A History of Gamers: Diablo II

4chan’s video game board is best described by quoting the great Obi-wan Kenobi on the topic of the Mos Eisley starport: “You will never find a more wretched hive of scum and villainy.” It’s a place where hopes and dreams go to die, a veritable elephant graveyard for optimism and cheer. Despite this, there’s one type of thread that never manages to descend into a feeding frenzy…the nostalgia thread. Post a screenshot of some old Windows game like Chip’s Challenge and the entire melee comes to a halt, a childish innocence overtaking the bitter hatred. People start commiserating about the hours they lost to DX Ball in their middle school computer lab, or the tribulations of trying to get Ultima VII to run on anything but the very systems Origin built it on. It’s a return to the schoolyard, to simpler times, to a world where you cherished any game you could get your hands on, even if it was the bitterly difficult The Little Mermaid for NES.

It’s what gaming is all about. It’s the feeling that keeps developers from completely writing out split-screen multiplayer modes. It’s the rush that keeps the scant few arcades above water. It’s community and belonging and everything warm and fuzzy that video games make you feel.

In today’s world of over-exposure and media saturation, it can be hard to recapture that wonder of finding out about something you had no idea existed. The pure joy of going to your friend’s house and pouring over his treasury of SNES cartridges or massive computer boxes, overwhelmed by the sheer magnitude of all the new and different titles.

Not to say that I’d want to go back. Having no control over the crap your parents bought you (thanks for PGA Pro Tour Mom and Dad) was terrible; and spending 4 hours fighting the second boss in Crystalis because you didn’t know you had to be a certain level to even HURT her? Soul shattering.

But that doesn’t mean we shouldn’t talk about it. We should revel in our shared history. It’s the thing that binds us all across time zones, borders, and languages: our love of video games. So let’s clap and roar, laugh and cry, cheer and holler. Like warriors around the fire, let’s tell our best stories to forget about the monsters in the dark.

The day Diablo II came out, I was on summer break of my junior year of high school. As per my usual routine, I was awake and at my friend’s house at 6:30am, ready to hop on a bus and see where the day would take us. That day we were headed to the local mall on a fool’s errand. I had my eye on a copy of Legend of Dragoon, the forgettable Final Fantasy VII rip-off that had been released weeks earlier.

My fingers crumpled the hard-fought cash in my pocket while we waited for the bus in the early morning sun. We would get to the mall a solid 2 hours before it opened, but in the way of all students on summer break we were dead-set on just chilling out. Whether we chilled in front of a set of locked glass doors or on a park bench was unimportant as long as the chilling was sufficient.

When we arrived, the doors to the mall were crudely propped open with a cinder block. Now, as an adult, I probably would practice caution in case I was about to bust in on an attempted robbery of Claire’s, but being impetuous youth we charged ahead in hopes of seeing precisely that thing. Instead we were greated with an unlit and very empty outlet mall, the stench of the early crew at Cinnabon almost overwhelming (They got very sweaty opening all those plastic bags marked “Cinnamon Roll Flavored Product.”) At the far end of the main drag a single store was open, beckoning us with its warm glow.

It was the very store we had come to visit: EBGames. We charged forward, dumbfounded with the outright silliness of the scenario. Here we were, at the mall at 7:15am, and the EXACT store we wanted to visit was actually open. If there was a God, he must be a fan of JRPGs and spiky hair.

The store was oddly crowded for catering to a subculture that wasn’t known for waking up before noon, but we happily waited our turn, still basking in the comedy of it all. When we reached the counter, the harried and tired looking cashier simply demanded a total without explanation. Had this day gone beyond bizarre into the realm of the surreal? Did the unshaven man behind the counter know exactly which game I wanted?

I paused for a moment, considering the odds that the woman I would marry was going to walk through the door right then and throw herself at me. It was shaping up to be that kind of day…until I realized that the stated total far exceeded the amount in my pocket. I came out my haze just long enough to notice that the game sitting on the counter was not, in fact, Legend of Dragoon, but instead the Diablo II Collector’s Edition.

