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May 25, 2012

Growing Up Geek: Alexis Santos

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Welcome to Growing Up Geek, an ongoing feature where we take a look back at our youth and tell stories of growing up to be the nerds that we are. Today, we have our new editor, Alexis Santos.

Growing Up Geek: Alexis Santos

Out of the corner of my eye, I spotted something emblazoned with an all too familiar logo while driving along a county road seven months ago. Though my mind could have been playing tricks on me, I doubled back and pulled over to confirm what I had seen. There, in the brush, was what I had suspected: a slightly faded Nintendo Entertainment System box. Upon further inspection, the packaging was unscathed and complete with its original foam inserts, plastic bags, twisty ties and K-Mart price sticker. Having rescued the nigh mint condition box, I rushed home to place it atop my entertainment center. There was no doubt I was a geek before that moment, but it became clear that following my geeky impulses could have interesting results.

Growing Up Geek: Alexis Santos

My descent into geekdom was a slow but sure one. It began with an eye-opening visit to my grandparent’s house where I spent some quality time with Breakout and Pac-Man on their Atari 2600. Shortly after, I became the proud owner of a Super Nintendo Entertainment System. When I wasn’t driving an electric jeep or gardening in the backyard, I was glued to the living room TV playing Super Mario World, Super Mario Kart or Donkey Kong Country. My video game fixation was off to a healthy start and blossomed in kindergarten when another student brandished a newly minted GameBoy Pocket and a case lined with games. The concept of playing video games when not planted squarely in front of a TV blew my six-year-old mind. After excitedly relating my encounter with the gadget to my Mom, we picked up a used, red GameBoy Pocket and I set off on my mobile gaming adventures. Eventually, I sank into the realm of Kanto and the only worry I knew was leveling my Pokémon after school.

Computers and video games were even part of my school experience. As an elementary school teacher, my Mom spent hours grading her students’ papers after class, so I kept myself busy with the Macs in her classroom. Sure, most of the games I played on the early to mid 90′s model Macs were educational, but they were a blast. Some of my favorites were Artillery, Amazon Trail, DinoPark Tycoon, Number Munchers, Oregon Trail, Spectre, Treasure Cove, Treasure MathStorm! and Troggle Trouble Math.

Growing Up Geek: Alexis Santos

Arcades also occupied a significant portion of my early gaming. I was content with collecting as many as tickets as I could even though it was just about impossible to cash-out for prizes on the top shelf. A knack for claw machines led to an overabundance of stuffed animals in my closet, but as arcades boarded up, my gaming transitioned to the home console. My Nintendo 64, GameCube and PlayStation 2 made sure to keep me busy with hours of Super Smash Brothers, Final Fantasy XI and Zelda.

Though I was a faithful gamer, it wasn’t until Nintendo unleashed the DS onto the world that one would call me obsessed. Nintendo’s dual screen wunder-console didn’t simply reel me deeply into gaming, it transformed me into a newshound. I couldn’t stop thinking about new games, new hardware or whatever else was next. My thirst for video game news could not be quenched, so I dove into the video game news blogosphere to soak up any and all tidbits of information. Nothing could peel me away from televised E3 coverage or stop me from watching the Wii remote’s debut video more times than doctors would recommend. I memorized next-gen console specs, read gaming magazines in class and collected Mountain Dew bottle caps for promo codes to win an Xbox 360. By that time, I was proud that I could go two straight weeks — including weekends — wearing only t-shirts that sported video game references.

Growing Up Geek: Alexis Santos

Having reached that level of intense interest, I was ready to take the next step. Fresh out of high school, I dipped my toes into the video game news blogging world. I started a small blog, wound up podcasting and even covered E3 as I stretched my blogging legs for the first time. When I reached college, I began to write for the student newspaper and penned my own technology column. After toying with the idea of majoring in political science and a career in law, anthropology and archaeology swept me off my feet. What began as a handful of classes that piqued my interest, turned into my undergraduate major.

I loved anthropology, but I longed to focus on technology. With MIT’s Opencourseware, I righted that wrong with two classes that examined technology through an anthropological lens. The semester following those courses led to a realization. While archaeologists had wholeheartedly embraced digital technologies for data collection and analysis, they hadn’t done so when creating representations of archaeological sites and artifacts for the public. I had found a niche. I spent the following years working on 3D modeling, video mapping, augmented reality and online databases for use in archaeology.

Growing Up Geek: Alexis Santos

Though video games were a large focus of my geeky obsessions, computers and gadgets were never far behind. As the inheritor of a Commodore 64, I developed a gadget collecting habit. I’ve picked up typewriters from the 1930′s, early portable radios, vintage cameras and other dusty pieces of tech at flea markets, garage sales and secondhand stores. And in my spare time, I’ve fiddled with HTML, CSS and began self-teaching myself how to program in Python.

While I may not grow an inch taller, I’ve realized that I’ll never stop growing as a geek with so many books to read, movies to watch, programming languages to learn, games to play and electronics to hack. Following my geeky interests have led me here to Engadget and I couldn’t be more stoked.

Alexis Santos is on Twitter under @alexissantos where he rambles about archaeology, X-Files episodes and Dungeons and Dragons campaigns.

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