This article is written mainly for men my age who had a fulfilled childhood; or even to women my age, who were either really freaking cool or who had older brothers. For both sexes, however, we can all agree that one of the best parts of growing up in the 90s was having a balance between playing outside and playing inside. Competition was more than just a couple of kids in a basement seeing who can collect the most amount of points on their gaming console. We grew up playing games like four-square, tetherball, handball, kickball, tag, kick the can, and wiffle ball, and we did it on our own merit without having a PE coach listen to us nag about how we’d rather be playing Need for Speed 2 at that given moment. Granted, we enjoyed the occasional video game, but those things are becoming a serious hindrance to the development of social and critical thinking skills of our nation’s youth. As technology becomes more prevalent in American homes, it is increasingly common to treat kids who play video games excessively with clinical impulse control disorder, the same complexities in a gambling addiction. Hell, when we got bored as kids, we climbed trees and threw oranges at old people waking by. We never hit any, but that didn’t deter us from laughing so hard tears ran down our legs. Say goodbye to a bygone era. Anyway, below is a list of games, played both inside and out, that I could probably kick your ass in.
This is where most 90’s boys first learned to hustle. It was street gambling for little suburban kids, but instead of winning balloons of crack we won bottle toppers, also known as pogs. The setting was most likely the school playground, in a shady corner with Coolio’s “Gangsters Paradise” (barely) blasting from Tommy’s CD player. Basically, each player laid 5 paper pogs face up, and the first player throws a “slammer” at the pile and collects the faced-down pogs as victory tokens. You repeat this between players until each pog is gone. Some kids went to school with 10 pogs and a plastic slammer and left with a full backpack of these paper coins and 30 metal slammers. However, if you challenge me, you better have a cast-iron slammer heavier than my 8-ball ripper blade. Furthermore, any punk going home with my Poison pog series is also going home with a black eye. I play dirty, homes. Eventually, because of kids likes me, every school in America banned this method of youth gambling. You’d be surprised how many black markets there are in second grade; “too much television watchin’ got me chasin dreams.”
2. Golden Eye, Nintendo 64
The boys-night-in staple. The go-to for the best gamer in 5th grade competition. The foundation of every shoot-em-up game on the market today. If you didn’t play Golden Eye in the 90’s, you either had a beanie babie collection or you were the weird kid in the corner who smelled bad. Read between the lines on those all you want. Every 90’s kid had this game and a fortunate few even had the gold cartridge, worth an inflation adjusted $23 in today’s market. Those damn rich kids. The setting was likely Mike’s bedroom, with “I’ll Be Missing You” or “Can’t Hold Me Down” by Puff Daddy blaring. Cheetoh’s and snuck sodas cover the floor since we know Mikes’ mom won’t be home until at least 6. First level, of course, is The Temple. Location drop is essential since the Golden Gun carrier rules the game. Even if you get it, I’ll bolt to the RC-P90 or Cougar Magnum; both get the job done. By the way, if you completed the level The Jungle on “007” mode, email me your address so I can send you a bottle of my finest bubbly and a package of USDA Choice Omaha Steaks. “Mad props.”
3. Wall Ball (Butts Up)
Although not necessarily a 90s game, this still should ring a bell of nostalgia for you. Just hearing the name itself brings a sharp pain to my ribs and back. Had I been smarter, I would have blamed those fist-like bruises on Mr. Thomas’ angry-ass and had him fired. Nothing else defines “boys” like pelting each other with a rubber ball for fun. For the ladies reading this (remember now, boys will be boys), the object is to throw a ball at the wall with another catching it, at which point he too throws the ball back at the wall. If he drops it, he has to touch the wall before another player throws the “live” ball at the wall, and if the running player fails to do so, he stands still while the other kid pelts him. If you saw a kid returning from recess crying, there’s a good chance this game is why. Lace up those Reebok pumps boys, this game requires speed, coordination, agility, and cajones. It was the easiest way to weed out the cowards and to determine if the new kid could hang or not. It was not for the faint of heart. Butts Up was every man for himself and the consequences included physical and emotional pain, questions from your mom about who’s bullying you, and girls thinking you’re a Sally if you cry. This game was raw.
4. Cruis’n USA, Arcade
You know as well as I do that as soon as you sat in that racing chair, the coin clinging puberty factory you were just in fades and you entered a whole new world. One where the winner of this race got to spend an evening with Kelly Kapowski and all the 8th graders would let you sit on the back of the bus. The games were over; this was real life. Rocking my JNCO jeans, puka shell necklace, and bleached tips, I stepped into the Ferrari Testarrossa ready to leave skid marks all over Beverly Hills, which you know was your favorite level too. I rev my engine as the countdown clock begins, and the machine rattles like pills in Robert Downey Jr.’s prescription bottle. To my left, the guaranteed loser and also my 5th grade crushes obsession, was Jonathon Taylor Thomas. His Oakley’s, hemp necklace, and tie-dye shirt drenched in Polo Sport didn’t intimidate me. To my right is Dale Earnhardt Sr., NASCAR extraordinaire, waiting patiently in his signature #3 Goodwrench racecar. “GO” flashes before my eyes and already on the first bump I clear 15 feet. I then ram into Dale Earnhardt, whose car starts smoking as I T-bone it against a wall for a few hundred feet. He walks away unscathed, winning the Daytona 500 on his 19th attempt in a few short years. JTT tries to clip my tail, but I switch to fifth gear (homeboy here chose the manual option) and he spins out of control, smashing into Uncle Phil’s house only to have Geoffrey light a cigar off his wreckages flames. I am victor. I snap back to reality and use all 200 tickets to buy Danielle a tomagotchi from the prize counter. I am, for once, the coolest kid in 5th grade.
I think that covers the best things the 90’s had to offer boys. I contemplated having the Hanson Brothers die in the fiery wreck, but JTT is still a threat to everyman’s relationship. Just ask your girlfriend.
(Authors note: Pokémon cards missed the realm of being a 90s game since the cards were not published until 1999.)