Six weeks ago, my wife, children and I left the UK to live and work in Saudi Arabia. We were excited to leave but I was a bit concerned due to the fact that I thought that by going to Saudi Arabia I might have to put a lot of my pop-culture hobbies and interests behind me. Yes, it’s a first world problem for sure but from what I had heard and been led to believe, the availability of pop culture paraphernalia and video games was limited and, as an avid gamer, this could pose a huge problem for me.
Gaming is a huge part of who I am. I first discovered it when I was 6 and lived opposite a video rental store in East Ham, East London. The shop had a few arcade machines including the sit-down cocktail Pacman table, Space Invaders and some other ones which I can't remember. I fell in love with the colours, lights and sounds and blame it for getting me run-over when I was rushing with my pocket money across a busy street. Luckily, I only had a graze on my head and lived to tell the tale and play games.
I asked my parents for a computer but money was always tight so I had to content myself with playing my friends' computers. They had a ZX Spectrum and Spectrum +2 and the games wowed me but when my best friend got an NES for his 10th birthday my whole world changed- Nintendo was in my blood now. Together we would play our way through Double Dragon, Mario 1 and 3, Zelda, Micro Machines and many more. At the time I was playing my best friends NES, my parents bought an Amstrad CPC 464 with a green monochrome screen for my birthday. I loved the aged Amstrad machine, particularly enjoying Rainbow Islands, Bubble Bobble, the Dizzy games and Target Renegade, but wanted an upgrade and so worked hard on my car-washing round to purchase a Master System (as the NES was still very expensive). The Master System was a good machine but the NES was much better in terms of its gaming catalogue and so I still played it much more around my best friend’s house.
When the Megadrive came into the picture with Sonic, my friend got that for Christmas and again I played through many of the best games with him, including Streets of Rage 1 and 2, Aladdin and Street Fighter 2. These were the times of the console wars and you were either Sega or Nintendo but never both. I was definitely Sega but this changed when another friend of mine gave me his beat up old Gameboy. It was scratched up real bad and had no back for the battery casing but that didn't matter, I loved it! So between my fix of the Megadrive and Gameboy I was all set. Later on I would swap my Master System and library of games to get a second-hand Megadrive (I had to sell the shirt off my back to Rodney’s Books and Games for that!)
I missed out on the SNES as none of my close friends had it but I came back to it once the new console generation began. This was when Nintendo would become my gaming constant. I got the N64 second-hand and completed Zelda: The Ocarina of Time and Goldeneye. The N64 was awesome at the time but, due to the huge gaps between games, I also purchased a second-hand Playstation and loved that too- completing amongst others Final Fantasy 7, Syphon Filter and Parasite Eve II.
When the Gamecube came out in 2002 I bought it on the day of release with my brother, giddy from the money from my weekend jobs at Peacocks Clothing, a clothing chain, and a youth centre. It was the first ever console that I bought brand new and so it has a special place in my heart. Even though it had quite a small library it did have some of my favourite games ever including Zelda: Windwaker, Metroid Prime, Beyond Good and Evil and Resident Evil 4 (an exclusive at the time). As the consoles library dried up I purchased a second-hand Playstation 2 specifically to play Ico. The game had me intrigued and so I brought a shrink wrapped copy of that game and the console one Saturday after work at the youth centre and devoured the game in a few days. Of course I played loads of other PS2 games but Ico was my ‘in’, a strange ‘in’ to be sure.
I then bought the Xbox 360 in 2007 and loved that system; it's online service was amazing and I played some phenomenal games including Bioshock, Assassins Creed 2, Gears of War, Red Dead Redemption and Deadly Premonition. However I noticed something; all those achievements and the quest for useless XP points was getting in the way of the games for me. The simplicity of the games were being diluted with fetch-quests and the search for random doodads, a lot of the games coming out had no respect for my time and I started to dislike them for this; why did I need a 3 hour tutorial on how to move my character around a screen?
