A warm, spring breeze lifts my hair as I crest the hill and, turning, wait for my friends to catch up. The valley stretches out below us, dotted with trees and boulders, and from this height I can see across to the lake at the other side. We’ll have to explore there later, I note, taking out my journal which is already filled with pages of things to do. My companions reach me and we press on, exchanging jokes and stories to ease the trek, and soon we find the moss covered ruins of a fallen tower we’d heard about from a friendly woman in the town. As we crouch under the slanted doorway one of my mates wonders if there could be any old treasures inside and…damn, is that a dragon I hear?

Ah, gaming. Tomorrow I may be in the deserts of Tatooine, fighting with the rebels against the forces of The Empire. Or I might have to solve puzzles to escape from a water temple. Perhaps make important trade negotiations to ensure that the citizens of my empire thrive. Or I could be Batman!

An interdimensional portal which gobbles you up and spits you out into an endless possibility of worlds and situations – that’s what gaming is. And it’s that potential that I love.

You can be the person you always aspired to be. You can be the person you think you are. Or you could be a tyrannical madman. Your virtual life is well and truly in your hands, and that’s a power that you’ll never grasp in day-to-day reality.

As a gamer I’ve discovered music so beautiful and heart wrenching that it deserves to be ranked up there with works by classical composers. Graphics so colourful and well defined that my TV screen may as well have been a window to Eden. And, most importantly, compelling stories that grab you by both ears and fling you through a spectrum of emotions, with characters you come to care about as much as your favourites in literature or on TV. But how was I drawn into this pixel world?

Old and new game charactersVideo games first rose to prominence in the 1980s and, being a 90s child, you could say I was a prime target of the rapidly developing market. By god I was overjoyed when I received my PlayStation and Gameboy on consecutive Christmases from Santa.

My friends were the same. Many a dull weather day was spent at mates’ houses playing video games and generally having a good laugh. In those days my favourite adventures were with Spyro the Dragon, Crash Bandicoot and Pokémon, each with their simple graphics and cheery music, though now I’m a sucker for RPGs (Role Playing Games) like Skyrim, Mass Effect and Dragon Age.

Even now my love of video games continues to grow. I eagerly watch videos of E3 (Electronic Entertainment Expo) where the prospective year’s games are announced and previewed. The 2016 games I’m particularly looking forward to are No Man’s Sky where there are 18 trillion (no joke) unique planets to explore; Horizon Zero Dawn where you’re an archer hunting robot dinosaur creatures in a post-apocalyptic world; and Mass Effect: Andromeda, the fourth title in a series that is a cinematic masterpiece (damn, I love Bioware games).

But being part of the gaming community isn’t just about playing games. Those collections of 1s and 0s inspire people to create their own art, fan fictions, cosplay, crafts, mods and level building, and it’s a real treat to see the results. Want to discuss what you think will happen in the next game? They’re all ears. In need of a picture that will immortalise your love of a character? Say no more. There’s always a guide on the net if you’re stuck and someone who understands the emotional turmoil you’re going through. It can even be a conversation starter down the pub.

When it comes to gaming, there are a thousand lives to discover, a million places to go and limitless experiences to remember. Try it. I promise you won’t have any regrets.

By Stephanie Alderson, Gaming Editor

If you have a favourite game or gaming experience then please email Stephanie at stephanie.alderson@northernsoul.me.uk