The Sonic fandom was one of the first fandoms I ever became invested in. Many of my early internet experiences centered around Sonic. I'm not sure what my earliest exposure to the franchise was, but there is one title that sticks out in my memory.

Sonic Mega Collection Plus.

Like many other families in the early 2000s, mine were not well off. As a result, most of the games I owned from the fifth console generation were either shovelware, licensed games that ranged from mediocre to just plain awful, or demo discs.

When I got Sonic Mega Collection Plus for Christmas, it was more than a compilation of emulated games. To my kid brain, it was like a portal to another world.

There was something about those games that was so captivating, especially the Genesis trilogy. The focus on exploration and momentum, the vibrant level environments, and the different playable characters, each with unique abilities. While I had played platformers like Mario before, Sonic scratched an itch I didn't know I had. I spent hours playing those games and browsing the in-game gallery. Fantasizing about what the rest of Sonic's world had to offer. But that wasn't enough, I wanted more, and luckily the internet was there to deliver.

Using the family computer, I began seeking out any new Sonic media I could find. I became better acquainted with internet communities popular around that time; DeviantArt, Newgrounds, Wikia (pre-Fandom takeover), YouTube, and Flipnote Hatena. Beyond those popular communities, I also discovered various Sonic-centric websites and forums, such as Sonic Gear, Sonic Stadium, The Mystical Forest Zone, Shadow of a Hedgehog, and most importantly, Sonic Retro.

Through Sonic Retro, I discovered the Sonic fangame and ROM hacking community. Incredibly talented groups of individuals were releasing studio-quality games purely out of passion, all for free. I even met one of my long-time internet friends through one of these fangames, specifically Sonic Robo Blast 2. I looked up to these individuals and began to dream of making a game of my own.

While I had long been fascinated by what goes into the making of video games, my love for Sonic was what kicked my interest in game development into full gear. However, as I grew older, I turned my focus towards learning Computer Science as a whole rather than pigeonholing myself into just game development, I doubt I would have been as motivated to do so if not for the Sonic fangame & ROM-hacking community.

That same love also encouraged me to further my art skills. While I'm no expert on the subject, I believe Sonic to be a Grade-A example of good character design. It's equally simple as it is memorable. While his design is easy to learn how to draw, it is also versatile. An artist can tweak various aspects of his design to suit their style, and as long as core features are maintained, he'll still be just as appealing. Sonic the Hedgehog was designed to have mass appeal, and it shows. For those reasons, Sonic was a great character for an amateur artist like me to latch onto. Sonic was the vehicle through which I explored different mediums and elements of art and design. Although, unlike my interest in technology, I primarily do art as a hobby, I am still grateful for the ways Sonic has helped to build my art skills over the years.


That was long ago.

I am no longer that bright-eyed kid. I'm a bitter adult who's painfully aware of Sonic's infamous reputation as an internet laughingstock, far past his prime. Many of the sites I previously mentioned are no longer around, and if they are, they aren't nearly as active as they used to be. People move on. For a while, I thought I had. I found other interests. When the topic of Sonic came up in conversation, I would laugh along with everyone else. Several mainline Sonic games came out without me noticing or caring. Yet every couple of months, I'd find myself drawn back in.

I realized that despite everything, I still love Sonic the Hedgehog just as much as I did when I was a kid.

One could say it's purely out of nostalgia for a simpler time, that the Sonic series I love is nothing more than me looking back at my childhood through rose-tinted glasses. However, I believe it's more than that.

I still love Sonic's character for his carefree optimism and unwavering confidence, which are traits I have always lacked. Growing up as an awkward child without many friends, Sonic was the closest thing I had to a role model. I believe there's a part of me who still sees him that way. I think we could all use more of his endless love for life in recent times.

I still love the Sonic games. Yes, even the ones universally panned by critics like Sonic 06 and Shadow the Hedgehog. Even in the most infamous of Sonic titles, there is clear passion present behind the scenes. So many promising artistic visions went unrealized as a result of corporate meddling. That passion is something I feel is lacking in many triple-A games now. I would much rather have an ambitious but poorly executed "bad" game than a forgettable mediocre one.

To me, Sonic as a whole represents hope, sincerity, and community. The hope that things will get better eventually. Maybe things will never be as good as they were, but that doesn't mean things will never be good again. And if they aren't, with enough hard work we can make it so.

To dismiss my love for the Sonic franchise as nothing more than an embarrassing phase, to me, implies my past experiences aren't important, something to be ashamed of. But the truth is, I would not be the same person I am today without Sonic's presence in my life.

For those reasons, even if SEGA, Sonic Team, and the world at large won't grant the Sonic the Hedgehog franchise the respect it deserves, I will.