An Egocentric History of Video Games
It all started back in 1981 when my parents moved back to the US after being stationed at a military base in Germany for 3 years. I was only 5 years old, but I remember my video gaming roots very clearly. Since we had just moved back to the US, we didn't have a washer or dryer so my mom would go to the laudro-mat to wash clothes. I remember seeing the Donkey Kong arcade machine in the corner of the room, beckoning the quarters my mom had clutched in her hands. Why waste them on cleaning clothes when I could be playing (Timpani roll) Donkey Kong! I managed to coax a few quarters out of my mom and ran over to the machine. I was barely tall enough to see the screen on my tip-toes, and I was killed almost instantly. I had no idea what I was doing, but something inside of me wanted more. Even though I never got very far, I always had a yearning for that game...
The Laundro-mat: Heaven on Earth
Over the next year or so, I kept begging my mom for quarters every time I saw an arcade machine. I played Pac-Man, Centipede, Galaxian or Galaga (don't remember which one), Defender, and many other games which I don't really remember the names of. Then it happened... My dad came home with the machine of my dreams. It was the Atari 2600 which was simply referred to as "the Atari". I had Pac-Man, Space Invaders, Circus, Combat, Beserk, and Missle Command. For the next 6 years I amassed a collection of 32 games, and hundreds of games between my friends and I. I ruined about 4 joysticks with my overplaying until I bought a "Slik Stik". I can't remember if that is the correct spelling, but that joystick ended all my problems! It was much more responsive than other sticks, it was more comfortable to hold, it looked cooler (It had an orange nob with neat little orange arrows painted on the face of the unit), the name sounded cool, and it was durable beyond belief! The Slik Stik ruled!
Dawn of a New Era
Besides the classic arcade conversions, many good games were made for the Atari 2600. Some of my favorite games were PitFall!, Kaboom!, Yar's Revenge, Frogger, Enduro, Skiing (don't laugh), Donkey Kong, Millepede, Beserk, and many more. I could play most of these games for hours without dying! Then one day I saw the Nintendo Entertainment System on television. I don't think I have ever been more amazed and awe-stricken in my life than I was that fateful day. The graphics, the games, the robot R.O.B. (Robotic Operating Buddy), the control pads with 2 buttons, and THE GUN! I wanted the NES so badly, but I knew that the $150 price tag was WAY out of my parents' range (we wuz po'). I finally accepted the fact that I would never have one so I kept playing my Atari and tried not to think about the "spoiled brats" who would be getting "Nintendo Entertainment Systems" for Christmas.
Now You're Playing With Power!
For the next two years I continued to play the Atari several hours a day even though no new games had come out in years. It was two years since the NES came out, and I still had not played it! One day, I walked into Radio Shack, and there it was! After waiting over half an hour for these two guys to quit hogging it I finally stepped up to play the unit. I could feel power pulsating from the controller, and the audio/visual delight was amazing! I was actually playing a Nintendo Entertainment System! The game was Super Mario Brothers, and it was the neatest thing I had ever seen. It had music! It had scrolling graphics! It had more than 4 colors! It had two buttons! It had a GUN! Boy did I want a Nintendo! I stopped referring to it as the Nintendo Entertainment System when I heard the store clerk call it the "Nintendo". Saying it that way made me feel like I was an insider to the video gaming world. I felt cool saying Nintendo. This day was a day that changed my life!
