Today is Valentine’s Day and love is in the air. I’m spending it alone, even though I have a girlfriend. She’s out of town, I swear. But the absence of my significant other leads me to tempting thoughts of my other love: video games. Throughout my life, I’ve fallen hard and fast for numerous games, and like any passionate, lasting relationships, they’ve shaped my outlook on new ones. Most of them were experienced in the formative, nostalgic years of my youth (prior to my current youth), and I could barely tear myself away from the magic that they presented.

I first fell in love with Ms. Pac-Man, and it’s a love that persists today. Strangely enough, for most of my life, I confused her with her husband. I mistakenly believed that I owed Pac-Man my infatuation with video games, and recently discovered I was wrong. Truthfully, Ms. Pac-Man had to do little more than represent moving pixels on a screen in order to impress itself onto a 3-year-old’s consciousness. Luckily enough, it stands as one of the greatest arcade games, and remains a prideful first kiss in my gaming life.

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If Ms. Pac-Man was a first kiss, Super Mario World was the game that slipped its Yoshi-length tongue into my brain. Ms. Pac-Man introduced me to the concept of an interactive screen, and Super Mario World introduced me to the concept of a full-fledged virtual world. As impactful as Ms. Pac-Man was, I don’t consider it one of my personal favorites. Super Mario World is my second favorite game of all time. The art design is exquisite and deserves to be showcased in a museum. And it was, for a time, in my local Phoenix Art Museum. No other platformer plays quite so tightly and near-perfectly, and composer Koji Kondo single-handedly installed an instant nostalgia trigger in my brain.

Super Mario World may have represented my initial understanding of video game worlds, but another game blasted that understanding into the third dimension. And it wasn’t its successor. Jak and Daxter: The Precursor Legacy (and this is betraying my age) was the first game to grope my fascination with the technical prowess of then-modern video games. The massive, beautiful, fully-voiced, and wonderfully characterized world that Jak and Daxter traveled through was a revelation that games could transcend reality at a time when my reality was not one I wanted to be in.

While I reached third base with Kingdom Hearts, it didn’t necessarily mark the same kind of technical transitions that I had experienced with the games I previously discussed. It did mark a storytelling transition, however. I never knew I could feel so attached to plots and characters that I controlled, and especially in a game that mixed the very foreign world of Final Fantasy and the easily recognizable iconography of Disney. I still get chills when I see and/or hear the opening to that game, as cheesy and strange as it may seem.

I played all the games I have talked about in a relatively short span of time, but I didn’t find my true love until many years after it entered this world. The Legend of Zelda: Majora’s Mask, more than any other game, validates all the time and passion I put into the video game industry and community. I view it as the perfect blend of atmosphere, story, art design, music, gameplay, and experience. It is very clearly my favorite game of all time and, quite simply, I enjoy it immensely.

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Clearly, the romanticizing of the video games I’ve described is slightly exaggerated, but it’s also very true that I feel deeply nostalgic and powerful feelings for them. They have shaped my ideas on artistry and, strangely enough, the world at large.

As promised by the title of this editorial, there is a common thread between Ms. Pac-Man, Super Mario World, Jak and Daxter: The Precursor Legacy, Kingdom Hearts, and The Legend of Zelda: Majora’s Mask. Each represented a fundamental shift in my understanding of the video game medium and the quality it was capable of producing, and many others have truthfully done the same.

But as much as I love video games, I love the people in my real life more. The true common thread between my greatest gaming love affairs is their powerful association with the important people in my life. My mother took me to Napoli Pizza, where I would play my first video game, Ms. Pac-Man. My father and I would spend late nights playing Super Mario World. Jak and Daxter helped ease the pain of a separation from that life. Kingdom Hearts reminded me that things can get weird, like Goofy talking to Cloud, but that life should ultimately be viewed optimistically. And Majora’s Mask was an equalizer, a truly enjoyable experience that I could enjoy with a better understanding and acceptance of the strife that I have experienced and will continue to experience throughout my lifetime. These games supplemented the incredibly important lessons I learned from my family and friends.

Even now, I am creating unforgettable experiences, and in my own nerdy, reductive way, associating them with video games. My incredibly strong and wonderful relationship with my girlfriend, Hailey, has brought a joy to my life that I never imagined. And we play lots of Mario Kart 8.