The Gamer Who Came in From the Cold pt. 3

I only had one plan for my money; buy a GameCube.

Felix Quiñonez Jr.

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Photo Credit: Evan-Amos / CC BY-SA (

The Dream Was Dead

Little did we know that pretty soon, we would begin to spend a lot less time together. It’s not necessarily that we grew apart, but suddenly the fact that we went to different schools became more of an issue. He began spending more time with his friends, and I saw less of him. I was still as in love with video games as ever, but I didn’t have someone to share that excitement with.

The next generation was getting closer, and Sega would be the first to jump in the ring with their Dreamcast Console. The Sega Saturn was undoubtedly my least favorite of the previous generation. (For me, it was Nintendo 64, Sony PlayStation, Sega Saturn) But I was so excited for the Sega Dreamcast. It seemed that after coming in dead last the previous generation, Sega was looking to regain momentum and market share. And it briefly seemed like they could turn things around.

In the lead up to the Dreamcast release, it seemed like they were doing everything right. The games looked great, and the system seemed genuinely cool. It felt like the Sega of the Genesis era. Even their North American Release date was well thought out. I still remember seeing the 9/9/99 ads everywhere that summer. And seeing their logo at that year’s MTV Video Music Award, the epitome of cool at that time, was another treat.

Unfortunately, by then, video games had become a distant memory for everyone but me in the house. My parents weren’t buying us much of anything during that time, especially not a video game console. It was a generally unpleasant time to be at my house. Back then, it felt like someone flipped a switch in my dad’s head. Suddenly he became an angry, unhappy person. And it felt like he blamed us for that. Being home often felt like navigating a land-mine field, trying to avoid setting him off. Looking back on it now, I realize that I was probably just noticing more as I got older. Whatever, the case I didn’t ask for any video games. I just tried to find any excuse to get out of the house.

In school, I would spend my lunch in the library reading issues of Gamepro or surfing the web to read about the Sega Dreamcast. I didn’t get to play it, so I wanted to read every single bit of information that I could find. I remember being mesmerized by the Sonic Adventure trailers. I would stare at soul Caliber screenshots online and in magazines. And when I saw Resident Evil: Code Veronica footage, I almost lost my mind. I was so happy to see that the Dreamcast became such a huge hit. And it seemed that Sega was going to make a comeback.

But it didn’t take long for the story to change. It seemed that as soon as Sony unveiled the PlayStation 2 and announced a release date, it was all over for the Sega Dreamcast. And on March 31, 2001, less than two years after its grand North American launch, the Dreamcast was officially discontinued, and Sega would no longer make video game consoles. I never even got to own one during its brief life. And I remember feeling an overwhelming amount of sadness reading Sega’s announcement. Even if I couldn’t quite articulate it, I knew that a chapter in my life was ending right in front of me.

Around that time, our parents decided to send our Nintendo 64 to Paraguay. They saw that it wasn’t getting much use and decided our family there would appreciate it more. I remember feeling a little upset but didn’t say anything, thinking that it wouldn’t have mattered anyway. I also managed to become friends with a tight group of kids a grade above me.

They were into video games too. Sometimes we would play when we weren’t drinking or smoking and generally doing all the cliché things teenagers do while thinking they are rebellious. But they mostly played Goldeneye, I never got into it, though. To this day, I have not gotten into first-person shooters. Jon, whose house we hung out at, also had a Dreamcast, and sometimes I was lucky enough to play Soul Caliber.

Not too much longer after that, the hype for Nintendo’s next console, the GameCube, began to reach a boiling point, and I waited for it with bated breath. The system launched on November 18, 2001. I couldn’t get it but was blown away by how cool the system and its games looked. I was also baffled by the fact that everyone else seemed to think it looked like a kid’s toy. And the fact that everyone was obsessed with the PlayStation 2 genuinely bothered me. I held a weird grudge against it and blamed it for the Sega Dreamcast’s demise.

That Christmas, Jon got a PlayStation 2, and I was honestly not very impressed. I didn’t care for Grand theft Auto 3, and to this day, I haven’t gotten into that series. I remember playing Metal Gear Solid 2 for a little while, but I was one of those who never got over the Raiden bait and switch. I also wasn’t a fan of all the cut scenes that, to me, made it feel like you were watching the game more than playing it. So, I guess I wasn’t a fan of the PlayStation 2. I don’t think I’ve played one single game all the way through.

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Photo by Paweł Durczok on Unsplash

The following summer (2002), one of my friends helped me get a job at the restaurant where he worked. It wasn’t a lot of money, but it was the most I ever had. I only had one plan for my money; buy a GameCube. If I’m honest, being able to pay for the console with my own money was a treat onto itself. I got a ride to Toys R’ Us and picked up that beautiful machine. I was so happy…for a little while. For the first time, I didn’t have anyone to play video games with, and it felt lonely. Video games no longer seemed to bring me the joy they used to.

