some of the humorous environmental interactions. This may not be a game you ever reach the end of, but it’s not painful to pick up and play. Who knew mass destruction could be so zen?

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Guerrilla War — Oh yes. This is an action-packed cartridge that hits the ground running with both barrels blazing, a constant barrage of top-down military shooter action. But most importantly, it has one nice feature that defines it as a gunny slog: Infinite continues. That’s right: You may die many times, but there’s truly no excuse not to beat this game if you truly want to.

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Rollerball — A pinball game? Well, sure! Pinball games are fun. However, if you just pick up any ol’ NES pinball title, you might come across something like High Speed or the Pinball Quest, which… as much as one can defend their merits, they are not as easy as Rollerball. Rollerball’s physics are very smooth, with a gently rolling metal sphere that doesn’t clunk through the floor as hard as the original Pinball game. It is also quite small for a pinball protagonist, offering the player more time to react and decide on potential tactics. I really like Pin*Bot, too, but Rollerball is the more welcome-you-with-open-arms choice here.

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Capcom’s Disney library — Okay, yeah, a game like DuckTales definitely poses its own degree of difficulty. Overall, though, Capcom’s platformers are made so well that they are imminently enjoyable even if you have to endure a few frustrating lessons in the meantime. Some people are turned off by The Little Mermaid’s mechanics, but it has a slower pacing than most platformers, and can be a lot of fun in the right mood. I have heard Darkwing Duck referred to as “Mega Man for babies” which is clever, and not entirely inaccurate, but also doesn’t do justice to a great NES game in its own right (full disclosure, Duck can use his cape as a shield, it’s pretty sweet — and can make survival a little more easygoing!). I would recommend Rescue Rangers. Will you get to the ending on your first attempt? Nah. But boy is it fun, even when you pick it up for the first time.

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Pac-Mania — Pac-Man is a legendary, simple game. So what happens when you give Pac-Man the ability to jump over those pesky ghosts when he needs to? … it may not be as iconic (and some may be turned off by the isometric presentation), but it is fun. Whereas the original relied on rapid mental puzzle-solving in regards to ghost positions, Pac-Mania allows you to relax a little more, even if this arguably (ignore the arguers) ‘lessens’ the whole product somehow. Trust me, it is still a neat little challenge.

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Marble Madness — Ah, I can hear the disagreements now. “Seriously, Eric? I’ve never beaten Marble Madness, and I’ve tried dozens of times! It’s a hard game!” Well, okay, sure, but it is exquisitely simple. It is downright elegant in its controls. When you push Up on the d-pad, the marble goes up. Push down, guess what? Marble rolls downward. Tap or hold ‘A’ for increased roll speed, and — that’s it! No instruction booklet, no tutorial, no hand-holding of any kind required. Think about it: There are very few games in history that are as immediately evident as Marble Madness. The moment the game begins, you understand 100% of what it entails. Is it easy to master? No. But is it remarkably accessible? Yeah. … I mean, I think so anyway, but I could be wrong, whatever.

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Bomberman II — I really like the Bomberman series. Many people will point to the 16-bit classics in the franchise, or even some N64 outings, but I do believe the NES carts are worth looking into as well. The Bomberman formula is suited for a slower, non-stressful form of puzzle/action-hybrid gameplay. In addition, you have password support, and powerful items like the Detonator are given to the player pretty early on. It’s not for everyone, but it’s a well-made thing.

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Kirby’s Adventure — Yes, there are levels where you can just fly above all the enemies. There is also battery-save support. You can backtrack to prior levels if you need to grab a desired power-up or feast on extra lives. Even between the levels and bosses, there are quirky little minigames and Museum rooms. The whole presentation is a thundering triumph of light and sound for the NES console. Kirby is a deceptively powerful dude, and taking control of him is a blast.

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Those are my picks. Feel free to add your own thoughts in the comments below!

[ Welcome to the What Do We Really Know About series, in which we explore what people really know about a given topic in order to unearth the truth. It all began with What Do We Really Know About Mario?, while other targets have included the Ottawa Senators team from Blades of Steel (NES) and what we really know about Ganondorf. ]

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“I’ve never seen anything like this.”

Those were the last words of Marcus Chaftwhile, payroll clerk for the New York offices of Neuman & Britt. He was 47 years old. He is survived by his father, Clarence, and his mother, Clarice; his brother, Clarence Jr., and his younger brother, Norbert; his son, Niles, his other son, Theodore, and his daughter, Sheila May; and his ever-loving wife, Pearl, known by those close to her affectionately as “Blöuzen-kitz.”

Chaftwhile enjoyed travel, fine dining, and an occasional round of golf. With a sharp wit and handsome jawline, Marcus could often be seen emceeing various fundraising events and other social pursuits. He was an active member of his community and a faithful parishioner of St. Lucidia’s Third Spire where funeral services will be held Friday evening.

