Walking through my Xbox museum was like being visited by the ghosts of Cringemas past.
Today, as part of Xbox’s ongoing 20th anniversary celebration, Microsoft released a virtual museum covering the history of the consoles themselves, as well as our own personal, individual history with them. In the browser-centric museum, you can walk the halls, taking in 3D timelines of each of Microsoft’s consoles dating back to the original Xbox, gander at models of Halo’s warthog and ships, and revisit the harrowing period of the Xbox 360's dreaded “Red Ring of Death.” And as I learned, you might find yourself confronted by the ghosts of your own gaming past, as well.
What piqued my curiosity about the museum was the ability to log in to my Xbox account and view my own personal wing of the virtual building, where my gamer genre profile, history with the console, and my most-played games would be revealed. Other game journos took to Twitter to share their 23andMe-esque profiles with little surprise at their results. My bright-eyed nostalgia led me to believe my museum would showcase Bioshock Infinite and The Witcher 3 prominently as my beginnings as a gamer. But like a house party where your loud friend spills the tea on what actually happened, Xbox threw cold water on me and revealed my gamer past didn’t play out quite how I remembered it.
My first gut punch of embarrassment at my callout post of a museum came from the revelation that DmC: Devil May Cry was one of my first Xbox 360 games. That’s right, not the goofy, “woohoo pizza” Dante we all know and love, but Ninja Theory’s Netflix-esque adaptation of the series with a Donte, a swearing, black-haired punk who knows what sex is, allegedly. What makes my shame worse is that the frame containing DmC’s box art rotated to face me even when I walked behind it, so there’s no hiding from this high art. And yes, that was my first DmC game.
Listen, I didn’t know any better. I was a high school kid who watched TheRadBrad on YouTube and thought, “Gee willikers, a game where I can use cool angel and demon weapons on maps that seem to morph with every step I make? I’m sold.” Also, who among you is willing to declare that Vergil wearing a trilby and having his own Vergilmobile isn’t the most canon thing to ever happen to him?
My time with the gritty reimagining of DMC wasn’t entirely fruitless in the long run. If I hadn’t played it, I wouldn’t have been put onto Ninja Theory’s subsequent Hellblade: Senua’s Sacrifice, which remains one of the most impactful games I’ve ever played. Sometimes it’s not about where you start but where you end up. If it’s any consolation prize, the next DMC game I played was Devil May Cry 4. My next gut punch, however, will take a bit longer to recover from.
Out of the 151 Xbox games I’ve played (and totally didn’t leave in my backlog), the museum showed me in no uncertain terms that my most-played game for four years straight was Overwatch. Upon beholding this truth, memories of playing Overwatch flooded my mind palace like water gushing from a popped fire hydrant. My cop-out explanation for why my museum’s walls are “Oops, all Overwatch” is that the game launched in my freshman year of college and playing it kept me sane. I was down bad. Like open beta, pre-order and, regrettably, loot-box-purchasing down bad. Every day after class I would plug an ethernet cable into my Xbox One and use my university’s internet to play with friends who lived states away.
Gaze upon this wretched thing.
What was unearthed by seeing Overwatch sweep every category in my museum wasn’t just my frustration at the game’s numerous balance patches, and the way I’d joke with friends about how “the game is bad now” but would still jump right back into playing if Zarya finally got a cool skin. It wasn’t just the joy I took in the funny memes that stemmed from then-lead designer Jeff Kaplan. It was how the game itself served as a communal place to hang out with my friends, to catch up, and make new memories together.
Today, my memories of playing Overwatch for years are more complicated than my mild embarrassment over having DmC: Devil May Cry be my first from that series, due to Activision Blizzard’s ongoing legal troubles, and the numerous allegations that a culture existed in which women across multiple studios were sexually harassed, assaulted, and psychologically traumatized. Before the news broke, my relationship with Overwatch was like that of a Tumblr refugee denying ever having spent time on the hellsite to save face. But my visit to the museum left me with nowhere to hide from what the game had once meant to me.
Regardless of what comes of the ongoing lawsuits, I can’t deny that my time spent with Overwatch went beyond simply enjoying it as a team-based multiplayer first-person shooter. The game ended up becoming like the kitchen floor where I would loiter with my closest friends and chat until dawn. It didn’t hurt that I got praise for my risky, 200 IQ Plays of the Game.
So hey, Happy Birthday Xbox, and thanks for the unnecessary gift of an awkward gaming scrapbook. My museum might be cringe, but having walked its halls and come out intact, I am free. In fact, though it was a bit uncomfortable taking this stroll down memory lane and being reminded of my formative gaming experiences, it was liberating, too, since those experiences helped shape what I value in games today, and I can embrace that. If anyone would like to commiserate with me about their own mortifying Xbox museum, you can join my support group where we’ll “power our dreams.” Y’know, the ones we choose to remember and not the ones that’ll have us waking up in a cold sweat.