Video games used to be a shared experience. There was nothing quite like getting together and discovering a new game, immersing ourselves in its world, embarking on a journey, and reaching the end of it. We made memories together and shared experiences. But now, I was left alone. Everyone but me had moved on. And sitting in the living room in front of the tv, by myself, playing video games painted a target on my back. It seemed my father was always on the lookout to unload his anger at someone. What once brought me joy, no longer made me happy. In fact, it got me in trouble.

I started going out with my new friends. It was fun to be a part of a group, but being in public made me more conscious of what other people thought of me, how they saw me. I found myself trying to change, trying to mold myself into something I thought others would like. It also meant that I would try to get rid of what I thought others wouldn’t like. I no longer had time to play video games or read comic books.

Your teenage years can feel like a tightrope act. You try to figure out who you are, while desperately trying to be the person you think others will like. And it always feels like you’re the only one going through this. You feel like an alien, on the verge of being found out.

There were still some games that caught my attention, though. But because I only worked during summer break and video games were pretty expensive, I couldn’t buy many games. We didn’t do much of anything together as a family. So, the old family trips to Blockbuster were a thing of the past. So, I couldn’t even get to rent games.

I did get my hands on a copy of Super Mario Sunshine because nothing would stop me from checking out a new flagship Mario title. I remember thinking it looked beautiful and infinitely better than Super Mario 64. I loved his water pack and the story. I was so excited that I convinced myself that the game would be cool enough that my siblings would want to play again. I let myself get carried away and pictured us trying to beat it together as we had with Super Mario World. Of course, it didn’t work out that way. They told me that Mario was lame and couldn’t believe I still liked that stuff.

I was further disillusioned when I found out that people didn’t love the new Mario game. It seemed that most gamers didn’t even like it. Apparently, the game wasn’t as brilliant as I thought it was. I was even more disappointed when I casually brought up how great the game was to my friends. Their mocking disbelief that I liked the game was followed by a harsh, “that game sucks!” They laughed at my childish, unrefined taste in video games. That was pretty much the last of the GameCube for me. Around the end of 2002, Jon sold me his Dreamcast, a few games, two controllers, a memory card, and even the microphone, for a ridiculously, almost disrespectful price of $50.

Resident Evil: Code Veronica was one of the games, and it was even more beautiful than I expected it to be. The gameplay was terrific, but it was hard. And playing it alone wasn’t as much fun as when I used to stay up late with my brother and cousin to beat the earlier Resident Evil Games. Jet Set Radio was a game unlike anything I ever played, and I loved it. Seaman was so weird but oddly enjoyable. I also managed to rent Shenmue to see what all the hype was about. I remember thinking how brilliant it was.

Everything from the graphics, the storyline, the weather system, and even the night and day system felt new. It was apparent that so much time was spent making this game. It felt like a whole new way of making video games. But even while I was playing it and loving every second of it, I could see that it was too ahead of its time, and I understood why it wasn’t the smash success that I felt it should have been.

As much as I loved these games, it wasn’t as much fun to play them by myself. I felt incredibly self-conscious playing video games, worried that any second someone would burst through the door and discover what a loser I was. Of course, I was also afraid that I would anger my father by playing video games. All of these things essentially ruined my ability to enjoy a system that I absolutely loved.

I’m not even sure what happened to my Dreamcast. I think my parents sent it to Paraguay or threw it out without telling me. And because I wasn’t playing my GameCube, I wound up trading it to a friend. Throughout the rest of my high school days, I had left video games behind. I spent my time going to concerts, drinking, and smoking. I wore a practiced cynicism as an armor. I was always afraid to admit I liked anything. Instead, I waited for others to do so first, making it safe for me to like it.

After graduating, most of my friends went away to college. The few of us that stayed behind became townie clichés. We frequented the local dive bars we could get in at. We smoked, drank beer, and watched movies. We’d look forward to the holidays when our friends would come home from college. But we felt left out when they did. All our college friends seemed to share an inside joke we weren’t a part of. Eventually, we’d wind up growing apart from each other.

I began working with my brothers for a roofing company. I realized a few things during that time. Construction work is grueling, it’s not for me, and I wanted to go back to school. I started at community college. I had no idea what I wanted to study. All I knew was sitting in a classroom beat standing on the roof in the blistering heat, unbearable cold, or any time.

Like most people, I started undeclared, just taking classes that would fulfill my General education requirement. But along the way, I realized, for the first time, how much I loved to write. Unlike other students in high school, it never bothered me when a test had an essay section. I even wrote in the high school paper, but I never stopped to think about how much I enjoyed writing. I guess I was too busy worrying about what other people thought.

Having found a new passion for writing, I decided to take writing classes and even wrote for the college paper. I also learned that I could make some friends without having to hide anything about myself. After a couple of years of community college, I transferred to Hunter College in New York City.

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