While those closest to him would praise Chaftwhile’s generosity and general affability, murmurs frequently arose regarding his more bizarre interests. “Oh yeah, he was into some real weird stuff,” a man named Jeffrey Karlson* confirmed. He continued, “Chafty had his share of secrets. I suspect he knew a lot more than he let on, and will go into the grave with more than his fair share of shadows and darkness.”

In lieu of flowers, loved ones are encouraged to donate toward The Mastery of Kinetics Foundation, a non-profit organization that was launched per instructions in Chaftwile’s will. There was also a note to include a particular quote in this space: “For want of a nail, all hope was lost. I do hope that humanity fares well in its last days.”

[ *Note: This name has been changed to protect our source’s identity. His real name is Taylor Zonne. ]

When it comes to gaming the options are tremendous for players. Whether it is Red Flush Casino on the smartphone, playing FIFA online against someone across the world or starting up the Wii fit, we have options aplenty and they look set to continue to grow and embrace the technology available. That’s because Nintendo are planning on releasing their latest console, the Nintendo NX which we should expect to see on the shelves in the next year.

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So far, the NX has been clouded in secrecy with nobody sure of what it will actually do, either way we are expecting a big statement from Nintendo with their latest design, ensuring it will be something that attracts the masses and puts them firmly back at the top seat amongst the fierce competition that exists in the gaming industry. Despite little official coming out, there have been strong rumours that NX will incorporate a virtual reality gaming aspect. VR gaming has been on the rise in recent years with better quality gaming available, however there has still been nothing major that has made its way into our homes, but 2016 is the year of the VR and there are big things expected. So that could prove that Nintendo do have one eye on the future and they are trying to make a significant breakthrough into that market before anyone else does, which could prove a smart business move.

 

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When it comes to gaming, you can see how much it is evolving so the Nintendo NX could be onto something with the new technology it will involve. To demonstrate the range of platforms that gaming now has, you only have to look at the latest craze, Pokémon Go, which hasn’t just swept the nation but the globe instead with millions of players from all ages hooked by the game. That is a sign of the many platforms that gaming has, and for brands to become successful, whether that is game developers or consoles you need to appreciate the range of ways gaming is accessed nowadays. A clear example would be the online casino gaming industry. With Red Flush Casino you can play the most popular table games out there, however, the added appeal is that you can play it from both your PC or tablet as well as your smartphone, you aren’t restricted and the quality doesn’t suffer on either device. The graphics, gameplay and sounds combine to create a casino feel, and to think you can experience that from your phone on the bus or walking to work is testament to the quality of the gaming options we have out there.

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Overall, gaming is going to continue to grow and adapt various forms of technology and whether that is following the example of Red Flush Casino or taking a risk like Nintendomight be by incorporating VR, it shows that you have to plan to hit a wide consumer base. All of this work means one thing, that once again the gamers are coming out on top thanks to the lightning speed at which gaming is evolving.

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When I was a child, I went hiking and found a lake. It was quite a surprise for me to stumble upon it. When I traveled around the country without a map, trying to find my way, stumbling on amazing things as I went, I realized how it felt to go on an adventure like this.

That is a quote from Shigeru Miyamoto, the mind behind the creation of Nintendo characters such as Super Mario, speaking on the inspiration that went into creating The Legend of Zelda, the original classic video game for the 8-bit Nintendo Entertainment System (NES) console.

Commenting on the Zelda canon can be a daunting minefield of potential pathways. There are 30 years of history in place, along with a fanbase of millions. Can you bring fresh insights to the series, while still enjoying the payoff of knowing the strokes of story that have led us to this point?

If Breath of the Wild itself tells us anything, the answer is a resounding, authoritative “yes, you can,” or perhaps “yes, you can, and it’s frickin’ wonderful.”

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Let us address the criticisms right away, in one fell swoop, so that we can approach this review the same way one should approach the game, with arms wide open for an opportunity at a joyful experience: No, it’s not perfect. I had a few frustrating moments of being befuddled with crafting quandaries and recipe management. You can hurl similar visual critiques as Skyward Sword received, akin to Nintendo having a beautiful presentation while managing to dodge an earnest attempt at modern graphics. I will not be the first to make a comparison to Star Wars: The Force Awakens, as to how Breath of the Wild sets a new table while retreading a lot of familiar ground, with a barb on the treatment of female protagonists. There are some specific environment interactions that seem a little more buggy, out-of-place, or in need of refinement. You can definitely accuse the designers of purporting an open-world experience while, in actuality, just doing a sneakier job of disguising their pathway gatekeeping. You are going to hear hot takes on how, by doing a Zelda game in such a new way, Nintendo is actually alienating long-time fans. You will hear the wearisome criticisms of a writing that, yes, squeezes in a few meme-like lines here and there.

