You never forget your first. Your first time behind the wheel after you get your license, your first broken bone, your first kiss. Major life events are often noteworthy because they happen once or twice over your entire time on this planet, but even the repeated ones get remembered because they have a genesis; an origin. Everything that follows is an epilogue to the weight it bears on your life and the person you become.
Dismissing the maiden voyage of any sort is foolish because you are dismissing precedence and influence. It doesn’t matter if it’s your first Kit Kat, your first pair of shoes with green laces, or first slap bracelet. These set a standard against which you compare everything that follows. And as you regress through your years in your memories, it makes sense that more and more of these seminal events are bundled up with your earlier years.
Those nascent bits are, for the most part, paramount to the later ones simply because they take place in a vacuum. They occupy little space in the grand scheme of things, but when they are the large majority of everything you know, they tend to be important. Picture it as a test tube. It starts out small and empty and you gradually put more and more stuff into it. The volume of the stuff—your memories, your experiences—stays the same but the tube grows longer and longer, able to hold more and more. When the test tube is small, it’s easy to fill it up and each little bit takes up precious space. As it grows, though, it becomes harder and harder to find singularly formative pieces that can fill the void.
That’s why all the video games you grew up with seem to be the most important (and often “the best”) ones to you. Granted, some of those you hold in high regard like Galaga and Super Mario World are actually landmark titles, but the personal value of those games is the important thing here. It doesn’t matter if you grew up on Atari or SNES or 360; what you played as a child will develop your tastes and opinions as you continue to game.
It’s an odd adage of the gaming world that the first Mario Kart you play is your favorite one, but it’s true. While I acknowledge that Mario Kart 64 is a superior product and perhaps the best in the franchise, I will still prefer to race about in Super Mario Kart. It’s way more squirrely than any modern Mario Kart and harder and less pleasant to play, but it elicits a very specific feeling inside of me when I’m puttering around in that Mode 7 world. Sure, it takes me back in the nostalgic sense, but it also reminds me of everything that follows. Playing Super Mario Kart enables me to remember the times I played everything from Mario Kart: Double Dash!! to Mario Kart 7, but it doesn’t go the other way around.
That is, however, a very specific example of a generalized concept. Super Mario Bros. 3, The Legend of Zelda: Link’s Awakening, and Kirby Super Star all hold up to this ideal. Each first not only informs my opinions of future franchise titles but also those of similar ilk. The definition of what feels like a good platforming jump is what Mario felt like back then. The sense of clearing out dungeons and earning rewards for future explorations go back to my time with Link.
These notions are all forward-facing and can’t be directed back. That’s just not the way it works either psychologically or technologically. Information and capabilities advance so aggressively that it would be unfair to point any of it backwards. It’s much like how many important battles were fought before the invention of the gun, but putting modern day warriors into Genghis Khan’s army wouldn’t make a lot of sense.
Our fundamental games would better be served by not calling them landmarks, however, and instead label them as milestones. As time marches forward, more and more of these influential markers are dropped along the way and each one serves the same purpose as those before it. The only difference is that as you go further along, staking each one into the ground becomes harder. You move from open, soft, pliable land that is rife for soaking in anything and everything to hard, cynical tracts of impenetrable dirt and clay. But when you drop them, you can be sure they carry just as much weight because it’s not just about objective quality but about where you are on this timeline and what it means to your remaining trek. This is how you arrive at an undying love for Journey or an impossible or inexplicable passion for Enslaved: Odyssey to the West.
That’s the odd thing about time, I guess. At certain ages, specific things you thought were important may fade as new ones take place, but the idea that they represent never go away. Road trips are undoubtedly fun but they never match the exhilaration of that drive to your friend’s house to show off your brand new license. You may break an arm or fracture a wrist a few more times down the line but that first cast with all its signatures and scratches represents a frozen moment—a snapshot—in your life. And each kiss, well, maybe some things are always special.