100 Video Games Later – How Games Changed My Life

In 2016, I was at a point of frustration. I had been into video games for half my life, but I didn’t know much about games other than those I was really into. Despite struggling with video game addiction, I decided to start a personal project, which I modestly named “Ambitious Video Game Marathon“. The project eventually changed the course of my life and showed to me that video games can be much more than a guilty hobby. This blog post is the story of how video games changed my life.

Background

Born in the early 90s, I had a pretty normal childhood and used to play outside with friends until age 12. Around that time, however, I got into online gaming. As the gaming hobby grew more serious, it slowly grew into a central theme in my life in the absence of a better alternative. It continued to be so for the next 12 years. While I spent most of my time playing on PC rather that on consoles, I never really considered myself as a PC gamer but more of an “online gamer” – a slight nuance.

I was struggling with video game addiction in my early adulthood. In the early summer of 2016, I had finished a long grind on an MMORPG (Massively Multiplayer Online Role-playing Game) I first started playing in 2004. The game was called RuneScape, or Old School RuneScape more specifically. Old School RuneScape, a retro version of RuneScape, was launched in early 2013. I had been playing it since the beginning, but in 2016, I badly wanted to quit.

I set myself a tough goal of reaching a Total Level (the total sum total of all the 23 various skills in the game) of 2000 – and then quitting the game. During the final grind, I was levelling up as if it was my full-time job. I would wake up and play while eating breakfast, and I would still be playing while eating supper. When I finally reached my goal in the early summer of 2016, I wore my best gear in the game and took screenshots for keepsake. Then, I logged out for good.

Origins

In the summer of 2016, I first expressed interest in personal productivity. Looking back, I suppose this was sparked by the systematic planning I had done while training my game character. I was now feeling energetic and motivated to do something. I didn’t yet have other big goals in my life at that time, which is why I sought to channel the energy on – video games. Indeed, while I had won my addiction on the MMORPG, I hadn’t yet won my addiction on video games in general.

I was now 24 years old and had been into video games for half my life. I was frustrated that although I had played a handful of console games, the thousands of hours I had put into gaming were mostly spent on a few online games. My problem was that while I considered myself a gamer, I didn’t know that much about games in general. Also, rather than keeping with my solitary hobby, I wanted to feel part of what I idealistically viewed as the shared experience of a global gaming community.

The marathon also has its origins in early 2015 when finished Tomb Raider III on PlayStation. Tomb Raider was my favourite video games series at the time, and within a year, I had finished all the major instalments in the series until the 2013 reboot of the series. After this, my console gaming was in a halt while I was finishing my “RuneScape career”. Finally in August, I started a personal project which I named “Kunnianhimoinen pelimaraton“, or in English, “Ambitious Video Game Marathon“.

Starting shot

The first game of the marathon was Metal Gear Solid 2: Sons of Liberty on PlayStation 2, which I finished in August 2016. For me, MGS2 was a step into a new area in video games. While the game was almost 15 years old, the experience felt new and fresh. It felt distinctly Japanese, and I liked it as I hadn’t played any similar Japanese games earlier. Metal Gear Solid 2 was exactly the kind of experience I was looking for, and I gave the game a good rating of 4.5 stars out of 5 stars.

I decided to log the time I spent on each game, and I also gave each game a star rating. I later compiled all this info into an Excel, which I now maintain. In 2016, I hadn’t yet overcome my video game addiction. Indeed, in the first half a year after starting the marathon, I finished 31 games with the total play time of 579 hours. The time I spent with a controller in my hand is likely much higher, as the recorded play time doesn’t usually include retries, etc.

How did I choose which games I played? The main criteria were the console, rating on Metacritic, and variety. I wanted to try out new games, but also new consoles. I decided to play a certain amount of games on each console – a number that varies – and then move on to a new console. I also wanted to try out games that were critically acclaimed, considered classics or were otherwise noteworthy. Lastly, I wanted to try out new types of games, which meant delving into new game genres.

PS2 and PS3

The first consoles I plowed through were PlayStation 2 and PlayStation 3. While I already had some experience on both PlayStation consoles, all the games were new to me. I gave the action-adventure hack and slash game God of War on PS2 full 5 stars for its solid gameplay mechanics, level design, story, and overall production quality. Other noteworthy PS2 games were MGS2 as mentioned earlier, and the survival horror Silent Hill 2 with its amazing storytelling and atmosphere.

