I awoke Sunday morning to some terrible news: My PlayStation 2 was dead. Some kids were playing around and one of them, a friend of my daughter, had accidentally stepped on the disc tray, shattering it. As far as I can tell, it’s irreparable or, rather, it would cost more to replace the drive than replace the whole system. The culprit confessed and seemed genuinely sorry (or perhaps just scared of being punished) and, upset though I was, I accepted the apology and sent her off to play.
It wasn’t the loss of the physical product that saddened me. Sure, I still have a stack of unplayed PS2 games but I can buy a replacement PS2 on the cheap. What I mourn is what the PlayStation 2 meant to me.
I bought it at the beginning of Fall 2005. My wife, daughter, and I had moved from Cleveland, Ohio to Madison, Wisconsin for a job with video game developer Human Head Studios the year before. The move was not without considerable expense with us balancing rent here with mortgage there until our house finally sold that August. Moving away from friends and family was also a big deal. The sense of separation and the strained budget took its toll on us but we managed best we could. I was following a dream and that’s not always the easiest thing to do.
I had fallen out of video gaming for a couple years prior to the move. I got into gaming in the mid-80s with the 2600 and continued to game through every generation up to the original PlayStation. I loved video games and was passionate about them through my formative years up until my early twenties. But when the PS2, Dreamcast, and GameCube war began, I mostly sat it out. I picked up a GameCube midway through the generation but only had a handful of games for it. I took on other interests, leaving video gaming mostly on the shelf. But the job at Human Head, being surrounded by video game development and chatter, reignited that passion and I poked my head into the scene once again.
I remember coming into the office one night and sitting down to the office Xbox. I fumbled my way through some Grand Theft Auto: San Andreas and Destroy All Humans! and managed not to do too horribly for an hour or so. That little taste was enough; I was hooked. I wanted to get back into gaming and that right now. But we didn’t have the money for a new console alone much less the memory card, extra controller, and, y’know, games that come along with it. My wife had already sacrificed enough uprooting her life for my career, much less the strain we were still under, for me to push too hard for one.
That September though, a few weeks after the house sold and nine months into our new lives as Madisonians, I mentioned wanting a game system to my wife over a meal at the local mall food court, a sad attempt at a gambit as ever there was.
“How much do they cost?”
“About $200. Less if you buy it used.”
“Well, let’s take a look.”
I didn’t question it.
We walked over to the GameStop and started piecing and pricing the options. I had spent a lot of time watching G4 and reading online reviews. I knew I wanted a PlayStation 2. I had a mental list of the games I wanted to get along with it. It was late in the current generation so there were a lot of great titles to choose from. The store was running a 2-for-1 used sale and I took advantage of it, amassing a fine starter kit. I added it all up together and it came to about $200. There were probably better ways to spend that money but my wife didn’t flinch. She put her hand on my arm and smiled. “Get it.”
I walked out of that store with the biggest, dumbest grin on my face. I knew it was a sacrifice for me to get this, and I knew this meant my wife supported this new leg of my life’s journey to the fullest. As funny as it may sound, I have never been more grateful for any gift I’ve ever received in my life.
In the years since that purchase, I’ve caught up with the video game scene. I stay current on new titles, what’s in development, what’s happening with studios (especially since I have many good friends spread throughout them), and what trends are shaping the industry. That PlayStation 2, bought used five years ago, was the beginning of a journey that has led down some interesting paths and allowed me to land some great jobs in the video game industry. It’s allowed me to start crafting the life and career I’ve wanted.
It was also a symbol of my wife’s belief in me and investment in my crazy dream. And though that belief and investment are still there, more now than ever, the symbol is gone. And that’s what I mourn.
Goodbye, PlayStation 2. You weren’t always mine but you treated me like I was the only one in the world. You were always there for me, ready to do battle against overwhelming odds, topple screen-filling giants, belt out bar standards, jam on a plastic guitar, or just relax with some falling blocks and rolling balls. Thank you for the good times then and even better times to come.