Time to weigh in on the Playstation’s 20th Anniversary that social media has dubbed “#20YearsofPlay.”

In 1994 I was a Nintendo kid. I had a pawnshop SNES and a duct taped controller. Like every kid with an SNES that year, I spent a lot of time playing Final Fantasy VI – 3 to me. That game lead to my love affair with the Playstation a couple years later. But this story is about more than that. It’s about how the Playstation helped an angsty teenager grow up.

I first heard of the Playstation around the time of Mortal Kombat 3 – sometime in 1995. A time when looking up Fatalities in a magazine at the grocery store was still a thing. The magazine, I don’t remember which, listed Playstation controls.

“Playstation,” I said, “what the fuck is that?”

I’d have to do math to figure out how young I was – somewhere between prepubescence and angst. But I’m sure of two things. I said the word “fuck” and I had a runaway imagination.

I focused on the word “station.” An entire station for playing video games? This thing must be massive – big like an arcade car. It was exciting to contemplate. Basically I climb into the Batmobile, and a screen too big to view without craning my neck greets me as a controller drops down. Then I tap U, D, D, D (Mercy), Sweep and turn into a dragon and eat Shang Tsung’s torso. Awesome. I want one.

Fast-forward to 1996. I spend most of my time at my best friend’s house escaping my own family. We play Warhammer and Tabletop RPGs and his oldest brother – the cool college one – has one of these mysterious machines.

It was different. Instead of cartridges it used black discs. A separate card was needed to save games. My friend and I got to play on occasion but mostly we were just content to watch his older brother make his way through Resident Evil. And later Metal Core.

One day we were at our local gaming/comic store. There was a used copy of Final Fantasy 7 in a display case next to the D20s. I traded comics, MTG cards, and a Monster Manual to get it. I didn’t own a Playstation but with a Memory Card it didn’t matter. I took my game and card with me in a way you’d expect a toddler to cart around his blanket.

And this is where my story gets a little personal. I had a bad childhood. A bipolar mother. No father. Just ma’s alcoholic boyfriend-of-the-month as stand-ins. I spent time in a couple foster homes before my grandma inherited me. Right as I’d finally achieved normalcy living with her, I was passed off to a different family. I had to move away from the city and my best friend to live with my aunt in a small town. For whatever reason that move unlocked all the horrible parts of my youth. Puberty was upon me and I had that abused kid chip on my shoulder. I was bullied. Got into fights. The worst parts of my youth and newly found isolation drove me into the deepest sort of teenage depression. I’ll spare details – it was bad.

I locked myself in my room. Blasted Tool or the Smashing Pumpkins. And I wrote. Writing wasn’t always a way to vent emotions. It had a tendency to get me stuck in whatever negative state I was in. It could be dangerous when there was nothing else to focus on.

My go to hobby had been tabletop gaming. Moving away from my friends removed that from the equation. I had video games left. My estranged father came back into the picture about that time. He did what every absentee parent does when they meet their 12 year-old son for the first time – bought me a Playstation. I dusted off that copy of Final Fantasy 7 and played the game I never thought I’d finish.

That Playstation meant so much to me. It was more than the odd virtual reality batmobile I’d imagined years ago. It was an escape from my variously abusive or neglectful homes. A lifeline that pulled me from the loop of depression I’d catch myself in when writing. It was a link to my dad.

Final Fantasy 7. Chrono Cross. Castlevania: Symphony of the Night. Bushido Blade. Resident Evil 2. METAL GEAR SOLID. Every game altered the narrative of my youth. Provided a different lens to see my life through. Things got better despite moving five more times before going off to college. I moved in with different families and back in with old ones. And my Playstation went with me.

It’s hard to make friends moving around so much but I was never without companionship. I had Alucard, Cloud, and Snake. I even came out of my shell and started to talk to real people. I’d see someone with a Final Fantasy strategy guide and say, “awesome game.” Instant friend.

The trend continued in college. I walked past an open dorm and saw four guys playing Soul Calibur 2. The game was new and my excitement verbal. They invited me to sit down and play with them. Those four guys are among my closest friends to this day.

Growing up I would’ve never self-identified as a “gamer.” I grew into it. And as I grew, so did the Playstation. Gaming in general matured. I built my first PC. The Playstation became the PS2. And the rest? Well #20YearsofPlay.

The Playstation changed the video game landscape. I’m bold enough to say we owe as much to it as the original Nintendo Entertainment System. But for me it did so much more than just entertain. It gave me stories. Helped me channel emotions. It provided common ground with an estranged parent and avenues of conversation to start new relationships. Most importantly it helped transform a troubled, angry kid into a pretty awesome adult. I can only assume, based on my initial fantasies about the “station,” that another twenty years will transform me into Batman.

Thanks Playstation.