And if you had any hope of reading an ‘objective’ review in this space, toss that hope out the window right away.

Here’s why:

Hours into Breath of the Wild, I found a cave. As I entered/Link entered/I watched Link enter the cave, I noticed a modest campfire. Sitting behind that fire, inside the cave, sat an old man.

I froze. I had a potent mix of feelings pass right through my body. I held my controller steady and just stared at my television screen. I looked at the fire, the way it moved, the way the lighting splashed and danced. I looked at the old man, the beard he had, the robe he wore, the colors and the sizing and the posture.

I felt a form of decades-long payoff that a non-fan simply could not have, and in that moment I knew I was a hopeless fanboy, but I was going to be okay with it and enjoy the ride.

The Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild follows our hero, Link, who is awakened inside the Shrine of Resurrection, summoned forth to go about his heroic world-saving duties against the devious Ganon (Calamity Ganon, this round) once again. There is a play on light and dark, on vast firmanents of good and evil, on alternate worlds tinged with shadow. This is definitely one of those “it’s about the journey” experiences, seeing as how the actual plot can sound awfully cookie-cutter, and even for the canon itself spends chunks of time across a familiar motif. Enjoyably so, nonetheless (the first time I spotted an owl, I smiled, and definitely wanted a closer look).

Link is dropped into the middle of the Great Plateau, and from there is free to venture forth into a wide, wild adventure. He can climb anything, from landscape to enemies, and will engage in hobbies ranging from weapon-collecting to campfire recipes. Bits of amber and feather meet salvaged swords and bows to create new opportunities in enemy suppression. You want armor? Link gets armor. All of it has your requisite stats for comparison’s sake, and much of it has a dreadful knack for wearing out.

Across grassy plains, over rocky mountains, and through fiery deserts, Link will explore the land of Hyrule more thoroughly than ever. There are your traditional dungeons, yes, but there are also over 100 Shrine of Trials set pieces, where the player must use might and wits alike to recover a new prize, often a tidy artifact – and, importantly, runes that unlock new abilities altogether.

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This is the first hint of how Nintendo has achieved an exquisite balance in Breath of the Wild’s gameplay: For people who love puzzles, there are puzzles, but they are neither bashed over your head nor are they dropped in the middle of your path with aggressive demands to be conquered before you can progress. If you enjoy things like deep-diving into every possible item combination, you can whittle away your evenings striving for the perfect steak recipe, but this is by no means a requirement. If you like optional sidequests, the Zen-state side of your soul may find solace in the fact that every rock face is asking to be climbed and you might be able to reach that snowy peak just over the horizon fairly soon if you can find a horse and start moving.

It’s great.

This is a spoiler-free zone, but I will say that, while newcomers to the series will encounter a fair share of memorable characterizations and intrigue, Nintendo has prepared a real treat for fans. I keep coming back to that theme, I know, but with the legacy at stake, it is a difficult one to peel away from. In any case, Link will progress through the plot through his discovery of villages and their histories, the hushed way their denizens speak of the Calamity, and the smiling optimism in the face of newfound friends.

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One new aspect is the Sheikah Stone, Link’s “iPad-like” device that serves as Chekov’s MacGuffin for all manner of effects: Entering the shrines, freezing space-time in a stasis field, performing feats of teleportation and magnetic telekinesis, mark locations on your map, etc.

The earlier Shrines, by requiring the player to go through some basic exercises with new Sheikah Stone rune abilities without lengthy dialogue-bubble tutorials, actually call back to another original entry for a different Nintendo series: Super Mario Bros (NES), the original 8-bit platformer, often praised for how its first level explains to the player the limit of their movements without having to say a single word.

This design philosophy will be welcome by many. The rampant hand-holding in previous Zelda games and yelling-at-you endured from companions such as Navi and Fi? Gone. No more two-hour tutorials, no more “hey we know you need to progress in the plotline but first you have to win this weird arbitrary race,” etc.

But, gosh, if you’re willing to invest a little training, this game rewards you. Well-timed dodges in combat unlock a moment of slow motion called Flurry Rush, during which you can land deadly blows, and executing these moves well enough to kill a foe in a colorful explosion is quite a feat of visceral satisfaction.

However, those expecting to be able to slash-and-bash their way through Hyrule may be disappointed to find that mastery of the environment and even some stealthiness may be required as well. Or, at least, they will make your way a bit easier to survive – a survival dependent on weighing the risks of elements such as temperature and elevation as well.

