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// article by SoyBomb

Part 1: Haven

I started playing video games when I was about five years old, when my mother brought home a brand new NES for the family. I never knew anything about video games before that point; I was never one of those people who got into gaming through the arcades, likely because I was terrible at them and I didn't have that many quarters to dole out. I had never heard of Nintendo or Sega or Super Mario or Legend of Zelda at the time that gray video game box first arrived in our home. My world was a daft melange of Care Bears and Thomas the Tank Engine. I had no idea of the massive Nintendo craze that was sweeping the entire continent at that time. I had no idea that Nintendomania was resulting in millions, nay, BILLIONS of dollars flowing into the home entertainment industry. (Then again, at age five, was I really an expert in commerce?) I had no idea about the entire video game revolution and what it entailed.

That is, until we hooked up our NES. It was a family event: we moved our couch so that it was up close to the television set. With this new piece of technology in place, it was as if a portal to another world had emerged within our living room, and we didn't want to miss a moment of this monument. The lights were down low. Suddenly, the controller was in my hand: the rectangular entryway into a brand new world, one I could have never imagined in my wildest dreams. A world where I was in control of the outcome, provided I had the skill to make effective decisions. A world where I could fully immerse myself and interact with my surroundings, a far cry from the singular perspective of literature or cinema.

It flashed before my eyes: the dark orange logo, resembling a large brick, that read "SUPER MARIO BROS." Just the opening iconic title screen was enough to stir excitement in us all. When, without warning, the youthful plumber began to move along the bottom of the screen, past the title and along the cracked ground to whatever lay ahead, it was even more impressive. Unfortunately, Mario died along the way, but that was beside the point. But it was time to actually play, and I took control of the infamous Mario! Not exactly an expert on controls, I took to the mean streets of the Mushroom Kingdom, headstrong. I wish my head HAD been strong, as I planted Mario face first into a Goomba and immediately died. My father did not fare much better, but it was still just the beginning of an endless quest. The excitement had not faded in the face of this adversity; no, it was something to be conquered and overcome. That feat would not happen for me for many years (and now it takes far less effort on my part to save the Princess), but the effect of Super Mario Bros. was not lost on me, nor has it ever. A new world. A sanctum sanctorum. A haven for new and exciting adventuring, for challenges, for overcoming obstacles, fictional and digital though they may be.

Super Mario Bros. was packaged along with another strange game called Duck Hunt. Using this long orange plastic rifle connected to the NES, you could shoot ducks that fly around or clay pigeons tossed as they appeared on screen. That was definitely an experience all of its own. I can remember the sound of the springy click of the trigger, the ka-pow on the screen, the bitter chortle of the dog as I failed to successfully hit the ducks. We had just as much fun trying to see if we could shoot that dog as we did playing the regular game. Not long after this, two more games were purchased, which were also played in the dark to impressive reactions: a racing game called Al Unser Jr.'s Turbo Racing, and some weird puzzle game. I think they called it "Tetris" or something like that.

Over time, we picked up additional games, some as birthday or Christmas presents (Faxanadu, Kirby's Adventure, Thunder & Lightning); others bought directly from a friend (Dr. Mario, Wizards & Warriors); others, still, I have no idea how they came into my possession (Double Dragon II: The Revenge, Back To The Future II & III). My collection grew to only about 20 games, but they were indeed my first real "collection". I liked having all of those games around me. It made me feel special, being able to roll around in numerous worlds far from my own. I remember having one of my friends bring over games as well. Through him, I had my first experience with the Mega Man series, which changed my gamer life significantly: the sharp, fast-paced gameplay and unique method of extracting special powers from downed foes was original and truly resonated with me. We loved Mega Man, especially Mega Man 2 and 3. We were so enamored by the concept that we took to our markers and paper and sketched out, completed with numerical and other relevant data, our own Mega Man game, complete with 32 Robot Masters (one or two of which was eventually used in a REAL Mega Man title). Information on that can be found in our Megaman Project '94 article.

We also rented games on a semi-regular basis from Bandito Video, a racism-themed game shop all the way across town that had quite a selection of video games for hire. I remember going there, filled with glee, rushing right over to the Nintendo game area, a semi-circular array of alphabetically-sorted NES boxes and browsing each and every one of them before making a determined decision. We rented Super Mario Bros. 3 too many times; for the amount we spent on rentals, we probably could have just bought the game. That trip usually ended in a quick stop at the donut shop, too, so there was much fun and deliciousness to be had.