On the other side of the spectrum, I gave Final Fantasy X a low rating of 2 stars. FFX was my first entry into the series which I had often heard mentioned in my childhood. However, I was frustrated with many aspects of the game, including long and unskippable cutscenes preceding boss fights, recycled enemy models, and what I called “false endings” to the long game. It was nevertheless a memorable experience, and in hindsight, I would give the game a better rating.

My experience on PS3 was more ambiguous. The indie adventure game Journey, with its simplistic gameplay that emphasises smooth flow, companionship, and emotional growth, is a type of game I think all gamers should experience at some point. However, none of the games I played on PS3 really sparked my interest. While there were solid games such as Batman: Arkham City with its highly polished combat system, I felt that the game marathon had stagnated.

Xbox 360

Xbox 360 was the first console I bought for the purposes of the marathon. I spent around three months on the console and finished 11 games, although I returned around half a year later and finished four more games – those games are also covered here. Overall, my experience on Xbox 360 felt more fresh games-wise. However, it should be noted that of all the 15 games, only three were not available on PS3 as well – I was simply better at picking games more to my liking on Xbox 360.

I gave full 5 stars to the first-person shooter Half-Life 2 for the polished game mechanics, detailed graphics and overall audiovisual presentation, and gameplay variation, including the physics puzzles. I also played several good role-playing games. These games include action RPGs The Elder Scrolls 5: Skyrim and Mass Effect 2, a more traditional RPG Dragon Age: Origins, and finally, the first-person shooter Borderlands 2, which also has RPG elements and an amazing comic book visual style.

Other noteworthy games include the third-person shooter Gears of War and the hack and slash game Bayonetta. On the other side of the spectrum, I gave 1 star to the survival horror game Dead Space 2. In my opinion, the game gave too much emphasis to action rather than survival horror. I also found the gore in the game appalling. Combined with the long and unskippable death animations, the experience felt overburdening. Every now and then, I had to pause for a deep breath.

From playing games to studying games

2017 was a year of transformation in my life. Ironically enough, the transformation resulted from my gaming hobby – as if it weren’t my video game addiction that had me struggling at transitioning to adulthood. It was early 2017 when, on the back side of the Pelaaja game magazine, I saw an ad that changed my life. It was an ad for studying game development. I have written a lengthy post about the story how I got into studying game development and how it changed my life.

Perhaps the universe was frustrated with me and finally just raised its hands? “Fine, if you want to make games your life then so be it!” On a serious note, however, my lesson was that genuine interest in learning more about whatever it is you’re interested in can reveal opportunities you never knew existed. Indeed, I would have never in my youth believed that I would one day be studying the making of video games. While these changes were happening in my life, the game marathon continued.

Nintendo 3DS

Meanwhile in the summer of 2017, while waiting for the game development studies to begin, I spent my time playing on the handheld console Nintendo 3DS. This was my first experience on a Nintendo console, although technically, as a child I had once played but never finished a certain Pokémon game on Game Boy Advance. I originally bought Nintendo 3DS XL but, as I was struggling for money, I sold it and settled for the normal version of Nintendo 3DS.

I gave full 5 stars to the tactical RPG Fire Emblem: Awakening. The game consists of turn-based medieval warfare on grid-based battlefields, which is supplemented by an enjoyable plot with RPG elements and a nostalgic musical score. I also gave 4,5 stars to Zelda: A Link Between Worlds and Animal Crossing: New LeafZero Escape: Virtue’s Last Reward, an adventure game that is a mix of visual novel and escape room puzzles, is a hidden gem that should also be mentioned.

Of all the 11 3DS games I finished in 2017, I gave the lowest rating of 3 stars to the platform game Super Mario 3D Land. Despite its polished game mechanics, I found the game shallow and boring. Overall, I was left with a positive impression on 3DS. The handheld console has a huge game library due to its longevity. 3DS is also able to play DS games – some of which are republished GBA games such as Phoenix Wright: Ace Attorney – which further expands its game library.

Commitments

In 2017, I finished 32 games with the total play time of 668 hours. 2017 was my last year of playing on such a scale as I now had other commitments in my life. I started the year 2018 on a similar trajectory as I finished 20 games in the first half of the year with the total play time of over 300 hours. However, I spent the second half of the year as an intern in Hong Kong and as an exchange student in Nagoya, Japan, with the result of finishing only one game during that time.