We had stumbled into the release day “event” for one of the most anticipated games of all time without a single clue, like some yokels just off the bus in New York City. His routine broken, the hapless employee restated the total with vigor, upset and confused and this violation of his sacred duty. I pulled my sweat drenched currency out of my pocket and counted it, asking my friend for whatever he had. He produced a paltry five bucks, putting us firmly out of reach of even the pedestrian edition. We were going to leave that day without Diablo II, a game that we knew so little about yet suddenly wanted so badly we could feel our bones ache to have it so close.

“Let me get a copy of Legend of Dragoon.”

Were the place not already awash in the silence of missed dreams, there would have been an audible hush when those words escaped my mouth. If my life were a film, the man behind me in line would placed his hand on my shoulder, his head bowed in mourning. A trio of wailing women would have been by the door, overcome with my suffering as I left with my copy of Legend of Dragoon. Villagers would shuttered their windows as I walked by, my ears only catching the ends of their whispered words.

Instead, the employee gave me a strange look and uttered a single word: “Seriously?”

He knew his answer in my dead eyes.

In my defense, Legend of Dragoon wasn’t nearly as bad as people said it was.

Now comes the next part of this experiment. I want you to share your stories. Do you have a great Diablo II story? Tell it! Do you have a story about another game? Tell that! Let’s keep this going. I’ll come back in a few days with another game and another story and hopefully I’ll be interrupting the conversation instead of restarting it.

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4 Responses to A History of Gamers: Diablo II

  1. david says:

    Diablo 2 is one those generation defining games that separates me from the old-guard, along with sega megadrives and 2D final fantasy. While it was being released i was busy trying to become the greatest pokemon master that had ever been. The gameboy colour and red/blue pokemon games had consumed my rural primary school of 60 pupils strong and me in particular.

    I was one of the first to lay my small hands on the cartridge, it quickly becoming my one and only past time. I was dedicated beyond anybody else at the school, my obsession quickly turning myself into a sage like figure. Pokemon red/blue is not a difficult game, but for a young child you can very easily get confused. If you were lost in the silph co. building; if you were stuck in articuno’s cave; if you had fallen off the rails in any way they came to me. I would solemnly nod and proceed to demonstrate why I was the guru.

    It didn’t last very long, Pokemon games continued to be released but never again was the school united in the same way. I moved onto final fantasy, grand turismo and age of empires, the rest moved back to football.

  2. exhaustport says:

    I feel like I had a similar experience with pogs when I was in middle school. I had one of those massive ‘lava tubes’ that could hold innumerable numbers of cardboard discs that I would walk around campus with like I was Gandalf battling the Balrog.

  3. Pretty amusing image!

    This is an aside, and i don’t want to derail this thread from potential gamer reverence, but are you expecting to pick up a much greater level of gamer traffic? It’s just you’re writing with a very entertaining, humorous tone, yet it feels like I’m one of a mere handful of actual readers.
    I guess it takes time to build up a following, but it would be cool if these comment sections were busy. Don’t have much experience with this blogging stuff so unsure of what would be realistic in terms for viewership. Personally stumbled on your site through the wow addiction post and it’s seeming like such a nifty thing I’m trying it myself.
    Anyway, will probably return once i decide on the best game for a nostalgia story, not just a brief pokemon master anecdote. Keep up the good work!!

    • exhaustport says:

      Building a solid readership is a tricky proposition as a blogger, especially considering the fairweather nature of readers. I’ve had some minor success with a post getting linked on the SWTOR forums, but not many of those people stayed, which is the goal. Going through channels like Reddit just leads to disappointment, because…well…it’s Reddit.

      Recently I’ve started trying to break into freelancing, which is pretty much the best entry point for somebody doing what I do. Ideally I’ll be able to get some stuff published, get my name out there, and perhaps even pitch this story idea to a bigger site.

      Thanks for the comment though and I wish you the best of luck with your pursuit. All I can say is write for yourself and if you get a few people reading, that’s a success!

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