October 30, 2006

Super Mari-ode

**Warning: This post is long and introspective.**

It's 6:15 on a Sunday morning, and I'm driving miles away from my nice, warm bed with no one else in the car. What the heck am I doing out here, much less up at this hour?

Because, in my wondrous geek-dom, I had decided to head out to the local Toys'R'Us and snatch an elusive pre-order for the Wii, a new system from Nintendo featuring state-of-the-art control functions as well as one of the most extensive launch library of titles we've seen in a long while. While most of the news that's been leaked out to the public shows that they'll have plenty of systems available on or near launch day (thus avoiding the eBay frenzy caused by the XBox360 and will be mirrored by the PS3 next month), it'd still be nice to have one on launch day, and I'm REALLY excited about the Legend of Zelda title that's coming out with the system. Plus, I'm a big nerd.

But on the ride over, I can't help but think about when I got my first system. I was 7, living in Austin, TX and had seen on at a neighbor's house. They were a little older than I was and were playing Metroid (my first lesson in feminism when I found out that Samus Aran, the hero, was in fact **GASP!** a girl??). For Christmas that year, I found the Power Zapper (the gun that came with the system) in my stocking, noting with dismay that Santa must have forgotten the rest of the system. Then I looked over at the tv, and there was that grey box with the red light glowing. It came with Super Mario Bros. and Duck Hunt, games that would taunt my parents and I for hours as we futilely tried to squash goombas and hurtle across chasms with unforeseen apparent horrors below, all the while screaming our frustrations (the now-infamous, "Oh, Andy!!" can be heard across Memphis golf courses to this very day). Later, we added other games, including our favorite game shows like Jeopardy and Wheel of Fortune, trying to out-do each other in battle of the mind as the glow of an 8-bit Vanna White turned the letters that we would curse whenever the others guessed the puzzle correctly. There was the Family Feud game for that computer that seldom worked (yay, DOS!), but often provided laughs if two of us would play.

There was also the night in '91 when we were living in Hickory, NC that would be an early high point for me. I caught Carmen Sandiego. It was during the World Series (it was Game Six, in fact) and Timothy Gilbert and his brothers and sister were over at our house to watch the game. Being as ADD as we were, we decided to play Where in the World is Carmen Sandiego while we watched, and wouldn't you know it -- Det. Mike happened to solve his final case in the late innings of the ballgame, not daring to look as the he closed in on the criminal, knowing he it was. I waited until I heard the telltale "dootdoo-dootdoo-dootdoo-DOOTDOO-DOODLEDOO!!" sound clip that told me I'd successfully apprehended the correct criminal. Back then, that was big times since it had take 40 cases to find her, and for my efforts, I was put in the Gumshoe Hall of Fame, my initials etched in the computer for all to see.


There is NO ONE on the highway, and while I'm still finding it hard to believe that I'm even up this early, I'm getting excited about the new system. I remember seeing all the characters in Super Mario World that was supposed to be released with the new super-duper Super Nintendo. Ninety-six levels of characters that almost looked 3-D and better powers for Mario to defeat Bowser. A few years later, when the price came down and I was lucky enough to get one for Christmas, I reveled in actually being able to save my game and come back later to keep playing. I remember Tim Kerlee getting the Aladdin game at a birthday party while we were in middle school and alternating between playing that and SimCity, where we'd build up these huge cities and then exercise the options for setting disastrous fires, setting off huge Earthquakes, or setting loose a Godzilla-like calamity upon our witless citizens. These bouts were between Nerf wars in the front yard in a chilly January afternoon (oddly enough, I can still remember that his thirteenth birthday was on the 13th day of the 13th month of '94).

Then, another friend of ours showed us a game that he'd started playing that would change how I saw video games -- Secret of Mana. Instead of one main city/world, this game showed me an expansive environment that I could explore at will, destroying enemies with eight different kinds of weapons, and even more types of magic. It was so much different from any other games I'd played, and I thought it was one-of-a-kind. While was definitely unique, it turned me one to RPGs like the Final Fantasy and Breath of Fire series that I still enjoy today. I loved (and still do, really) these types of games because they forced me to THINK about what to do next, not blindly go out and try something, knowing that I had that extra life in my pocket. I can remember sitting in our overstuffed blue chair playing the game as Simon and Garfunkel played on the stereo, or as someone else watched a TV show. As I hit my growth spurt, I went from sitting correctly in it all the way to sprawling on it with my legs splayed out over one of the arms. All this while vanquishing foes and saving world after world.