The thing I may love most about this game, though, is how it rewards creativity. Do you want to snowboard on your shield down a snowy slope into a gathering of enemies, throw an old sword at them, then magnetically guide the sword into an explosive barrel to take out the whole lot? You can. But, even better, you might perform amazing feats accidentally. I remember laughing out loud when I accidentally back-flipped off a bridge, only to slow-mo arrow-headshot a different enemy below me anyway. It was glorious.

Part of what spurs this exponential growth in interactive possibility is an emphasis on the meld between magic and technology. Whereas some Zelda titles (or, heck, other games entirely) focus on more of the medieval fantasy feel, it turns out that the Sheikah have quite the tech at their disposal, and players might find themselves feeling a little bit like Tron Link is wielding a laser rifle in a techno cathedral by the quest’s latter chapters.

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The Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild fosters favorable comparisons to classic non-Nintendo games. Some will still prefer Skyrim, but at least the hardcore Big-N fans now have their own version. If you like Shadow of the Colossus-type battles, you will find some tasty morsels. Calling it Grand Theft Auto: Hyrule might be a bit much, but in its scale and sense of just being a good ol’ romp, it hits the mark.

And that is where I stand in conclusion – The Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild is simply a lot of fun. In a big-picture way, it does represent some positive notes from Nintendo’s design brilliance and a refreshing reinvigoration for a fond franchise. There is going to be a lot of discussion around this title, likely deservedly so. But, really, at the end of the day, it serves as a delightful reminder of what video games can be at their best: A lot of immersive fun with a surprise around every corner.

On a personal note: I enjoyed Skyward Sword, but this is a greater experience, and I am glad to see more ambition from the Zelda camp. The fanboy in me was pleased, the gamer in me was pleased… the human in me was pleased. As someone whose favorite Zelda game is Majora’s Mask, I love the melancholic feel of castle ruins and a foreboding darkness we find in the Wild. Great game.

I like it. I would recommend it.

This has been rolling around in my head a little bit.

Since I have become more vocal about gaming controversies (and, specifically, how silly they are), I have sometimes received comments from people. Many agree with my thoughts, some do not. But somewhere in the rarified air of the Nuanced Middle Ground, I have received this sentiment from a handful:

“Eric, I agree with you – I agree that getting angry about localization issues is ridiculous, I agree that passion for any hobby can be overdone, and I agree that I prefer to have fun with video games rather than be angry about them. However, when you said ‘video games aren’t important,’ I cannot agree with you there. Video games are important.”

… Okay.

What they are usually pinpointing is a phrase in my “Confession: I don’t know anything about video games” blog post [ note: you can actually see a relevant exchange in the comment section there ], in which I do say, “Video games just aren’t that important.”

Which means that they are likely ignoring the word “that” in there, which refers to a specific level of importance that I do not believe video games reach. Video games have an undeniable significance, in some ways. They are a colossal economic force, a rich cultural tapestry, etc.

Even when I really press in and emphasize that video games aren’t that important In The Big Grand Scheme of Life, the Universe, and Everything, I still get counterpoints, and there are a couple I can even respect:

1) “Video games provide my livelihood.” – I think this is a worthy distinction. If your financial well-being (which, in the modern world, means your general well-being, right?) and the support of yourself and your loved ones depends on video games… then, wow, of course you have a higher stake in them than I do! I can even 100% understand if you get up in arms about certain issues, because certain issues might actually directly affect the quality of your life.

2) “Video games have provided a great benefit in my life.” – This one tends to tread into a fuzzy gray area, but it is a good one, a warm sort of fuzzy. There are many testimonies out there of how video games have simply helped people. Is that not a worthy cause? I have heard stories of gaming helping people cope with being bullied, with life-threatening (or chronic) illness, or even assisting in enhancing their education, their physical fitness, and being a catalyst in their social life or long-term relationships. Given this evidence, how dare I imply that video games are unimportant?

… maybe I would kinda point out that the good that games can do actually supports my view that anger is a terribly poor response to them, but…

Look: I think it is worth mentioning that there is a broad gulf between Worthy Action and Awful Action. If you thought I said “video games are not important” somewhere, I can almost guarantee that it was within the larger context of them not being worth being enraged about as my more-specific point.

Remember: I really like video games, and have written words to defend them just as I have to condemn them. Like most other issues, painting me into one shade of opinion might be convenient for you, but it will not reflect a complete accuracy – just like thinking video games are All Great or All Evil would probably not be a constructive conclusion either.

But!

I wrote all of those words to get to this one thought I want to put out there, and it was probably a dumb decision on my part to drive people away with such a chunk of text before getting here. Nonetheless, here it is.

I have a question, one for everyone. I am curious:

How do you, personally, decide if something is important or not?

What criteria, for you specifically, determines a thing’s importance?

I mean this on a personal level, in your real life.

I would love to hear some feedback on this. Please, please feel free to leave a comment on this post, or hit me up elsewhere. Thank you for your thoughts.

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