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Can we really only be wowed by something once?

Theres something I keep thinking about lately. Its this idea that we only have so much space in our minds for formative gaming experiences and its diminishing returns forever after.

I was talking to a guy in a pub about it, who overheard a conversation I was having with someone else and leaped in, delighted to talk to someone, anyone, about games. It was quite endearing. And it was while talking about older games and remakes he said: I dont think anything will ever be as good as the original Deus Ex.

On the one hand, thats fair enough – the old Deus Ex was good, and it was a proper moment for games when people realised RPGs and FPSs could work together. Its not that which bothered me.

What bothered me was the idea that nothing could ever be as good as the original Deus Ex because, blatantly, thats not true. Put that old Deus Ex next to the new Deus Ex, or next to games like Dishonored and Prey, and I know which ones Id rather play. And I know thats not a fair comparison because theres more than 20 years between them, but I think its just as unfair to compete with a formative memory.

You see what I really think he was saying, this man, was no other game could affect him like Deus Ex once did. And that, I understand.

Hop in our time machine back to 2016 and Overwatch was one of those wow moments for me.

Its happened to me too. Once upon a time I played Dark Age of Camelot, and it was the first time Id really been able to give myself properly to an MMO. And I did, completely, and it blew me away. It blew me away because everything I did there was a new experience to me, a fresh imprint on my mind. I was so absorbed that it felt almost real to me, that virtual world – I can still feel emotions in the memories even now. And nothing – not even my experience of World of Warcraft, which was very strong – has been able to match it since.

I dont think thats because DAOC was a better game than WOW – I think history speaks for itself here. I think its simply because DAOC got there first.

A Mass Effect poster collage featuring all Berties favourite pals: Jack, Wrex, Garrus, Grunt, Legion, Mordin - all the cool ones. No boring Ashleys allowed.
I ran home to play Mass Effect 1 when it came out.

It seems to be the same with anyone I speak to: their strongest gaming memories always tend to be in the past, often far in the past. And all theyve been doing ever since, really, is chasing experiences like it, maybe in the hope they can have an experience as powerful again. But can they – can we? Thats the question.

What if our brains are like ink stamps and its always the first press that will leave the strongest mark, regardless of what we do? Every mark ever after will always be one step further faded.

I wonder whether its a psychological quirk of humans that we are powerless to do anything about. And when I hear sayings like “you can only make a first impression once” and “you can only see a magic trick once”, it seems to back it up. The whole idea of formative experiences seems to suggest its a known, accepted and understood thing, too. And Im not sure I like it. It makes me wistful to think about, because I start thinking I will never have the opportunity to be completely wowed again.

But, no, I wont believe it. I dont want to believe it. And when the enthusiastic man in the pub said he couldnt remember the last time he was really excited about a game, I felt a shimmer of hope, because I could.

I can remember running home from work to play Mass Effect, a game Id waited so long for, and I was 25 at the time. Id never done anything like that before, as a child or an adult. And Im pretty sure I did the same for Guitar Hero 2. I also remember how head over heels I was about Overwatch, years later, sitting in the dark in the office on my own, way past home time (dont tell anyone) just so I could play it.

Its memories like that that pull me back, give me hope, and make me think the best is still to come. Maybe theres plenty of room in our minds to be wowed yet.

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