Things were ill-fated when one day, our NES was inadvertently sold to a friend for THEIR children, one grave day in the spring of 1997. No reason was given; it was simply given away as though it no longer mattered to me. Maybe I didn't play it as much as I should have (an odd thought, given that I was advised to go outside many times). Alas, there was little I could do -- the damage was done. Revenge, however, is a dish best served with a sweet sauce: a month after it was sold, the NES failed for good. I could have sworn I heard that the console itself "started to smoke", but I don't truly believe NES decks do that... or do they?

So, for a few months, I did not have a home console to play. And television simply wasn't a reasonable substitute. Luckily, I had two back-up resources. The first was our lovable slow-but-steady 386 PC. There, I could play any number of interesting games. And once we added the Sound Blaster sound card, the fun kept on going. Games like King's Quest V and VI, Commander Keen, Wolfenstein 3D, Duke Nukem, Jill of the Jungle, and Hocus Pocus kept me entertained with much success. The King's Quest games, for example, introduced me to a new world of point-and-click adventuring, a genre that sadly faded away over time. Wolfenstein 3D revealed the first-person shooter genre, something I enjoyed for quite some time as I later evolved into a fan of Half-Life and its classic mod, Day of Defeat, one of only two games I would ever play online. Online gaming would serve me well during my later teenage years as I would participate nightly in clan matches or just run-of-the-mill shoot-and-kill camaraderie. Occasionally, I would be so loud speaking with teammates through voice chat that one of my parents would have to come downstairs to tell me to be quiet. (That affiliation would die down as I entered my third year of university -- the wireless network did not allow for online gaming, and its hold on me dissipated entirely.) PC gaming was a bit more complex due to having such a grand array of keys, as opposed to the limited buttons of an NES controller, but you could easily get as much enjoyment out of a PC.

The other back-up I had was a Game Boy. Received as a Christmas gift in 1992, it heartily completed the gaming triforce of the household: the NES, the faithful home console connected to our TV; the PC, the master of many tasks even beyond gaming; and now the Game Boy, the portable wizard. It came with a strange game called "Super Mario Land", a Mario game by title but still a very different experience when it came to playing it. I remember having trouble seeing the pea soup-coloured screen, having often to use a lamp or, dare I say it, sunlight to see what was going on. But it was heavenly -- an extension of video gaming that I could take essentially anywhere! On our drive every summer to a major Canadian theme park that was about an hour away, I would have my Game Boy firmly in my hands, playing through Kirby's Dream Land in its entirety every time.

As time when on, I would advance through the many generations of consoles and experience greater graphics, symphonic sound, and new types of gameplay not possible in the earlier days of gaming. The SNES, purchased in July 1997 (around the end of its lifecycle) delivered such joy with standout titles like Donkey Kong Country 2: Diddy's Kong Quest (which came bundled with the system), Super Mario RPG, and Mega Man X. The Nintendo 64 brought 3D into the household with Mario Kart 64 and Legend of Zelda: Ocarina of Time... and yes, even Quest 64, that scallywag of an RPG. The PlayStation 2, purchased after a bit of personal sadness, revived my spirits when I first booted up the disc of Rygar: The Legendary Adventure: those flames, the image of his Diskarmor flailing towards me and figuratively shattering the screen, the amazing music playing, the physical feel of slicing through my first enemy, ignited new flames with this generation of technology. I now have a PlayStation 3, the earliest model, its bulkiness always staring me in the face like a salivating predator. Just the heat generated from its loins indicates raw power. But even with the PlayStation 3 taking center stage, straight ahead of my backseat GameCube, and hovering on a shelf above the stack of a later-acquired NES from a friend along with a small starter collection of games, the SNES (another repurchase, as the first one eventually ceased to function), the Nintendo 64, and a more recently purchased used Sega Genesis. I also now have the 3DS to experience that "autostereoscopic" gameplay, something that impresses me somewhat. It succeeds my DS Lite and PSP, which, in turn, succeeds the Game Boy Advance, all of which provided hundreds of hours of gameplay love. Still, I hold the NES dearest because of all the fond memories it provided, and will continue to provide, as long as the connectors don't completely fail.


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