I saw some stuff on the internet along these lines today and it inspired me to talk about my history with video games. So let’s get started, shall we?
I remember a rainy day when I was probably 6 or 7, I was probably acting up or something, and my mom pulled out a dusty relic from the family’s past: an Atari 2600. She put on Space Invaders and handed me a controller, saying something like “You’re the spaceship and you have to shoot the aliens.”
So I, the space ship, shot aliens. I thought it was so cool–moving around onscreen and doing things just by pushing a button. It was like a TV show I controlled! Mom probably did not know what she was sparking here, I imagine she thought I’d get bored of video games soon and move on to something else–but for the moment she had a reprieve.
It turns out that’s exactly what happened with the rest of my family; after a brief case of Pac Man fever, my folks and their friends had collectively gotten over gaming and relegated the 2600 consoles to their children. In the case of those friends, the child was a daughter with MS who used the games as therapy and a way to socialize (with me). I used them as therapy for whatever was wrong with me.
See, contrary to the genesis of our Atari, and the experiences of a lot of kids my age, my parents didn’t game. Sure, my mom would join me for a round of Mario every year or so, and she watched me play Harvest Moon (and in my college years she got addicted to Animal Crossing), but I didn’t have a Tetris Mom. I never came downstairs to find my older sister absorbed in Dragon Warrior. My dad didn’t help me through difficult moments of Zelda. Games were entirely mine–a language spoken by children, like TMNT in the same era. But I’m getting ahead of myself.
Between our house and my parents’ friends’ I learned a number of games, from standbys like PacMan and Donkey Kong, to more obscure fare like Swordquest (which I swear was called Aquarius). I also developed a lifelong love of Dig Dug. A little later, my best friend picked up a Texas Instruments gaming computer, and had his own games: Parsec, Munchman, and Tombstone City. True classics, right?
But we were growing up and so were the consoles. Kids around me started getting NES’s, and my parents told me one day we were going to pick up a new video game (which meant system). Here it was–finally the moment I knew would change my life forever!
…I tried to be excited about the Atari 7800 (which I now know was on clearance–I’ve got the box), after all, it came with Pole Position 2! But I knew it wasn’t an NES. My parents remained resolutely on the “fad” side of the fence, probably put there by articles about how video games were dead and the last gasps of the fledgling industry came in the form of astronomical Nintendo hardware ($100!? For a VIDEO GAME? For that price it had better play movies or something).
With the new console came the ability to buy new games with my allowance, and hey at least they were cheap (but why were they all randomly thrown into a bin without organization?), so I picked up amazing new games like Adventure and Vanguard. Sure, my friends all had Super Mario, but at least these games were *mine*.
Speaking of Mario, he sure was everywhere. Suddenly whenever I went over to a friend’s house, instead of standing around asking if they’d ever played a video game like Space Invaders, they were invariably engrossed in Super Mario and barely looked up to say hi when I got there. Tim and Adam, two kids in my class, were the main source of NES before my best friend picked his up. I mainly watched, as the few times I attempted to play Mario I died on the first Goomba. I saw sprawling 1-1′s, dank 1-2′s, underwater levels, and even a platoon of flying fish! While my friends and their sisters (or both Tim and Adam in a power pair situation) battled through the Mushroom Kingdom, I busied myself reading the manuals or “How to Win At” guides. “Those fish are called Cheep Cheeps” I informed nobody one day.
Then came Zelda. The LEGEND of Zelda. I’d only heard its name whispered on the playground, and the commercials weren’t doing much to educate me. I knew it came in a gold cart, but when I asked other kids what Zelda was, their answer was something like “It’s… Zelda.” Tim wouldn’t even play it–he told me he had to wait for the Nintendo Fun Club News featuring Zelda to arrive, as the game was really complicated and he didn’t understand it. Tim was in a different class and crowd when Dragon Warrior came along, but I am curious what he made of that cryptic beast.
Once he did understand it, he let me play as a third save file–but I couldn’t name my character Link. Even though that was his name! “Link” was reserved for Tim alone. Thus, “Linked” was born. I’d love to say there’s some symbolic tradition where I forever named my Zelda files “Linked” but that’s stupid. I paid for them, *I* get to be Link. I do think of Tim every time, though.
(I’d also like to make a clever Ocarina reference where Link is the Hero of Tim, but we’ll skip it)
So for the first year of Nintendo’s reign, I wasn’t actually playing Nintendo much. But that only added to its mystique. Here was this console, with these huge sprawling worlds inside it, and I could only catch small glimpses and then eavesdrop on kids at school as they talked about how to defeat Mummy Men and if anyone had even SEEN Dracula before. I do remember at Tim’s I was eventually able to pass that Goomba, only to be repeatedly thwarted by the moving platforms in 1-2. I thought I’d NEVER get past them. I totally sucked at these games…
…until one day we were visiting other friends of my parents, and their daughter took me down the street to a neighbor’s house (oddly enough, within 5 miles of where I live now). Nintendo finally “clicked” and I blew past those platforms. This coincided with my best friend getting his NES as previously mentioned, and I secured a firm “Player 2″ spot in all his adventures. Or, in one-player games, as manual-guy and also official keeper of his Official Nintendo Player’s Guide.
But while most of my friends only had Mario, Zelda, and a smattering of launch games (Ice Hockey, Pinball), John Paul got a new game every few weeks (in kid time–was probably every other month), so I learned the ways of Metroid, Castlevania, Ghosts & Goblins, and Combat–which made my slick Atari 2600 version seem blocky and terrible. In fact, Combat would be my final purchase for the system, and the final straw. I took matters into my own hands and began writing Santa a letter. I threw open the Sears wish book and wrote “Santa, I would like a Nintendo, and if I get one here are games I would like…” and proceeded to list every single game in the whole darn book.
Because nobody wants Karnov, not even a kid desperate to claw his way out of the Atari era that predates his birth.
So on Christmas morning, certain Mr. Claus wouldn’t let me down, I snuck downstairs and looked for a box the right size, measuring the candidate in the only way I knew how: the console would fit here… and two controllers go here… and the zapper gun would fit here, leaving this space for Mario/Duck Hunt! It’d have to be this one!
The other suspicious box turned out to be Zelda.
And thus, after years of hard labor on inferior consoles it was here–my very own NES. My very own portal into Hyrule and beyond. So after christening the system with a run to 4-1 (ended, as always, by Lakitu) I entered the name Link and set out on my odyssey. Take that, Tim.
(the next day Tim showed up with his own Christmas haul: Super Mario 2! Making me once again painfully out of date–but December 25th belonged to me!)