Growing Up Nintendo

“Dan, are you awake?”

“Yeah – what?” The first voice was filtered through the faintest shadow of a whisper, from the bottom bunk where a younger, chubbier version of myself had been made to go to sleep. The second, more annoyed of the two, came from the top where my cousin, who’s house I was sleeping over at (and most often did in those early endless vacation summers of an American boy’s youth.)

“Nothing,” came my childhood reply. I’d wait another ten or fifteen minutes, but what felt like easily an hour or so, and then try again.

Eventually, there would be no response.

I’d slip and slide up out of bed, being careful not to let the covers make too loud of a noise (a futile act considering my next action) and turn on the TV, as quickly as possible jamming on the volume down button to get rid of the staticy sound of white snow buzzing away on Channel 3. Blessed Channel 3, the video in channel – the video game channel…

I’d turn on the Nintendo and as long as the night would stay dark, I’d play the original The Legend of Zelda. Fighting sleep and Moblins, cutting away at sleepy dust and shrubs alike, armed with nothing but a rudimentary five button controller and the blue boomerang, I’d make it well until dawn, when I’d hear Dan’s parents stirring up their morning routines. I’d rush to a save point, shut everything down, and scurry back into bed for maybe an hour or two’s sleep before my good-night’s-sleep pal in the upper bunk would wake up and demand a full day’s worth of play. Which, for a young boy with a good layer of cushioning and fueled by breakfasts, lunches and dinners of donuts, mac n’ cheese and pizza, was no difficult task.

And that began my love affair with all things Nintendo. Between Link, Mario, MegaMan and there rip offs, I would easily spend the next several years of my life staying up too late and fighting through burning eyeballs to get to the next level.

Of course, later in life, I would devise elaborate ways to get around the difficulties of playing these systems (which I could have just played during the day if Dan’s old man wasn’t such a fanatic about the console or if my own dad wouldn’t have swarn off video games since they ruined his precious pinball arcades…). I’d wait longer to question Dan’s waking status, eventually not even asking, just listening for the sounds of his sleeping breath; turn the volume on the TV down at the end of the night while he was in another room; leave the system running and just turn off the screen when I heard the parents in the morning, saving the game later while everyone was having an extra donut. Life was good, and I felt like the master of sneaky-videogamism.

At some point in life I began to ride skateboards, and for lack of a good skate game back then (Skate or Die just didn’t compare to actually living to skate), I slowly pulled away from my Super Nintendo. I didn’t mind, it was hard enough staying in $100 skate decks that would break every month let alone sparing any change for the latest version of Golden Axe. Genesis, and later Playstation, weren’t the same anyway. They had stupid, normal names that reminded me of musty church bathrooms or wearing diapers and playing with rattles, respectively. I moved on from skateboarding to keg parties and got mixed up with the bad element, (of course, I’m speaking of the female one) which helped push me further into the debauchery of denying all things gamer.

But then arrived the Nintendo 64 with a new version of an old favorite, and I slowly worked my way to the top of the Mario Kart 64 chain, with Dan there (he’d since been renamed Bob, as children rarely retain there original names through teenagerdom) climbing the ranks as well, along with our little pack of ex-skaters gone awry. It was just like the old days, but instead of sneaking around to play video games, I did so proudly, out in the open, with a beer and a cigarette in hand, defiant of the “normal hours” that good, God fearing people played Tetris (as if) and whiling away my late childhood with some of the strongest thumbs in all of the New World.

Life has since taken many other turns, I’ve owned a GameCube and, having a growing step-son at one point, even bought a PlayStation 2. After crashing every car Grand Theft Auto had to offer, I can honestly say I wasn’t impressed. After the allure of a few GameCube games wore off, and with maybe a total of 100 hours on my DS and waning interest prevailing, I am slowly leaving my addiction, my humble sweet affliction behind.

But, even for a recovering addict with nothing but good times ahead – the promise of nearly 3Gbs of email storage, a mobile phone that can fit inside of a pack of cigarettes, and finally some serious indications that Lynyrd Skynyrd might break up for good – I still can’t fight off the realization that I’ll be one of the first to knock a mother and child over to get my hands on a pre-Black Friday Wii.

God, if you’re up there, help them all…(you know, when the new Mario Kart comes out…)

Up Next: In these times...