When people speak of the first seminal moment in their history of gaming, the one that was the instrument of their development into a fully-fledged gamer, many speak in hushed tones. Whether it was the opening a Nintendo 64 on Christmas, or some sneaky double dragon on the commodore after school, or smashing out some 3D Space Pinball on a large beige brick of a pc, it’s always spoke of in almost reverence. My seminal moment however, came in a cereal box.
Games had been given away as promotional tools in cereal boxes for a number of years before I was ever allowed to play them, but come one fateful morning in 2002, it was my time. Inside my box of nutri-grain cereal was a fresh copy of Age of Empires, arguably the RTS that would define the genre forever onwards (sorry Warcraft), but before I could even think of asking my parents to play it I was hurried off to school. Just a fresh-faced boy, I arrived home that day, tired of navigating the intricacies of the playground politics that plagued the year 2 sand pit, and I decided to rebel. I pulled up to my parent’s computer and chucked in the disc for Age of Empires, with no idea what to expect.
Jump to 15 years later, here I am, sitting in my apartment after a long day at work, still ravaging the Mongol hordes and completely oblivious to the world around me. Sure, some things have changed, I’ve optimised my farm placement, and my monk rushes are far more powerful, but one fundamental aspect has not changed a bit. I’m stress free.
I’ve been playing the Age of Empires 2 HD re-release recently and firstly, it’s incredible and I would definitely recommend picking it up (even if you never played the original), but more importantly it helped me realise how therapeutic gaming can be. It’s the great escape from the pressures of life, whether I’m exploring the stars as Commander Shephard, or sitting on top of Orgrimmar Bank watching the world go by, as soon as I’m front of the screen the worries slide away.
Age of Empires threw me back, harder than any game in a long time, to my first gaming moments, to that childhood innocence where the only stress in life was beating the elite 4. Everyone has their vices, their way of escaping the ongoing existential crisis and the slow march towards darkness. God knows I’ve had my fair share of them, but gaming is the only one I’ve found that brings back that pure childhood joy and escape that so many desperately strive for. I’m a gamer, and I have been for most of my life, Age of Empires just reminded me why.
and why don’t they give out games in cereal anymore? That was literally life changing