I’ve been dealing a lot with memories of my past here on my blog within the last couple of weeks. I guess I feel like this electronic medium is my opportunity to introduce myself to the world. And I’m pleased to say that all three of you who read it have made feel as if the world is happy to know me. So to continue in the same vein, I’m going to discuss one of the many memorable aspects of my childhood.
Let it be said first of all that I am, despite all appearances, quite a nerd and I love video games. Just so you know what you are dealing with. You see, this fascination with electronic entertainment began when I was quite young. I blame my father, because, to the best of my memory, the first game I ever played was a pseudo-text based, crappy ASCII-graphics DOS game called CASTLE, which my father introduced to me in the computer lab at the university he was attending. At some point we actually owned an Atari, that ancient precursor of the modern home video game console, but it vanished under quite mysterious circumstances when I was very young and obviously very addicted to it.
I was still in elementary school when Nintendo released its top-of-the-line entertainment system. With the iconic Mario, the Italian/plumber/hero (who thought of that?), at the lead, Nintendo effectively began to steer the video game market away from arcades and in to people’s homes. It’s 8-bit color graphics tantalized the young imagination. It supported two controllers for multiplayer modes, an actual freaking gun you could shoot ducks with, a pad you could stomp on to make the little guys run (“but its exercise, Mom!”) AND could be played on any TV, anywhere! My cousins even put one in their fort in their backyard. And the games! Super Mario Bros., Excitebike, Duck Hunt, Castlevania, Contra, Double Dragon, Mega Man, and of course the original Zelda; a veritable plethora of pre-adolescent lust magnets.
And I had never in all my eight years lusted after anything so strongly. I wanted a Nintendo so badly my body shook with desire. My head swam with visions of the enduring bliss and happiness that simply possessing this magic device would bring. My parents, tragically, were firmly opposed to purchasing one. I was convinced that this was only because they hated me and wanted me to be miserable. I don’t quite remember, but its possible that it was an argument over the Nintendo that led me to cry out threateningly to my parents, “Well then…. I’m just going to go outside and BLEED.” How was I to know, so young and unacquainted with the world as I was, that we were struggling to put my dad through school and raise two children? That money was, at best, scarce if present at all? I believed, innocently and intently, that my behavior was the only determining factor in winning the prize. I promised to be good, to share with my brother, to go outside now and then. Nothing worked.
As a result, I gravitated then to those whose parents were less cruel than my own, which seemed to be just about everybody. I was sure I was the only boy in my entire class whose family didn’t own a Nintendo. I know because I was at their houses whenever possible, invited or not, waiting for my turn, my precious few minutes of nirvana stolen quickly and desperately. When I couldn’t play, I watched, learning, trying to master the techniques in my head. And I was pretty dang good, if I do say so myself; nobody could rescue the princess like I could, even if she was always in some other blasted castle. It was the quest, the journey, a digitized pilgrimage to that ever elusive goal that entranced me. Mushrooms, coins, power-ups, the flower that inexplicably granted flame-throwing powers, turtles, pipes, extra lives, warp zones, vines that grew out of nothing… it didn’t have to make sense. It was a world all of its own, one that I loved dearly.
I went through a particularly bad phase where I’d often dream that my parents had broken down and purchased the blessed device. With bounding joy and enthusiasm I would open the box – and open my eyes, realizing after a few seconds of disorientation that it was just a dream, the princess was in another castle, the coveted prized obtained then suddenly pulled away and hidden forever. I’d cry a little, then, with all the frustration my little heart could muster. You may roll your eyes all you wish, and shake your head at the silly little things that occupied the most important places of my mind, but the world of the child is so unobstructed and carefree that those things we adults think of as most trivial become for him the most important, the vital, the essential. There was no debt, or work, or war, or politics, or bills, or violence to occupy the mind; how lucky we were!
Eventually, the Super Nintendo came out, blowing away its predecessor with the sheer might of its 16-bit graphics, smaller game cartridges, and extensive line of quality games: new Marios, new Zeldas, F-Zero, Actraiser, Battletoads, Final Fantasy III, just to name a few. As you might guess, I now cared nothing for the older system – my eyes were now set firmly upon the mighty SNES, the next in what I thought for sure was a never-ending Nintendo dynasty of home entertainment systems. Sure, other consoles came along, the Sega Genesis most notably, but my heart belonged to the little man with a mustache in the red suit and everything he stood for. I continued to exploit my friends for a few minutes of game time, and to negotiate with my parents with every bargaining chip I had in my possession (I now realize I had absolutely none), but nothing ever changed.