Before embarking on my trip to Asia, I spent the spring playing on PC and PlayStation 4. I also bought the handheld console PlayStation Portable and around 10 games from various genres. I took them with me on my trip – but found the time to finish only one game: Metal Gear Solid: Peace Walker. Coming back to PSP has been on my mind recently while writing this in 2021. Perhaps one day, I will fetch the PSP from the cellar, put it on my bedside table and start going through the games.

Retro PC games

Let’s go back to early 2018. Soon after starting my studies, I built my own gaming PC and started playing PC games on Steam. Before that, I had played a few PC games on my laptop in 2017 and also one on my Windows 98 machine – these games are also covered here. The new gaming PC had an AMD Ryzen 7 1700 CPU (overclocked at 3.7 GHz) with a GeForce GTX 1080 GPU and 16GB of RAM. I had also bought a Windows 98 machine specifically for the purpose of playing old PC games.

Let’s start with the retro PC games. Around this time, I found in my collection the big box PC edition of Tomb Raider II – my favourite of the original Tomb Raider games on PS1 – titled Tomb Raider II: Golden Mask. I completed the four bonus levels in around 5 hours but found the game boring due to the lack of cutscenes. I also started playing the classic role-playing game Planescape: Torment. Unfortunately, after playing the game for several days, I ran into a bug which ruined my save.

The save problems in Planescape: Torment caused my interest in retro PC gaming to wane. Playing older PC games is not as straightforward as playing on older consoles. Games released in different years have different hardware requirements and are thus meant for PCs from matching eras, roughly. Each game also requires different settings, which can take time to set up properly. Overall, retro PC gaming did not quite snatch me along, although I still own the hardware if I want to come back to it.

More PC games

The first more recent PC game I want to mention here is Nex Machina, a shoot ’em up or a “bullet hell” game by the the Finnish developer Housemarque. I sent the developers an unsuccessful job application, but nevertheless gave the game full 5 stars for the highly polished game mechanics and addicting gameplay experience. I even bought a 144Hz screen to better enjoy the action as I originally tested the game on my laptop which, by the way, almost melted. 🔥

Cities: Skylines is a city-building game by another Finnish developer called Colossal Order. This game gave me a sense of flow to the degree which I hadn’t gotten in any other game up to this point. I only spent around 15 hours on this game but would definitely consider coming back to it. The 2016 first-person shooter Doom ran well on my new gaming PC, and I was impressed by the polished combat mechanics involving the combination of distinct weapon and enemy types.

In addition to the games mentioned already, I played around half a dozen of smaller or otherwise “less demanding” titles. One memorable experience was the indie simulation game Jalopy, where you assemble a Trabant and take a road trip in Eastern Europe while having to maintain the car. I also played the adventure games Life is Strange and The Walking Dead, the latter of which I enjoyed to the degree of being interested to look into other adventure games by Telltale Games at some point.

Esports and online games

In the summer of 2018 I was also briefly playing Counter-Strike: Global Offensive, although I can claim to have played the game for strictly research purposes. Indeed, in the summer of 2018, I found myself part of a group organising a CS:GO tournament at my school – more of which you can read here. Anyways, I since I was only familiar with the game by name and didn’t want to embarrass myself in front of professional players in the case I was challenged, I decided to give CS:GO a try.

Although the CS:GO tournament was my first contact with electronic sports, I was already witnessing it being institutionalised as my school was also launching a degree in esports. Seeing the professional players – on average, several years younger than me – in this professional setting made me involuntarily think whether I had chosen the wrong game in my childhood! I only spent a measly 10 hours on the game but quickly appreciated the polished mechanics and the gameplay variety it offered.

The battle royale game PlayerUnknown’s Battlegrounds was popular around this time. I wasn’t too much impressed with the game overall, although I found the idea of a shrinking map on an online multiplayer game interesting. I had spent quite a few hours playing the GTA IV and GTA V multiplayers several years earlier, and found the highly mobile and cyclical gameplay of PUBG refreshing. I did spend a few hours on Fortnite as well, but decided not to count it in the marathon just yet.