When the Wii was released, I was one of the lucky few who had pre-ordered from Game and got it on the day of release. The system was a revelation and yes I am one of those people who have the story of 'my parents never played any computer system but they did play Wii Sports.' The image of my dad playing tennis with my older brother by waggling the Wii-mote around is a happy memory for me and not at all as sinister or sordid as it sounds. The Wii had some amazing games including Metroid Prime 3: Corruption, Muramasa: The Demon Sword, Super Mario Galaxy 1 and 2 and Donkey Kong Country Returns but, as usual, the games dried up and the shovel-ware came in.
When my wife and I moved to Cambodia to teach for 2 years, she bought me a cracked Wii and I had over 200 games on it. She went away for a girlie weekend and found me in a catatonic state, sleep-deprived and I'm sure a bit smelly as I am a completist and had stayed up pretty much the whole weekend playing loads of the games worrying about how I would complete them all. That is obviously not a good state to be in and so I decided to relax about games and not get caught up in the whole 'complete everything' spiral. I went back to the Xbox 360 but was very picky in what I played as so many were very padded experiences; I started critical pathing some of the games which made them still very worthwhile in my opinion. I also only played the Wii games I was interested in and completed pretty much all the ones I had wanted.
I then bought a Wii U and even though it has been a commercial failure, it has had some phenomenal games; Bayonetta 2, Super Mario 3D World, Donkey Kong Country: Tropical Freeze (which incidentally has one of the greatest soundtracks ever) and Rayman Legends. I even found myself more relaxed about my gaming habits and, again, only played the games that interested me and respected my time.
That brings us up to the present. My gaming life has been impacted over the years by the introduction of children into my life, but my interest in video games has not wavered. When coming to Saudi Arabia, I brought along my Nintendo Switch and Playstation 4. I play Nintendo games for the unique and refined experiences they provide. I've found that even though I have more responsibility in terms of finances and family, Nintendo has been a constant. It offers me hours of comfort and, pound or pound, has given me more joy than any other medium. I often get people asking me when I have the time to play games and the funny thing is that even though I don't have the time I used to have when I was in my adolescence or teens, I do have a spare couple of hours most evenings.
My daughters go to sleep at 7-ish most nights and my wife is close behind at 9:00, being a lark whilst I am most definitely an owl. This means I get a couple of hours gaming in most nights and over the past month I’ve spent the lion’s share of my gaming time on Skyrim, a game I’ve bought twice before (on the Xbox 360 and PS4) but never actually got around to playing before.
After a busy day at my school, we often go to the swimming pool for a bit, my daughters have dinner and a bath and then it’s bedtime for them. My wife and I have dinner and then we do a couple of hours school work (yup, I do school work at home most evenings now- my school has a heavy emphasis on planning.) I take a brain break (and body break from the heat) with a journey into Skyrim, a Norse-mythology inspired land full of tundra, lush woodlands and clear waters. Bethesda’s Skyrim has been available on most systems over the past few years and is not a Nintendo property but only with the portability and freedom of the Nintendo Switch have I actually got around to playing it. Okay, it’s not perfect and some quality of life patches which modders have created for the PC version aren’t available, but the fact that I can lay on my couch, legs in the air and headphones on and immerse myself in the world of dragons, vampires and mages has drawn me in. I have the PS4 with God of War, Horizon Zero Dawn, Spiderman and a few other titles stored but it’s been all about Skyrim for me!
This is not to say that other video games are hard to find here in Saudi Arabia. Having been here for several weeks now, I can state that video games are definitely available and haven’t been restricted, at least from what I can see. I went to the Sony Store in a shopping centre and saw God of War heavily promoted with cracking GOW omega logo t-shirt; this was not what I had expected in a land apparently not big on visual entertainment and technology. So it seems that video games are here to stay for me and I look forward to many more years of uninterrupted gaming!