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Friday, July 22, 2011

Videogame Memories 03 | Alex White

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Mario and Mother

By: Alex White of The Gearheart

Sometimes I wonder if my mother was right about video games. I’m pretty sure our right brains are getting fat.

Video games weren’t always this cheap, nor were parents always this understanding. Games may seem expensive now, but when you factor in inflation, it’s not bad at all. Furthermore, as the first gamer generations reach parenthood, they’re more likely to purchase a system, making consoles a ubiquitous presence in the American household. Seventy-two percent of American homes have consoles, and the age of the average gamer has risen from eight (1986) to thirty-seven (2011)[1]. What does this mean? What once was magical and elusive has become an indulgent digital buffet of incredible content.

I’m not saying that’s a bad thing. Every time I walk past an abandoned PS3 or 360 kiosk, and I don’t see some kid getting neck and eye strain staring up at a tiny, broken screen, I don’t regret it. That missing child is probably off at his or her house, getting a quality experience in a social setting with family and friends. He or she is probably encouraged to go outside and have some “real” fun. Twenty years ago, however, that child would have been standing in line for a single whack at Super Mario World.

I will never forget the day our little rural Wal-Mart got its Super Nintendo demo station. I’d had a Nintendo with three cartridges (Super Mario Bros./Duck Hunt, Marble Madness, Back to the Future) before then. I used to rent games from the nearby gas station for a single night of play, and so I never got very far. The carts were expensive, and my parents largely distrusted the Nintendo. My mom saw what it did to me (fat, lethargic, belligerent, frustrated, inattentive). How can I blame her?

Anyway, the controller for the Nintendo Entertainment System had two action buttons, two menu buttons and a d-pad (I didn’t have the robot). It was hard, square, and it used to bruise my palms right in the middle if I played for too long. The lexan decal felt great, though, and it was fantastic to look at with that red Nintendo logo next to the buttons. It was about the least comfortable piece of tech I’ve ever used, but I didn’t care.

That’s why the first memory I have of the Super Nintendo is slipping my hands around that dogbone controller. Probably six millimeters skinnier than its predecessor with actuation in all the right places, rounded edges, triple the functions and two trigger buttons. Those triggers blew my ten-year-old mind. It felt so perfect, and with the X and Y buttons concave, and the A and B convex, the learning time was instantaneous. For the first time, I had experienced actual ergonomics, and with no apology for sounding obvious, it felt goooooood.

Then, when the system was restarted, the Nintendo logo popped up on the screen with the signature coin clink sound. Sixteen bit stereo with sampling quality that rivaled a radio station greeted my tiny ears with all sorts of ambient effects and eight channels for immersive gameplay. I didn’t know what that meant at the time. All I knew was it sounded amazing. That technology would one day give rise to the daring composers who would inspire a generation of electronic artists.

As my mother shopped for home essentials, I stood for hours, staring up at the screen and diving into the lush graphical environments. The yellowed fluorescence of the Wal-Mart with its hokey fashion and prepackaged culture disappeared, leaving Mario and me against the world. Of course my sister would muscle in and take the controller when I died, but there was a defense against that—don’t die so much.

I would visit that kiosk every week for the next two years with the religious determination of a zealous believer. The SNES was a temple, and we followed its rules. The line-jumping apostates were cast out by the Wal-Mart electronics clerk, and those who were righteous got to play just a little longer.

And then my mother would finish shopping, and we would act like little jerks because we didn’t want to leave. Like good children, we punished her for giving us time doing what we loved. We practically handed her the proof that video games make you a degenerate good-for-nothing.

Small wonder she hated video games.

[1]: “2011 Essential Facts About the Computer and Video Game Industry”;

 Alex White lives in the woodland city of Huntsville, Alabama, where he writes pulp fiction and performs it on podcast with his wife, RenĂ©e. They have a son who is part dinosaur and a couple of animals. His work can be found at:

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