As anyone who reads this knows, I’m a legacy gamer of sorts, at least insofar as my mom was playing video games before I was ever born. I was never scolded for playing too many games, even when maybe I should have been, but it was not long before I surpassed her in breadth of knowledge and skill when it came to gaming.
Before any of that, though, I didn’t know the difference between a penny and a quarter.
Licensed games have been a bit sketchy since time immemorial. These are titles that are directly licensed from popular franchises, typically rushed to production, and (seemingly) used for no other purpose than to deprive unwary gamers (or gift-buyers) of their money. No need to bring up examples; any gamer aware of the breadth of the medium’s history understands this.
The typical licensed game takes something that is close to a fan’s heart and neuters it. Replace a fun story with bored storytelling. Take a narrative suited to its medium and cram it onto a disc. Spend more on advertising than on the game itself. It’s enough to give any fan an allergic reaction to anything near a licensed title. The bottom-line (and deadline) usually trump loving care, as they so often do even with non-licensed games, except that when a non-licensed game flops there are no uber-fans to leap to the forums, their keyboards of fury ablaze with righteous indignation.
This is an article about discovery. Or rather, it’s about how you can set out to study something, and end up on a totally different path. Writing is a lot like scientific research that way. Often, a side effect of some experiment becomes more important than what you set out to study. In my case, I was totally pumped to talk to you about Gun.Smoke. It’s a classic scroll shooter from Capcom (are you sensing a theme here)? In the game, you are a lone bounty hunter who sets out to eliminate the Wingates, a gang of ruthless outlaws, and save the town of Hicksville. The game’s title and premise may bring to mind memories of the classic radio serial and television series of the same name. The television series ran for twenty seasons, and is often lauded as one of the greatest television shows of all time. As usual, in preparation for this article, I did some reasearch on the show. That’s when things got weird.
When you take one of the most beloved and informative games of all time, jack up the difficulty somewhere just past sane, and hold it back from an adoring public for the better part of a decade, you can cause an ostensible adult to go airborne.
People were decrying the influence of video games on popular culture way before Mortal Kombat came onto the scene. Arcades were time-(and money-)wasters. Tetris rotted your brain. Portable gaming systems destroyed kids’ patience (or tried that of their parents, really). If you’re a gamer who grew up in the ’80s, you know what I’m talking about.
These were just the typical portents of the doom of civilization through technology that proved to be almost entirely without base, and most people knew it. How dangerous could dumping block after block on top of one another really be? Were Mario Mario and his brother, Luigi Mario, really that much worse than the A-Team? Hadn’t people heard the same kind of arguments about film, television, and rock n’ roll? Despite a couple busts, video games got more and more popular every year with little-to-no outside intervention regarding their content.
… that is, until 1992, when a gamer could finally rip the still-beating heart out of an opponent’s chest. At that point, everything changed.
I’m fresh back from my brother’s wedding, so I’ve been thinking a lot this week about some of the games that we played together when we were small. Indeed, a lot of my early video game meories are tied to my big bro, and although each of these really could deserve their own pixelthèque post, I’ll run down a few of them here. Brian had a friend who “borrowed” DuckTales for the NES and took two years to return it. It was worth the wait, but I must have bugged my brother weekly about why he wouldn’t get my game back (it was his game). There were the times when he would scream at me for cheating at Duck Hunt by sticking the tip of my light gun against the television screen, and then moments later order me to bang my fists on the back buttons of the Power Pad while he ran the races in World Class Track Meet. I remember sitting on the family futon in the living room of our old old old house when he came running in with the box containing our first toaster loading Nintendo Entertainment System, and started this whole mess. Thinking about some of the dates here, and doing the math, it’s probably one of my earliest memories. He says he remembers me forcing him to beat every dungeon in my save game of The Legend of Zelda in order to keep up with his save game, but I can neither confirm nor deny this happening. I remember sitting on the floor of his bedroom for two hours holding down the right arrow on the D-Pad so that he could have super jump all the way through Mega Man 3. And I remember the babysitter who brought over Super Mario Bros. 3, and let us both play, and the anticipation and the wonder being greater than anything I had experienced at that point. There are others, but maybe none so fond as when we used to stay up late in the bed we shared and go through the Nintendo PowerFinal Fantasy strategy guide and plan out every weapon we’d buy, every spell we’d learn, and where we would grind. Thanks for those memories, GaGa.
I have not been much of a racing gamer for a while. I certainly respect how much the genre has evolved from its early days; both the Gran Turismo and Forza Motorsport series are an ever-improving apotheosis of racing at home, giving a simulation that is, in some cases, literally good enough to train us for driving on the real-life tracks the games represent
I learned a lot more about driving from these games than it is probably safe to publicly admit. Because of simulation racers, I think about lines and acceleration and vehicular physics in a way I maybe never would have grokked on my own. They were crucial to my skilled-but-not-necessarily-legal driving style.
Losing is a part of life. This is not being in second place, either. This is last-place, giving-up-your-dreams, never-going-to-play-professional-sports kind of losing. For every person born on third base (and thinks they hit a triple), there are eight guys at bat who strike out and ten bench warmers. Being a Pittsburgh Pirates fan taught me that, among other things.
Those lovable losers (who are, incidentally, NOT-so-lovable losers; this will come back later) also taught me some other things. It’s the persistence, the journey, and the experience that matter. If you deal with the losses, it makes the victories all that much more precious. “Character” is real. Know all those assholes who can’t handle life without an umbrella? They’re the ones who had everything handed to them and can’t handle a little bit of rain.
Right. Everybody happy? Great. Because here’s a bombshell (note the sarcasm). It’s also nice to win.
You don’t see too many arcades anymore. Most are flagging dinosaurs, nostalgia fuel, or on fire. These days, the best arcades are made of cardboard. But there was a time when arcades were the place to go if you wanted to get your gamer on. They were the land of giants, sleek and sexy arenas where women wore evening dresses and men took their martinis shaken, not stirred.