The first sports videogame I owned was published by Electronic Arts. It had no “Madden” in the title. It did not showcase the acronym of a sports league on the cover. It had no online roster update feature, for the roster contained only two players. This game broke the sport down to its most basic of competitive elements, a game of one on one. One on One: Dr. J vs. Larry Bird quickly became the most-played game on my Atari 800XL.
I loved this game. My friends loved this game. They would ride three miles to my house just to play it. And play it we did, for hours. We mowed lawns to replace worn out joysticks. Eventually, my friends got their own versions and we didn’t get together as often, but the talk in study hall was always about who had made the janitor sweep up the shattered backboard the most. It was this game that started my love/hate relationship with EA; this game was where we first met.
After capturing my heart, EA allowed me to compose a song to sing in it, with the release of the Music Construction Set. I spent most of my time trying to re-create songs by Huey Lewis or Men at Work, and the more time that passes, the better I remember my renditions sounding. But, that’s what nostalgia is, memory combined with love to produce a feeling of comfort.
Later that year, EA took me on a journey to the New World, to find fortune and fame, and to subjugate the native inhabitants. I don’t think that I managed to find all Seven Cities of Gold, but it wasn’t for lack of searching. But then, in May of 1985, The Expedition was Lost at Sea! I had discovered the female of the species. I lost touch with EA over the next few months, seeing as how we didn’t really have that much in common anymore. Seems it was more interested in fantasy chess games and solving murders on blimps, and I had my thoughts on what Hard Hat Mack really meant.
I bumped into EA again in 1986 at a friend’s house, where he showed me Starflight, and my life was forever changed. EA had managed to convince me to buy new hardware so that I would be able to play a game. I spent $3200 on an IBM 8088. My quest for answers to the mysteries of the Crystal Planet and the Ancients was a contributing factor in my leaving college after only a semester. Turns out, my tuition fund was short by about $3200. My love had become obsession. How could I have been such a fool? EA, once again, proved that it was the only one for me, and any doubt was erased with the release of Starflight 2.
Unfortunately, the world had other plans for us, and I received orders to report for duty on the TCS Tiger’s Claw. With the release of Origin’s Wing Commander, EA found its first true challenge for my attention, and I didn’t see jealousy for what it was until it was too late. EA wanted so desperately to be the object of my desire, that it was willing to take those things I now loved and make them its own. At the time, I didn’t complain, as I was still able to fly against the Kilrathi. Looking back, I see this as the moment where our relationship started to go sour.
Little things that I would have been willing to overlook before were becoming bigger and bigger issues for us. Some days I still think about the last big break-up we had. EA wanted to move to Trammel, and I wanted to stay in Felucca.
Sadly, I had to let EA go. We just weren’t the same beings who met on a nameless half-court, some 17 years earlier. We still saw each other from time to time. But more often than not, any plans to be together would be suddenly cancelled by EA, with usually little or no warning. We had made arrangements to meet again in Britannia, but those never came to pass. I started visiting EA everyday, climbing into the cockpit of a 100-ton Battlemech to make the journey, but sadly it took away my ‘Mech. I started to become distrustful. I didn’t allow myself to expect EA to follow though with anything, to save myself the disappointment.
I guess I could have done things differently, been a better customer maybe. Perhaps I could have learned to accept EA for who it was, and adapted to its changes. I just wish that it could have been more understanding of my needs, and my wants. I wish it would someday remember how to be that which attracted me in the first place. I will always cherish those early memories we had together, how EA brought my friends and me closer together, and taught me valuable lessons about life, love and loss. Electronic Arts was the first name in the gaming industry I learned to respect, love, hate, somehow feeling all of those at once. EA helped make me a gamer; EA played a role in shaping me into who I am now.
How do I feel about Electronic Arts today? To understand my answer, you would have to think back to your first love. Not your first crush or your first kiss, but the first time you ever wanted to be with someone forever, and to have that person never change. Now imagine that almost 25 years have passed, and you are two totally different people. You still care about that person, and you still value her for her contributions to your life over the years.
I still love Electronic Arts. But, I am no longer in love with Electronic Arts. Does that make any sense?
If not, let me tell you about the time I left Sony Online Entertainment standing at the altar.
JR Sutich is a Contributing Editor for The Escapist Magazine and is rumored to have been banned from an online game during its initial design stage.