Sega Genesis/Super Nintendo 1989-????
A black-and-silver monster arrived at my parents’ house in the fashion increasingly less-associated with my father’s work. An unsolicited wailing guitar, a block-pixel early-nineties aggressive assertion of words like RAD, this Sega Genesis, sketcher of battle-lines opposing the sedate and gray-violet rectangle called Super Nintendo. Yes, I skipped the NES, go ‘cry in a forum’.
There was a grass-stained soaked playground rivalry of kids lining up opposite each other to try and out-scream one another over whether Mario or Sonic was better.
History now dictates to us that Sonic was totally better. He ran faster, had more friends, was a ‘punkass’ and enjoyed relevant snacks such as chili dogs, if the lore of our Saturday morning cartoons is to be believed. The beautiful and the triumphant are often outdone by the mundane. That is why Sonic ‘totally fell off’ and current-era Mario games sell a million units.
Feel like Sonic is probably living off of royalties in a really humble apartment somewhere routinely dressing in 1980s-style exercise clothes [primary-colored gym shorts with ‘piping’, matching wristband and sweatband set] despite being inactive; he eats bran flakes in his kitchen and reads the paper, smokes cigarillos guiltily, is surly at articles about Mario’s success. Tails comes over to encourage him to train and try to get his old glory back but Sonic [his bathroom wallpaper is ugly floral and it was like that when he moved in] knows it will never be the same.
Sonic sits on his vinyl couch, wearing sweatsocks. He puts his feet up and watches the morning news, featuring a ‘segment’ of Mario running between rows of fans high fiving them as they wave plush mushrooms and light up plastic pipe toys. Mario is doing a ‘publicity event’ in Rockefeller Center with the president of Nintendo. Mario is challenged to swim as fast as he can in a swimming pool filled with hundred-dollar bills. Sonic looks at his feet. The toes of his sweatsocks are a little gray and bowed forward. Sonic feels like it looks like his feet are frowning. Sometimes Sonic calls Luigi to hang out but it is always a little awkward.
I witnessed my first permanent video game character death in a Sega Genesis RPG entitled Phantasy Star II. Its thinly-characterized future dystopia was so stirring to me at approximately the age of nine that I spent time in school writing books about the game with pictures that looked like this:
Super Nintendo RPG Chrono Trigger is also iconic; if I don’t mention it someone on a forum will write WHAT NO MENTION OF CHRONO TRIGGER in a rage as if they were paying money to hear one person’s chronology of every video game console they have ever played.
Nintendo Entertainment System (????)
I didn’t skip the NES, the kid who lived across the street from me only had an original Nintendo. I never had an original Nintendo. Their family was wealthier than mine, but playing NES in this kid’s basement was a ‘retro experience.’ Mostly I just watched him play Mega Man and Zelda all the time, but it was by this kid alone that I learned every single white-block warp-whistle ‘secret’ of Super Mario 3.
I also developed the strange hypothesis whereby, when playing ‘retro’ games, one develops some kind of spoken or behavioral device, which, if conducted at the correct point in time during a frustrating platformer, would convey on them extra luck. These games were so hard as to invent groundless superstition in children who liked to pour sand into the joints of GI Joe figures.
This kid’s dad had a poster of Jim Morrison on the basement wall. This kid claimed Jim Morrison’s eyes would follow you around the room. I thought they kind of did. This kid’s house was on a hill, and in the summer he’d usually rather paddle a canoe around in the water that pooled in the depression at the hill’s base than play Nintendo.
To this day playing NES seems like ‘something people did in some kid’s basement’.
Atari Lynx (1989-1989)
The present climate is one whereby any bro can start a blog, possibly one titled ‘gam3rz0ne.com’ or ‘ludomusings.narrative.org’, write a post about the time a Microsoft community manager hosted a sweet ‘launch party’ in their neighborhood or their thoughts about ‘choice in games’ and thereby title themselves a ‘game journalist’, and should anyone imply otherwise [one is] an elitist who is failing to nurture the ‘gamer community’. Someone is on their way to write in a forum right now, or possibly ‘tweeting’ about how I am an elitist and how this article is ‘bullshit’/they don’t ‘get’ it.
In the era wherein my father did a breed and quantity of ‘official’ technology-oriented writing sufficient to earn himself a regular newspaper byline [in a climate whereby one did not have to clarify ‘print’ versus other media because there was only ‘print’] it was normal to receive unsolicited hardware/software/stuffed animals/t-shirts as press materials. Today regardless of [one’s] perceived ‘legitimacy’ in the widely disputed and controversial field of game journalism, if [one] were to pose an email to Sony Corp. or possibly Nintendo requesting to have/borrow a console/platform on which to ‘review’ software products [one] would not receive a reply.
When I was small enough to leave scuff marks on walls with the heels of my Keds when angry or small enough to cry because a physically-smaller boy in sixth grade [name remembered but redacted due to unlikely modern-day Facebook friendship] kicked my shins in a way that made teachers say ‘boys do that when they like you’, unsolicited press materials arrived at our house and my father would say things to the effect of ‘why do they send me this’ and ‘I don’t write about this anymore’, only possibly with more expletives.
Usually we kept them but when my father handed me a small pill-shaped object with a small screen called a ‘Lynx’ manufactured by Atari he told me that we had to give it back when we were done ‘demoing’ it, and I recall feeling dubious, like ‘no we don’t, because we kept all the [majority of prior/subsequent entries in series] NOTE fact I still own a free Pokemon Afghan Throw.
Seems unusual that an Atari Lynx was my very first portable console, since Nintendo’s Game Boy launched in the concurrent period and was far more popular, to where only veteran developer bros and people like me can casually mention ‘Atari Lynx’ in conversation. Seems like the most obscure platform.
