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Gaming on the Frontier: The Ups and Downs of Living in Alaska

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Recently, I graduated from UW Oshkosh and spent time job hunting during the summer months in between games of soccer with old high school buddies. After an interview with Game Informer — located just three hours west of my tiny Wisconsin town — left me with a missed opportunity in my journey to become a video game journalist, I received a call back from the Kodiak Daily Mirror.

With two loan payments looming and a quite empty checking account, I took the job. About six days, 4,400 driving miles and 200 boat miles later, I had made it across a good chunk of two countries and sailed the sea on a ferryboat to a place called Kodiak Island — the Emerald Isle.


Welcome to Kodiak

The most important thing to understand is that the city has roughly 14,000 people. You won’t find a GamesStop, a Best Buy, or even a Target anywhere on the island. This leads me to the first hardship I faced by choosing to live here: there aren’t many places to buy games.

 

When I first moved here, two places sold video games: Walmart and Kodiak Island TV, and the latter closed-up shop within a couple months of my arrival. This left Walmart as the lone place in town to buy new video games and electronic entertainment in general.

You know how a normal sized Walmart usually has a pretty good video game section? They typically have two aisles of console games, one for accessories, and another section for PC titles. Kodiak Walmart has one, half-sized aisle of games encased behind glass with some accessories and PC games to round out its rather lackluster selection.

At least they price their games normally and stay up-to-date on the price drops. Unfortunately, they only stock about half of the triple-A titles; if you want something like Dragon Age: Origins on day one for instance, you’re out of luck.

Kodiak Bear
Kodiak Bear

But hey, at least I can get the many great add-ons for Dragon Age and Xbox Live Arcade greats like DeathSpank on day one! Well, yes, but going digital presents the second biggest problem with living here: the Internet connectivity.

While living in an apartment in Oshkosh during my college days, seven-megabyte speed Internet cost only $35 a month. In Kodiak — brace yourselves — I shell out $80 a month for a one-megabyte connection.

In order to download most of the ever-increasing hard drive hogs making up today’s add-ons and games, I have to leave my Xbox 360 running most of the day while I’m at work putting together the town newspaper. I lived a long time without Internet growing up, so I’m not going to complain about a slow connection. However, this connection comes with a catch: I can only download up to 10 gigabytes of content per month.

Most months I don’t go over this strict, happiness-crushing cap. But when a month is full of great titles, and most of them are over a gig to download, it’s easy to see why September’s bill was $111. At a penny extra for every megabyte, I went over by about three gigabytes if my math is correct.

Sigh…

I could try to space out downloads like I’ve done in the past, but now I review games for two small websites. Deadlines won’t wait for my Internet cap to reset each month.

Kodiak Alaska Indian Food Store
Halo is played everywhere. Even in the back of basement dwelling Indian food stores.

On the flip side, I do notice some perks to gaming in Alaska that I missed when brick-and-mortar shops surrounded me from far and wide.

Amazon totally rocks. Sure, I knew that before, but not as much as I do now.

Free shipping on orders of $25 or more! Rare games galore! Cheapest prices on darn near every new title! And, most importantly, Amazon offers collector’s editions of games and pre-order bonuses — something I crave as much as the actual game.

Also, all the rain and snow we get here makes for a fine excuse to stay in on the weekend and play hours of Borderlands or Madworld without feeling totally guilty. However, there is something even better than having a decent excuse for being lazy on the weekends and saving a pretty penny on games: the island’s pawnshop.

Kodiak has a transient community. We have a large group of fishermen as well as a large coast guard contingent. When they leave, they also leave a treasure trove of gaming gold at the pawnshop.

I can’t even count the number of rare systems (Virtual Boy!) and games (Suikoden!) I’ve purchased for criminally cheap prices. I’m serious. I should be locked up for the gems I find on the cheap.   

Kodiak Mountains and Hiking
Mountains are more common than video games on this rock.

The gaming community does what it must on the island (though we all complain about it when we’re brought together to buy that one huge title for the month at Walmart.) Nevertheless, there are some other neat perks to living here.

Brandon Moore, a world champion who holds the titles of fastest speed run and fastest 100 percent completion in Super Metroid, lives in Alaska. Sure it’s not my little island community, but it’s close enough to be proud of the gaming master.

Even better? I’ve been to the Fox Islands where Metal Gear Solid takes place. Sadly, there weren’t any cyborg ninjas or giant, nuclear equipped mechs.  

For any of you hunters out there who may enjoy Cabela’s Alaskan Adventures, it may excite you to know that I’ve shot most of those creatures in the game…with my camera, at least.

Although rural Alaska may be known for bears, fishing, crabs and cold weather, I’m happy to let the world know that gamers exist here. Sometimes it’s an insanely frustrating hobby to have on the island, but it’s also rewarding — kind of like beating a Call of Duty game on veteran.


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