From the bottom of my heart, thank you.
For many, the Playstation 2 was an integral part of their youth and formative years. Gracing the Earth with its presence in 2000, it was a bona fide financial rhinoceros barreling through the gaming industry, hurling competitors left and right. The Playstation 2 seemed to build upon nearly every revolutionary concept or innovation from the previous generation, and that combined with an era-defining library of games cemented this console as the best selling video game console of all time and a retrospective fan favorite. While the Playstation 2 was known for many great things for a lot of people, for me, it will always be Jak and Daxter.
I grew up playing Nintendo games like many other children of the 1980s/1990s. From the original NES to the SNES, all models of Gameboys, the N64 and so on, my brother and I weren’t interested in jumping ship for Sega, Sony or any other competitor. Then the Playstation 2 appeared. From the commercials, magazine articles or even the alluring, enigmatic shape of the console itself, we were both enamored, as I imagine countless gamers were everywhere. My brother, who is 6 years my senior, convinced me that we needed to trade in our old consoles and dive into the world of Sony and their mysterious Playstation 2. After much lamenting and denial, I made peace with selling a key part of my childhood in exchange for an unknown, unwarranted and mostly unwanted plunge into Sony; a decision that would shape my love and passion for gaming to this very day.
We cut our teeth with games like Dead or Alive 2 and Spy Hunter, and even with the incredible graphics, gameplay and overall presentation of what we had played so far, nothing filled the void that I had for Super Mario 64. Then, one Christmas, I received a game that I had never heard of: Jak and Daxter. Something about the game was familiar. Yes, Jak looked a good deal like a saiyan from Dragon Ball Z, and Daxter vaguely reminded me of Banjo-Kazooie and some of the side characters looked like people from Hyrule, but it wasn’t just the visuals of the game. From the moment that I began playing Jak and Daxter, it felt like my old N64 platformers. The gameplay was there, the collectibles, the graphical, cartoony style (if not noticeably more impressive on Playstation 2 than N64) and all of it helped me get into our Playstation 2.
Some of my fondest childhood memories are wrapped up in the Jak and Daxter series. The universe in which we were thrown into was fascinating, unique and genuinely interesting to be a part of. From the lighthearted, jovial fun of Jak and Daxter, to the dark, gritty tonal shift in Jak 2 and to the more grand, lore-expounding, action-adventure flavor of Jak 3, these games were the first to show me that video games can be more than just mindless entertainment. They can be thought provoking, sad, funny or anything that a film can be; as long as the writers reflect that. That’s where Naughty Dog comes in.
Naughty Dog was unknown to me prior to playing Jak and Daxter. They had already been in the video game industry for almost two decades, but didn’t really make an identity for themselves until their Crash Bandicoot series, which I had never played because I did not own an original Playstation. I was fully aware of who Crash Bandicoot was, though, as with the enormous popularity of the Crash Bandicoot series, he became the official mascot of Sony for several years. Crash Bandicoot, as a series, was partly known for its inherent sense of fun and overall carefree attitude; a tone that would be echoed in Jak and Daxter. I feel that the tonal shifts between the three Jak games helped shape what Naughty Dog would do in its further work; some sort of a cocktail of humor, grit and pulpy action.
Fast forward eleven years, I’m near to graduating from high school and the proud owner of an Xbox 360. I was part of the zeitgeist when online multiplayer reached critical mass as a result of games like Call of Duty: Modern Warfare, Call of Duty: Modern Warfare 2, Gears of War and Halo 3. I was in a large group of friends in high school that played together almost every single evening, and it was incredible. Besides playing MMOs or games with local co-op, I had never experienced being able to use online multiplayer with such ease or with such a large group of friends. Eventually, I split off from my Friends, starting a spin-off series about my own life called Jeremy. It got mediocre reviews and was cancelled during Season 2. Just kidding. But in all honesty, I was trying to date a girl, and she told me that she almost didn’t give me the time of day because of the impression that my group of friends gave her; assuming that I was just like them. I took a step back and had a serious epiphany. My friend group was toxic; a group of guys who backstabbed each other constantly in order for one friend to get a one-up on the next. I had been friends with these guys for my entire high school tenure, and as a result, my identity was wrapped up with them; like some sort of douchey, horrific hivemind. When I realized that people could be refusing to get to know me based on the reputation of my friends, I knew it was time to forge a new path, so myself and one other friend from that group jumped ship.
