90s Kids: The (Almost) Original Gamers

A few years ago, to beat a bit of boredom and at the ripe old age of thirty-something, I took this notion – maybe due to a case of having more money than sense at the time – to invest in a PlayStation 3. 

At the time, Sony hadn’t yet unveiled the fifth version and, not being too bothered about computer games, I was too miserly to part with my pennies to pay for the PS4. The modestly-priced and ageing PS3 would do rightly.

Mario and me

I unboxed it, used it for a while, blew up a few buildings in Grand Theft Auto and, to be honest, the console has been gathering dust and cobwebs pretty much ever since. I don’t mind the odd game, but I’m by no means what some would call ‘a gamer’, but was this always the way? 

Simpler Times

I was lucky enough to grow up in a neighbourhood during a time when kids still tended to play outside a lot more than now. 

Some of our gang were even dab hands at building tree-houses, dens and tire-swings. Games of block, three-and-in football and something called ‘British Bulldog’ were par for the course. There weren’t too many girls around our estate so games of dares and spin-the-bottle didn’t come along until a few years further down the line.

Despite all of the above, it’s not to say we were the purely ‘outdoorsy’ generation. 

Far from it, really. During the early-to-mid 1990s, the tech companies of Sega and Nintendo may have been involved in a fierce battle in the gaming world, but as impressionable kids, we tended to enjoy playing both. 

I think it was Christmas 1991 when my older brother got a Sega Mega-Drive; from Santy, of course. Who else? 

That meant for much of the next year (providing our homework was done and our bedrooms tidy) we could immerse ourselves in the world of Sonic the Hedgehog.

Jumping and speedily racing through the levels and zones, springing high and rolling low while stomping out enemy crab-looking thingies and collecting rings on the way to defeating the divil that was Dr. Robotnik.

For its time, the 16-bit graphics looked mesmerizingly colourful and the fact that each level had its own toe-tapping dance-sounding theme music gave each stage its own sense of uniqueness. 

The feeling of accomplishment you got after successfully passing a tricky-level was a joyous moment and the trepidation and anxiousness you felt when you were on your ‘last life’ was very real. 

Then again, there were some other earth-shattering dilemmas you had to overcome. Remember that most platform games like Sonic started out originally as one-player games.

So when you came to realise that your elder sibling was lying all along as they handed you an inactive, dormant spare control pad and went “See? You are playing! Now shut up and stop crying to Mammy, will ya!” 

That was when you knew that people told lies; something your primary school teacher repeatedly told you ‘made the wee Baby Jesus cry.’ 

Sega vs Nintendo

When Christmas ‘92 came around a year later, we were lucky enough in our house to also get our hands on a Super Nintendo Entertainment System, or SNES for short. 

Santa Claus pulling off back-to-back successes. What a guy! 

With the SNES, who could forget their addictive and generally great fun games such as Super Mario World, Donkey Kong Country, Mario Kart and The Legend of Zelda to name only a few. 

Owing to the fact that more and more games were becoming two-player, this led to a greater sense of ‘community spirit’ among the neighbourhood kids, even if we were a bit more ‘indoorsy’ at this point. 

It wasn’t uncommon for a sitting room or bedroom to become crowded out and swarmed with kids patiently awaiting their turn on Street Fighter II: The World Warrior; a competition run through the ‘winner stays on and best-out-of-three in the final to decide the winner’ format that we’d all agreed on. 

Plus, there was always high praise (and envy) of the kid who could pull off the illustrious Dragon Punch manoeuvre. Looking back, God knows how our host’s parents stuck the noise of us down those hallways. 

I still have some hazy but definite recollections of some boys bringing in chairs from a kitchen, or sometimes even the garden furniture, into the bedroom just for somewhere to sit. 

It may have been officially the pre-internet era, but gaming in those days still generated research and communication. If someone got a hold of a particular game’s cheat-code, usually a pen-and-paper scribble, they were hailed for making life so much easier. 

“See what you do is … when the music comes on at the start and Sonic waves his finger, right? … Ya hit up, down, left, right, then A, B, C and then A and start together. Got it?

And we’ll never forget that this was also a time when if a game wasn’t working properly, it was easily fixed by taking the cartridge out of the console, blowing the dust out of it, and putting it back in. Job done. 

Definitely, one of the most memorable games I had at that time was one that you couldn’t even get in Europe.

My auntie who was, and still is, living in the United States was well aware of my keen interest and fascination with the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles.

For a birthday present, she posted me over a copy of ‘Turtles in Time.‘ Because it was an American-style cartridge, she also sent over a special adapter that enabled it to work on this side of the Atlantic.

To this day, I still think it was one of the most enjoyable games I ever played. Your mission was to rescue the Statue of Liberty from the evil Shredder and Krang.