As I'm pulled into the parking lot, I noticed that there didn't seem to be that many people lined up. This surprised me, as I know that Toys'R'Us is also releasing pre-selling the PS3 this morning, and I figured those would be in high demand. Then, as I got out of the car, I realized that I was looking at the exit door... which was on the other side of the facade from the entrance. I ended up being about #40 in line, which I though might give me a good shot at getting one, especially considering they were also releasing the newest Tickle Me Elmo (being retailed for $35 and available on eBay for about $90-100). Every sort of person was in line, be it high schoolers to older folks, some of whom were indeed getting them for themselves and not just for their kids).

But it was predominantly college kids. I couldn't help but think about those great college days and coming back to the dorm after a few hours of class and seeing one of my roommates playing Soul Calibur on Dreamcast, trying his best to unlock every picture in the game. Then there were the hilarious 4-person battles on Power Stone where someone would inevitably be blown off the screen by the cartoonish pop gun or toy mallet. There was the Vanderbilt Football season which saw Mike and Jay destroy team after team, winning with scores like 179-7, 203-10, or the 161-2 near-shutout that will forever remain in infamy. I thought of my mother getting hooked on Zelda: Ocarina of Time and uttering curses as she missed targets with arrows and asking me to play the scarier dungeons (coming full circle from when I first saw Transformers on tv at the age of 3 and ran screaming to her in fear).

Then there was the ultimate in college video gaming -- the Street Fighter Ladder. Thanks to Little Jay's Super Nintendo, 12 band greeks (and Bob Dole) waged war to see just who among us was the best at the classic fighter. Many fighting methods were implemented, including Yoga Cheese (by yours truly), Random Button Pushing (by India, amongst many others), and the Bob Dole Challenge, where the competitor would fight against someone with the famous Bob Dole puppet covering one hand. Dole would eventually gain his own spot on the ladder, though I can't remember if he was able to ever tally a victory. Being the nerd I am, I started a website to keep track of points as well as standings in the ladder and turned it in for class credit. It was another instance of video games providing a full circle, as I'm not sure I would've ever gotten into programming or found the career I'm enjoying today.


It's 7 o'clock and COLD. I've been standing in line for 45 minutes with an hour left to go. Before I know it, the sun's coming up, and so is the store manager, with precious slips of paper in hand. Turns out that there are only 7 PS3 pre-orders and 20 Wii pre-orders available, and he's come out to hand out vouchers for each. All the PS3's go quick, but the Wiis go a little slower, and I'm hoping that maybe there are enough Elmo-buyers ahead of me that I can sneak -- nope, there goes the last one. I was a good 10 people shy, and the last ones to get one said they'd been out there since 4:30. At least I know I'm not THAT big of a nerd.

As I head back, I reflect on what the heck all this -- getting up early, standing out in the cold -- was for. I realized that video games mean a lot to me now because some of my favorite memories and favorite times are associated with them. There's been a lot of change and challenge in my life, and it was always helpful to be able to immerse myself in another place, somewhere that wasn't where I was, and just relax for a short time. Even now, my wife and I play Mario Party (at her request, mind you) and laugh out loud at our futile struggle against a computer that constantly cheats. I'm hoping that, since the Wii's controls make it easier to pick up a certain game's techniques as well as having the old school games available to download onto the system from a server, it'll be something that we both can enjoy without having to worry about complicated button sequences or lengthy backstory to catch up on. As great as I've enjoyed gaming for these past 18 years, I can't wait for the next 18 to come, and possibly even have someone with me along for the ride.


At 3:35 AM, Blogger EdnaPontellierProdigy said...

omg, i TOTALLY forgot about carmen sandiego! i lOVED that game!

yeah, only got that far in your post, i'll finish it later ;)

At 8:53 PM, Blogger doc one ill said...

hmm... I remember when Laura used to post on MY blog.... yeah... good times... :P

At 10:50 AM, Blogger Mike said...

Haha! New best friend!! ;-)


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