Nintendoless (but not sleepless) in North Carolina
Still Nintendoless, I was playing with my Transformers and GI Joes in the yard when one of the neighborhood kids approached me. He was a strange kid, and he always used other people's stuff. His name was Danny, and his mother was of Asian descent and dressed in her homeland's traditional garb. He rode another kid's bike like it was his, and the kid who owned the bike never objected. He played with other kid's toys, and they never cared. I wondered why kid's let him do that because he wasn't a bully. No bullies existed in that neighborhood because bullies knew I would kick their @$$es if they tried something. I never initiated any violence, but I did fight if I had to. I remember when some kid (not Danny) and his brother pushed my sister off the monkey bars on the playground. Luckily I was on my way there, and I saw the whole thing. I promptly beat the $#!+ out of him, and his brother ran away in fear. Later that kid came from behind and bit me! I slammed him into the ground, but it was too late... My shoulder was bleeding! Maybe this is where my CastleVania fascination came from. Vampires, biting, blood... Anyway, my mom was majorly ticked off so she went and had a chat with the "biter"'s mom. I guess they cleared things up because those two kids never bothered my sister or me again. That beating I gave that kid must have struck fear into all bullies because I don't remember any other incidents on that playground. To get back on the subject, Danny approached me and said that if I let him play with my toys he would let me go over to his house and play his Nintendo. What a proposition! I took him up on the offer and let him wage battles with GI Joe using Transformers for vehicles. Snake Eyes was driving a jeep, Destro was manning Megatron in his gun form, and there were many other creative setups that this kid and I devised. Of course, once the battle commenced, the Transformers ignored their GI Joe pilots to wage their own war. We had two separate wars on the same battlefield! After about an hour, his mom called for him to come home. I asked him when I would get to play his Nintendo, and he just kept walking. I knew then that he didn't have a Nintendo, but I was glad that he got to play with my GI Joes anyhow because we had fun. Besides, I don't think he had any toys at all... Or a bike... Poor guy.
A Day of Reckoning
Some months later, my parents met some people at church, and they became good friends. The couple had two boys that were about my age so when my parents went to eat dinner at their house my sisters and I were invited as well. After shooting BB guns outside, hiking around in the woods, and playing some fierce games of tackle soccer, we finally went inside to eat. After dinner, the elder boy asked if I wanted to play Nintendo. That was like asking someone if they wanted a million dollars! They had Super Mario Brothers and RC Pro-Am. When my mom saw how much I enjoyed that NES, she knew that we couldn't afford it, but she kept the idea in mind. That Christmas, I didn't get the Nintendo, but I did get an awesome radio controlled car called the Turbo Hopper. However, my love of Radio Controlled devices is another story, but I will mention this: I built a radio controlled car myself, and I have never seen one that is faster. Back to the main story, I was beginning to think that I would never get a Nintendo. My mom went to New York right after that because her grandmother died, and when she came back she had a surprise for me! My cousin and good friend Tim Munn decided that he didn't want his Nintendo anymore so he sold it to my mom for 80 smackeroonies! That was $70 cheaper than the shelf price, and she knew how much I wanted it so she got it. My cousin must have been delusional at the time because the Nintendo ranks #1 in the number of hours of fun that any possession has given to me. I still play it TODAY more than my other gaming systems. He tells me that he was burned out and disillusioned because he played it too much, and his copy of Metroid was defective (pain of all pains). That wouldn't have stopped me so there might be more to it than that... Maybe he just wanted the money! Since the Nintendo was so expensive, I had to share it with my sister, but I thought to myself "it's all good" because we finally have it! The only game we got with it was Excitebike, but we got Super Mario Brothers 2 about 3 weeks later for our birthdays combined (her birthday is only two and a half weeks after mine). My mom had to scour the countryside for that game! Newbies to video gaming won't remember that, but that was one of the first games for which the demand was so high that people would resort to unethical behavior to get. It wasn't quite up there with the dreaded Cabbage Patch dolls (which I never understood the appeal of), but it was something big. Speaking of Cabbage Patch dolls, I remember seeing girls in my sunday school class with those freakin' things. We would be playing Bible trivia with my team ALWAYS winning and me answering 98.63574832% of the questions, and I was right 100% of the time (a fact, but it's irrelavent to this story), and after I would answer I would be thinking "OK, it's the doll's turn next"! I used to get a kick out of that! The girls and their Cabbage patch dolls were inseparable. There was only one girl in the class who didn't have one, and I secretly had a crush on her... Probably because she hated those dolls! Wow! Am I off the subject or what? Anyhow, I started bringing my Transformers to church because it seemed fair to me that if the girls could bring their toys, I could bring mine. Now I could play with my Transformer during the sermon rather than reading Revelation again. Revelation you say? I really did read Revelation during sermons! I love reading that book of the Bible! Maybe it was a tad strange for a young boy to be doing that (I started doing it at 5 years old), but it was just so interesting to me! It was much more interesting than the sermon, and I didn't feel guilty about not paying attention because I was reading the Bible! Hey! I'm even more off the subject than I was before!
So the Nintendo was the start of a new life for me.
TO BE CONTINUED...
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