On a plane to visit dad’s parents in Washington D.C. I played some kind of maze game involving blocks moving. Had to scour Wikipedia for approximately one minute to divine that the name of this game was Chip’s Challenge. It had a level called BRUSHFIRE and when periodically reflecting on ‘retro’ gaming experiences I seem to recall the music was pretty sweet in that level.
During the rest of the trip to dad’s parents’ we were taken on traditional U.S. capital tourist experiences. Afterward we actually did have to give back the Atari Lynx. Felt bummed. When I remember the Atari Lynx I remember the scent of airplanes, the whirr of their air circulation. Sometimes when I ride airplanes I remember the Atari Lynx.
Nintendo Game Boy/Game Boy Color 1989-1992
Unsure why the Game Boy arrived at our house. Feels like I had already played a number of handheld systems and, in a fashion similar to contrasting early Macintosh computers with early refrigerator-sized personal computers, the Game Boy’s abstract green-and-black lexicon felt ‘mad dated.’
When people talk about the denouement of a level of Super Mario Bros. they say with the importance of cultural quotation, ‘I’m sorry Mario but the Princess is in another castle’, possibly while snorting awkwardly and likely precisely prior to talking to you about Final Fantasy VII. The Game Boy incarnation of Nintendo’s ‘classic property’ [feels like I am beginning a normal article when I write that] concluded levels in some kind of mosquito-mouse abomination leaping, the screen declared OH! DAISY and that was what greeted the player upon defeating a boss.
Became infuriated at the mosquito-mouse. Became fond of striking the Game Boy lightly against my forehead when I ‘died’ in an act of frustration. Had been similarly fond of digging my teeth into the SNES controller in an analogous expression of frustration. The teeth marks still exist like excavation relics. Feel like in a museum about SNES someone would point to a SNES controller behind glass that had a ‘placard’, someone would tell their class ‘this is where someone bit it because she was mad at Yoshi.’
One day I struck my forehead with the Game Boy and met a startling revelation: the green screen dark and cobweb-splintered, an iridescent black liquid-crystal stain spreading like blood from a cyborg wound site, the entire display shattered and permanently silenced.
When I did the same thing to the Game Boy Color, my parents became irritable, wondered if I had an ‘anger problem’.
Sega Game Gear, 1991-1995
Perhaps I am going aberrant from the ‘throughline’ of this series, as I never have officially owned a Sega Game Gear [was instructed ‘played’ not ‘owned’, so perhaps still legit.]
Grammy took my cousin, my sister and I to the Ground Round restaurant in Massachusetts where we grew up. Cousin and I were heavily hinting to generous Grammy we wanted to receive a Sega Game Gear as a gift. We thought it would be funny if we owned Sega Game Gears and the Ground Round waiter came to our table only to discover us too busy with our portable full color Sega Game Gears [which had Sonic, in whom we still firmly believed] to place an order.
Mimed ‘being a waiter’ to my cousin, said something to the effect of ‘are you ready to order.’ Cousin replied NOOOOO in a sort of squeaky baby voice. Sister, uncomprehending, giggled and played along, stabbing her four-ish year-old thumbs into an invisible console as we were doing. Cousin mimed being a waiter, asked me to order; I pretended to be immersed in the Sega Game Gear, said in similarly squeaky voice NOOOOO.
My cousin got a Sega Game Gear probably from his parents. Approximately five years later, the Ground Round restaurant became a deserted island, shuttered with its windows boarded, an eyesore on a public highway. My Grammy died from cancer. Our first holiday without her my cousin gave the Sega Game Gear to my sister because it was pretty old.
I played it for like a minute. It wasn’t that great. Its battery life was intolerably low. Needed bushels and battalions of batteries to keep it living. I went, ‘the battery is dying’, and my cousin went NOOOOO.
Mid-Level Personal Computers, Various (1991-1996)
An increasingly wide and yawning schism opens between those who today would call themselves ‘console gamers’ and those who self-identify with an excess of pride approaching nationalistic levels as ‘PC gamers’. It is to the mid-level personal computer period to which this schism can be credited.
This is a time period wherein a shrink-wrapped retail computer game box was always a ‘fucking crapshoot’ and you had to be able to read the box in total comprehension of ‘specs’ [a series of codewords containing frequent unpronounceable occurrences of the letter X and a number and things loosely co-relatable to the capacity of your ‘operating system’] and things called ‘drivers’, ‘graphics cards’, ‘plugins’ and similarly incomprehensible language.
The only reason to persistently tolerate this ‘usability wall’ is that it sneaked up on the user slowly, so that gamers on this ‘platform’ were fairly well-equipped on the topics of their ‘drivers’/graphics cards/general ‘specs’, also paperback fiction + shitty movies about ‘hackers’ were ascending to popularity and relevance which made me feel cool when I was circumventing a menu interface and conducting operations within the guts of a machine geared at getting King’s Quest VI to operate correctly/not ‘crash.’
Seems like nerds might have begun to play StarCraft/WarCraft/Quake/Doom during this period. I became conscious that there were games that were really pretty much for boys, probably nerdy boys, and games that were potentially engaging despite audience overlap.
Clicked around in the popular abstract melodrama called ‘Myst’ until I reached some panicking bros that were stuck in books. Decided against completing the game when it made me choose which bro I should help, the gross asshole or the dignified asshole, felt bad for the grossbro and figured the dignified asshole was probably the ‘real enemy’. Realized I could pick to help their dad too, was overwhelmed by options. Seems like this formed my first introduction to the concept of ‘choice in games’, about which over a decade later [like right about 2008] bloggers wrote a lot of ‘thinkpieces’.