Do you play Call of Duty? Why? It’s the same thing year after year. It never changes. If you bought Modern Warfare 3, you’re nothing but a fanboy. Bet you’ve heard that before, haven’t you?
The words “fanboy” and “fangirl” — sometimes known as brand loyalty — often come with a negative influence. If you confess to being linked by either moniker to a particular brand, prepare to suffer scorn and rebuttals from folks who disagree with you, especially on the Internet.
One thing we don’t often discuss is why people prefer one console to another or stick with one franchise above all others. Let’s change that. Now, it’s no secret that I’m an admirer of the Legend of Zelda series. But it’s not often I’m asked why I invest in the series as much as I’m scorned for supporting a franchise that retains the “go to the dungeon, find a key item, use it to defeat the boss and move on” formula it established 25 years ago.
Nintendo has been an enormous part of my life ever since I emigrated from Mexico. One of my first memories is playing Super Mario Bros. in my cousin Luis’ basement and making it to World 8-3 only to die navigating the platforms leading to the final flagpole of the game.
Since then, every Super Mario platformer I’ve played has grabbed me with its precise controls and a sense of discovery other franchises attempt but rarely surpass. At age six, I decided Sonic the Hedgehog wasn’t for me. Why? I didn’t care about the speed. I wanted to systematically explore every single frame of the Emerald Hill Zone — Sonic 2 was my first experience with the Blue Blur — without fear of a harsh punishment if an enemy so much as touched me after collecting 100 rings.
This is what Super Mario gave me: A sense of exploration, tight control and ever-present sense of wonder nobody else could or would even attempt to. Sonic was all about attitude. He didn’t care that I worked tirelessly to collect a zillion rings; at the first threat of death, he’d drop them all and make a mad dash to the end of the stage.
I hated it, so for the next six years of my life I stuck with Link, Mario, Fox McCloud, Samus Aran and Kirby. I understood them and they understood me.
But around the time I turned 12, something happened. I was growing up. And the super-cutesy environments of Mario games just didn’t cut it anymore. Ganondorf’s green blood in my copy of The Legend of Zelda: Ocarina of Time felt, and I’ll try and quote my pre-teen self here: “stupid and childish.” That’s when a friend turned me on to Final Fantasy VII and the PlayStation.
Months before that, one of my cousins asked me if he should buy a Nintendo 64 or a PlayStation. “Psh. N64,” I said. “Nintendo’s been good to us, haven’t they?”
I’m not going to lie: I felt a bit betrayed when, during my next visit, I found him playing Resident Evil on his shiny new PlayStation. I locked myself in the other room and fired up Donkey Kong Country. But curiosity took hold soon after.
I ventured in and asked if I could try it out. The opening cinematic, no matter how cheesy, had me hooked right away. I was terrified by the time I came across my first zombie. And when I heard that one of my favorite franchises, the Mega Man X series, wouldn’t be on the Nintendo 64, I started questioning my loyalties.
When Rex — or Sexy Rexy, as he preferred to be called back then — first introduced me to Final Fantasy VII, I told him the hour I played was a waste of time. I couldn’t go where I wanted. The battle system was too complicated. What was up with that huge sword? And what was with the horrible overworld graphics? Did my characters even have fingers?
I gave up on the game right then and there. Or so I thought. After hearing about how great it was from five or six other people, I succumbed to peer pressure and asked Rex if I could take another spin. After I made it out of Reactor 1 and into Sector 5, where Cloud meets Aerith for the first time, I was hooked.
I made the mistake of judging something based on a (very short) initial impression. But then again, isn’t that all but natural for a 12-year-old? It’s unfortunate, then, that too many comments you hear bashing one company or another is done with the same depth of research I had going into my first Final Fantasy experience.
I’m not saying I haven’t been guilty of this behavior since then; I was an outspoken opponent of the Xbox 360 when it launched in 2005. Online capabilities and an HD-DVD drive? I’ll wait for my Nintendo Revolution, thank you very much. “I want my vidja game machines to do just that: Play vidja games. What do I need a hard drive and HD-DVDs for?”
Now I own a 360. And I’m pretty sure I have more games for it than I do my Wii, which I waited for 30 hours outside a Fred Meyer store to claim on launch day. Don’t get me wrong: I’ll take Super Mario Galaxy over Gears of War any day, but it’s not like I can take a chainsaw to the face of a guy playing as Bowser halfway across the globe.
I’m a firm believer that moderation leads to a good diet, whether you’re consuming books, movies and television, news or video games. I can jump on Koopas and ride through Hyrule on horseback for hours on end, but that’s not to say I don’t enjoy the occasional trip through Gran Pulse — absolutely gorgeous, by the way — or a game of Grifball over Xbox Live.
My philosophy on what, first and foremost, makes a good game is that as long as I have fun playing it, there’s some value to it. Sure, there are other factors that come into play beyond that. But if I can sit down, waste hours in front of my TV and have fun doing it, then the company whose logo flashed before the title screen did their job.
I could care less if it’s a rehash of something another franchise has done. So what if Uncharted borrowed from Tomb Raider or if Saints Row is a Grand Theft Auto clone? I still had a blast playing either title and it’s not like GTAV will let you brandish a bright purple bat shaped like … well, you get the idea.
That said, there’s no shame in advocating for your favorite companies and franchises, either. But pretending they’re perfect is a sure-fire way to get into an endless argument you’ll regret soon after it’s done. Instead of bitching about how next year’s Madden game could have been a DLC roster update or that The Legend of Zelda: Twilight Princess was just Ocarina of Time with prettier graphics, go out and play something new.
Trust me: You won’t regret it.
But I’d like to hear from you. Which brands do you flock to? And why do you love them so much? Anything you harbor an irrational hate for?