Without making this story too long, I tried playing my Xbox 360 after I splintered from my old friend group, and while I could still have fun with single-player experiences like Oblivion or Grand Theft Auto IV, online multiplayer just was not the same without having a large group of buddies to play with. I eventually became friends with a small group of guys, and they all had Playstation 3s. I didn’t know much about the Playstation 3, having left the Sony train for the Xbox 360; the one thing that I did know was how egregiously expensive the Playstation 3 was at launch. I didn’t pay much attention to the Playstation 3, until one of my friend’s invited me over and showed me a game called Uncharted.
Needless to say, I was absolutely enthralled and sat on his couch until I had beaten the entire game. I had never played anything like this, but I could tell immediately that this was something special. With the gorgeous, cinematic set-pieces, great humor and outrageous action, this was surely one of the greatest games that I had ever experienced. I eventually made the wisest move of my life (this even supersedes going to college) and traded in my Xbox 360 for a Playstation 3. Upon this life-changing conversion back to Sony, I learned of the outstanding library on Playstation 3, including two more Uncharted games. When I played the second game in the series, I noticed something in the opening credits that sent me way back to 2001; a name. A name that brought me all sorts of warm, innocent childhood memories and originally made me the Sony fan that I used to be: Naughty Dog. I felt like I had come full circle.
While it sounds cheesy and melodramatic to say that Naughty Dog was always there for me, it’s partially true. As a child, switching from Nintendo to Sony was a big deal. In a time where not many “life-changing” events occurred, it felt like I was moving away from my old friends by trading in Mario, Pikachu, Link and the whole Nintendo gang for a foreign land populated by more mature, unique characters in Sony. Jak and Daxter made that switch easier for me. I felt like I would be just fine living in “Sonyville.” Then again in high school, changing up consoles wasn’t a big deal when you’re a teenager, but switching out my Xbox 360 for my Playstation 3 was a symbolic rite of passage. My identity was wrapped up with crappy friends who treated people poorly and treated each other even worse. They all had Xbox 360s, as did I, and I was just “one of the gang” when we would get together online almost every night and play. When I left that group and forged my own identity and found a new group of friends, I sold that Xbox 360. Maybe it was some form of superficial individualism on my part by getting rid of my Xbox 360, just because they all had them. But I like to think that my coming back to Sony was destined; that in finding myself, I traded in what made me a conformist and rediscovered a key part of my youth. Once again, Naughty Dog was there with Uncharted, as soon as I did make that change. Seeing that name again, almost a decade later, in a period of life-changing choices being made, made me feel like everything would be alright.
Now years later, I’ve graduated from college, met the love of my life and entered into a career-level position in my field. It felt like things were coming together; I was finally making decent money, establishing a savings and she and I were planning for the future when I learned that the company I came to work for is going out of business. I’ve been with the company for about a year and a half; the last six months or so have been working with the knowledge that at the end of May, I’m losing my job. My job that I was so proud of getting, that has treated me so well and gave me confidence that the employment system isn’t broken for all college students is ending. I felt like I went through all of the stages of grief, denial being the paramount element of it all, just hoping and praying that the company would live on; that maybe some billion dollar investor would swoop in at the end and save all of us. It has been a very difficult time dealing with all of these emotions for the past six months, depression and stress pressing on me relentlessly. Lo and behold, in yet another period of transition for me, Naughty Dog releases Uncharted IV. A game with “the end” being such a heavy aspect of the advertisement and tone, as Naughty Dog themselves says farewell to a beloved IP and moves on to greener pastures. I can’t help but feel the connection between my current circumstances and the underlying elements of Uncharted IV. More than anything, Uncharted IV launched at another difficult time for me, keeping right in line with how most of my experiences have gone with Naughty Dog. I don’t know if you’re religious, whoever is reading this, but I am. You always hear that phrase, “God works in mysterious ways,” and while it can be cheesy for a non-religious person, most people I know concede that we can’t pretend to know where life is taking us and that some events happen in our lives that we will never understand the reasoning for. I could be building something out of nothing, drawing coincidences (although I don’t believe in coincidences) and making meaning out of nothing; but it’s been pretty obvious to me that every time I enter into a hard period of life-changing consequences and results, Naughty Dog releases a new game that gets me through that time.
In closing, thank you, Naughty Dog, You do not know me, and there is no way that you could ever know the effect that some of your games had on me. I hope that someone there reads this someday and knows that they helped at least one person get through some tough times. I look forward to completing Uncharted IV and whatever you work on next. I also look forward to the days that come, as I try to find where my future is taking me. Once again, thank you, from the bottom of my heart.
- Jeremy Schepper