My nans are the reason I got into gaming. Travelling to see my nan on my mother's side meant I'd get to spend the day playing Jak & Daxter while my parents gossiped over coffee. Sometimes she'd let me borrow a game to take home and play, and I'd always race to complete it before we visited again. I find myself with a strange muscle memory for those games now: I could probably recite off the top of my head where every collectible is hidden in Ratchet & Clank. (If only I retained knowledge from my degree as easily as I did those games.) The Jak & Daxter nan is still around - her most frequented game these days is Skyrim, which is a popular one amongst gaming grandmas it seems.
But this piece isn't really about her. As awesome as she is, it was my nan on my father's side who spent hours and hours of her time entertaining me with the PlayStation 2 as a kid. She looked after me a lot while my parents worked, and a lot of that looking after involved teaching me how to play my very first RPG.
Baldur's Gate: Dark Alliance 2 came out in 2004, when I was eight years old. It wasn't my first game by a long shot (that honour belongs to the first SSX title for PS2), but it was my first experience with any sort of role-playing hack-and-slash game, and it's inspired a lot of my interest in games since. You can imagine my surprise when I got into Mass Effect and Dragon Age later in life, only to discover that Baldur's Gate had essentially come from BioWare itself. There's a large part of me that wishes my nan was still around to play those games - she would've bloody loved Dragon Age: Origins.
The Baldur's Gate games for console were nothing like the ones for PC really; short of sharing a world and some lore, the flow of play is entirely different. Dark Alliance 2 takes place almost directly after the events of the first game, and at the very start reveals the three original protagonists being captured by the evil vampire, Mordoc SeLanmere. This was enough to hook me when I first saw it - without any knowledge of the world or the game that came before it, I wanted to know what this one was about, and my nan was more than happy to teach me.
For a long time I didn't actually like playing Baldur's Gate myself. Instead when I went over nan's for the day I'd ask her to play it so I could watch. I'd sit in the armchair by the window completely engrossed - in what was actually quite a gruesome game, considering I was only eight at the time. The first couple of missions have you investigating grisly murders and sinister kidnappings - and they were linked! A pretty obvious plot point looking back, though perhaps not for an eight year old whose main gaming experiences had revolved around snowboard races.
Gradually though, I started to play too. The beauty of so many games released around that time was the couch co-op. Baldur's Gate was the sort of multiplayer where both players ran around on the same screen; I can't imagine the patience my nan must've had watching me drag the screen around as I wandered into hordes of enemies. I always picked the Barbarian character because I knew if I levelled him up enough he could wield two two-handed weapons, which I thought was the best despite not having a clue how the levelling up system worked. Nan would play the Dwarf or the Cleric, and together we'd start our journey through Baldur's Gate. All those after-school visits and rainy weekends spent slaying goblins and saving civilians with my nan - a strange and vivid memory that's only grown stronger seeing the game's title in the news again.
Eventually I outgrew the PS2, and long after we'd stopped playing those games my nan passed away. This was all a long time ago, and I made my peace with it back then - still it's strange seeing the Baldur's Gate logo popping up on social media. I wonder, would I have had to teach my nan how to play it on Switch?
I replayed Dark Alliance 2 earlier this year with someone I'm close to - that's just what these sorts of games become really, one of those experiences you share with those you hold dear, in the same vein you might lend someone a well-loved book or show them a film that had a lasting impact on you. It turns out the game was a bit harder than I recalled it being - that is, before I remembered my nan and I used to play it with the invulnerability cheat on. I think I still have a piece of paper in the box with the cheat codes jotted down. (I'm reasonably sure it was one of those games where the cheat code was just 'mash all the buttons at once'.)
To this day, I don't know what led my nan to gaming. This was a woman in her late 50s who would go into town every other weekend to buy PS2 games with her friend who lived down the road. She was retired from working in a lingerie shop, loved gardening and baking - and for a reason I could never guess, she loved games too. And it's in games where my memories of her are preserved. I look at Baldur's Gate today and I can only guess what drew her to it. Maybe it was as simple as a way to stay busy in her free time, when it was too rainy to garden and the baking was all done.
Weirdly, the PS2 Baldur's Gate games really hold up. Sure, they're fairly simple hack-and-slash games, and my nostalgia goggles are definitely on too tight, but it's just good co-op fun that I wouldn't change for the world, and that I wish there were more of today.
I never played the original Baldur's Gate games, and with them re-releasing today for just about everything, I really have no excuse. I'm truly excited to play them, and jump back into a world that reminds me very fondly of the woman who made me who I am today. Everyone has a unique way they got into gaming: mine was my nan teaching me how to play Baldur's Gate.