You’d start off by battling it out, in a side-scroller fashion, with the Foot Clan on the streets and alleyways of Big Apple before being transported to variety of different time dimensions.

The gameplay was great fun and the music that was used got better each time you moved onto a new level.


As a child, I used to love drawing and stories. Still do. And I always think that there was something with the way that game caught my imagination so much.

I loved how the creators didn’t neglect the backgrounds with their vivid and eye-catching depictions of the New York City skyline’s bright lights. If I ever found myself doodling a drawing on paper since then, I often found myself adding in some sort of attempt at a big city backdrop and I guess this is why.

Of course, it wasn’t just the fun games that made this time memorable. There were other factors too. 

People playing games on their phones and other handheld devices nowadays is nothing new, but I doubt anyone will remember them as well compared to their memories of playing Tetris on their Game Boy.

Some might even say that this was the first time in history when gaming could be carried out during a visit to the lavatory. One for the History books there.

Video Rental Shops

Another thing from back in those days, for many, there was something of a weekly Friday evening tradition to go and visit the video shop. In my hometown of Letterkenny, this was either the Midnight Owl or Xtra-vision shops that could both be found just off the Pearse Road in the centre of town.

The main way I can describe the difference between the two was that, for me anyway, Midnight Owl always seemed to have more of an underground alternative indie vibe compared to the big lights of Xtra-vision.

To round off the working week, my mum would always treat herself to a rented film that she could watch after the Late Late Show.

As a wee bonus gift for me, I’d go along and I’d be allowed to take home a game to play on my SNES. This was on the condition I’d behaved and been a good boy all week, of course.


Say what you like, but there was a wonderful feeling of anticipation and excitement when you entered a video shop.

One could browse through the shelves to see what was available. They even had a small popcorn machine behind the counter just to add to that whole cinema feel.

The aroma of butter and toffee had its way of telling you that the weekend had arrived. Not forgetting the signpost that reminded everyone that there was a £1 fine for not rewinding the tape.

Much more often than not, I recall being in the back seat of the car journey home and I’d be hugely excited to get into the house, down to my room and fire on and see what this week’s game was like.

As a rule, I used to never skip the intro segment of a game when I was playing it for the first time. I dunno why, it’s just always been a thing of mine.

In a way, perhaps it’s not that the games were all that great. Of course they were fun, but maybe it’s more of a case that they somehow created great lasting memories with your siblings, friends and family.

Streaming services allow for instant access to a lot of these things nowadays, but the days of the video shop and the Friday night game are treasured memories to behold.

Modern day ‘Gamer?’

As I mentioned earlier, by no means would I ever qualify as a ‘gamer’ in more modern times. As a teacher, I overhear the pupils discuss ‘FIFA points’ and Fortnite which are concepts and games I’m completely oblivious to.

Even when I first pressed the power-on button on my fairly-redundant PS3, something appeared on the screen asking me to log on. ‘For a computer game?’ I thought, bemusedly. Must be a sign of my age, I suppose.

Still though, there have some positive knock-on effects from my previous days as a 90s gamer at least.

A little over four years ago, I traveled to Japan. Aside from everything that makes that country as unique as it is, one thing I couldn’t help but notice was how into video games they were as a nation. Young kids, adults, men, women. You name it.

Arcade places were popular hangout spots for so many people and, maybe this was just me, but they seemed to be taking some of their games very seriously indeed.

That’s not where it stopped though. Upon my wanders through the likes of Tokyo, Kyoto and Osaka, I passed by hundreds of shop windows were the most artistic figurine models of popular game characters could be found.

The craftsmanship that had gone into them was nothing short of immaculate. As a nostalgia purpose, I just had to fork out the few hundred Yen for a model of Ryu; the main character from Street Fighter.

Retro-Arcade in Osaka

Upon that same trip, mainly to get out of the heat, I stumbled across a much more lowkey arcade joint. It wasn’t as flashy as the other ones I’d been to. There were no neon-lights and dinging of machines this time.

This was more of a ‘retro’ kind of spot which, as you can imagine, suited me down to the ground. It was great to see that the games from my generation was still somewhat cool and trendy in Japan.

A kindly and mild-mannered local Japanese lad approached me. I think we weren’t too far apart in age. Of course, there was a strong language barrier but I soon twigged that he was offering me a one-on-one match on Street Fighter.

I kindly obliged with a bow and a smile and off we went. It had been a long time since I had used the combos for certain special moves, but after he won one game, and I won the other, we smiled, bowed again, high-fived and left it as a draw.

Mind you, ending in a draw would’ve been completely out of the question three decades earlier.

Back when it was all about the ‘YOU WIIN!’


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