PS4

And finally, we come to PS4. After building the PC, I also bought a PlayStation 4 Pro to complete my game setup. I had now transitioned from playing retro games on old consoles to playing the latest and the greatest. However, the purchasing of these expensive devices was poorly timed. I was about to spend most of the next two years abroad, and I found it difficult to justify keeping money tied in devices I couldn’t use. Indeed, while returning to Finland in early 2019 for a stopover, I ended up selling everything.

Overall, I finished a total of 6 games on PS4 and gave each game a rating of 4 or higher. Having turned into an MGS fan, the most memorable experience was, of course, Metal Gear Solid V: Phantom Pain. I gave the game a score of 4,5 stars for the superb game mechanics and variation in gameplay, lively open world, the 80’s atmosphere, and overall fun playing experience. While I did omit half a star due to plot issues, MGSV: TPP is my favourite game of all time.

My longest campaign was on the role-playing game Persona 5, which took me over 100 hours to complete. Although the drawn-out campaign did try my patience, I loved wandering in the streets of Tokyo, and also enjoyed the story, the fast paced turn-based battle, and the jazz-inspired soundtrack. NieR: Automata, an action RPG, is another gem on PS4. I was particularly impressed by the post-apocalyptic art style and the matching soundtrack, which made the experience highly memorable.

Fulfilling dreams and finding new avenues

In 2019, during my stopover in Finland, I finished a total of one game: the original Metal Gear Solid on PS1. I also started Final Fantasy VII on PS1 and Shadow of the Colossus, both of which I finished the next year along with a few other games. Having now sold the PC and the PS4, I returned to playing retro games as I still had a lot to explore in that field. Around this time, games became a social hobby for me, as I now played mostly with my younger brother whenever we had an opportunity.

In the summer, I embarked on a student exchange in Singapore and also fulfilled my dream of interning in a game company in Lisbon, Portugal. The company where I interned made voice-controlled games for smart devices. Fascinated about this new avenue of games, I ended up writing a thesis about the subject. While I haven’t yet incorporated any voice games into the marathon, the thesis has a long list of interesting voice-controlled games that I would love to try.

Back to the classics

Final Fantasy VII was my second entry into the series after the traumatic FFX experience. This time we knew what we had signed up for which, alongside the nostalgic polygon graphics that I have a weak spot for, made the experience much more enjoyable. While we were regularly perplexed on what to do next and had to rely on online hints, I gave the game 4,5 stars for the compelling story and the cinematic, full-motion video cutscenes, which were accompanied by a great soundtrack.

The action-adventure game Shadow of the Colossus on PS2 has the most memorable boss battles in any game. Each boss has its own weakness, which the player has to figure out like solving a puzzle. The battle sequences are followed by horseback riding in beautiful fantasy world scenery, which adds a meditative quality to the game. We also finished the action-adventure game Ico, for which SotC is a spiritual successor, although the gameplay itself was quite different.

Recently, I have started playing on Nintendo 64 and have so far completed The Legend of Zelda: Ocarina of Time, which became the game number #80 on the marathon. Needless to say, I gave Ocarina of Time full 5 stars for the sheer amount of content and variety in game. In regard to near future ambitions in retro gaming, the game marathon is going to be revolving around games on Nintendo 64, the original Xbox, Dreamcast, and probably PSP.

Final stats

During the past five years, games have transformed in my mind from a guilty hobby to a valid career opportunity. The game marathon has become a project for life, and the primary objective is to try out new things together and have fun while doing so. The project changed my life by setting me on trajectory that took me from the perplexion of young adulthood to a promising career in IT. While I haven’t yet ended up developing games as my job, the dream still lurks in the back of my mind.

What about the stats?! After starting the game marathon almost five years ago, I have finished a total of 80 games with an estimated play time of more than 1,500 hours. Top 10 of the longest games consist of 36% of the total play time with the average play time of all games being around 19 hours. The oldest game was published in 1997 and the newest one in 2017. Most of the games were published in early 2010s with 9 games in 2011, 8 games in 2012, and 7 games in 2010.

I have finished a game on 10 different platforms, although 34 games were on various PlayStation consoles. When also counting all the pre-marathon games, I have finished more than 100 games in my life – with more than 50 games on various PlayStation consoles. While my generation is likely the last one to have an analogue childhood – in most developed countries anyways – one could also argue that I also grew up in the “Generation PlayStation®”.