Tuesday, August 23, 2005

Christmas '86

Being a December baby meant that, while the other eleven months of the year were present-free, December presented a double-dose of goodies. One such fond memory was Christmas '86.

Outside of high school, my life revolved around basketball, Intellivision [remember that?], and Nintendo. These were, as they say, the good ol' days, really a period of nearly 100% innocence, where all that mattered was the next one-on-one game in the driveway and who recently just got what new game.

Now, ever since 1980, Christmas-time for me, far from meaning what it was supposed to mean, meant "New Atari 2600 games are on the way!" or "New Intellivision games are on the way!" or "New Nintendo goodies to play!" Despite having an income from a small paper route, I didn't have enough money to get all the games, so Christmas time was in my eyes a way of balancing this great cosmic injustice.

Christmas '86 was special because my loot-haul contained [IMHO] the co-Greatest Game of All Time:

It rather dates me when I say that Metroid was a revolutionary game. Its scope [at the time] seemed huge, and while its now archaic pixelated graphics and beep-ish background music are on display somewhere in some retro-gaming museum, they were deep things at the time. If I recall correctly, Metroid was the first console game where you could save your progress, so that if Mom yelled at you for the fifth time to come to dinner, you could save the game and run to the table, thus sparing your own personal life as well as your character's progress.

The point of Metroid is that you're a hero in some spacesuit who is in some underground complex on a planet somewhere who is after some space pirates. This underground complex is full of all sorts of rooms and spaces where, as is usual for 80's games, you are attacked by all sorts of aliens and such. As you progress in the game, you find ways to increase your life energy, your power, your jumping ability, and so on.

A not-far-from-untypical room in Metroid looked like this:

There was a "platform" element involving jumping, ducking, running and shooting, etc, so there was that [for me at least] "twitch factor" that continually immersed you. And, relative to games at that time, Metroid was completely open-ended.

Unlike games today that map things out for you, I remember games like Wizardry and Metroid where you basically had to get out quadrille paper and make your own maps. Part of the fun, at least to a 14- or 15-year-old with energy, was the exploration and mapmaking. This made an already large game seem even larger. Again, the reader has to think back to the state of home console games in the mid-80's to appreciate these statements.

According to my fading memory, I think I spent about a week straight [Christmas break] in my bedroom leading the spacesuited guy through the underground fortress, backtracking, looking for power-up goodies, and the like. It was as purpose-driven a week as was any week in my life. Somehow in an act of divine providence the folks had their own things to do, so they didn't freak out that their semi-athletic son had all of a sudden morphed into a Nintendo couch potato.

At any rate, about a week of pure bliss later, I finally defeat the final boss ["Mother Brain"] and, dropping the controller, celebrated what was for '86 a pretty good gaming accomplishment. Little did I know that after defeating the final boss of the game, there is still more to go, for a time bomb has been activated, and you only have so many seconds to escape the fortress. Well, not realizing this right away, most of the time post-Brain had ticked away, and I panicked, and with a scream that probably woke up the neighborhood, my spacesuited guy died --- defeat from the jaws of victory, indeed.

A second yelp of pure pain was emitted when I realized that it had been hours since I had last saved my spacesuited hero's progress, meaning that I had to start again from the last time I saved.

This meant about five or six more hours reinventing the wheel the following day. But, I was still a spritely pup at the time, and energy abounded all the more. Mother Brain went down, and this time I was ready for the countdown, having backtracked and plotted my escape route.

The spacesuited hero escaped, and he and I made it back to the surface before the underground complex self-destructed. Total victory at last! My spacesuited hero and I were like Captain Kirk and the Marlboro Man [and possibly the Brawny Man] rolled into one, a blend of geek machismo, missles, and laser guns at whom only foolish aliens would look askance.

The game threw me for a complete loop though at the end. I still remember this moment some two decades later. Your hero, both in the instruction manual and in the game, is completely decked out in some robo-suit. You never see the hero's himself.

At the end, you see your futuristic Kirk-Marlboro-Brawny man with the helmet off.


Yes, in possibly the greatest piece of unintentional stealth feminist propaganda ever, you find out that your spacesuited hero, a hero who destroyed aliens with aplomb, is a woman --- a powerful woman. To use my 80's parlance, the main character was a chick! I don't personally know if this was put in as a sci-fi twist, as propaganda, or just as a way for impish designers to have a laugh at the expense of young teen males who spent 40 hours at least identifying with a supposedly male character, but the designers get a PP Coffee Mug for making me fall out of my chair at the end.

After doing this and getting the requisite Nintendo fix [or possibly the Nintendo OD], it was January '87, high school was about to resume its post-Christmas-break schedule, and, once again, the constant thump of the basketball in the driveway reverberated all along Seastone Way.


Blogger JIBBS said...

Oh how I miss the good ol' days of Mike Tyson's Punch-Out and the Legend of Zelda on the 16 bit Nintendo!

Tuesday, August 23, 2005 4:43:00 PM  
Blogger Jason Engwer said...

Eric, we're about the same age, and your post brings back a lot of memories. I had an Atari 2600 and Nintendo Entertainment System, but not Intellivision. And Metroid was one of my favorite games as well. (I also liked Mega Man a lot. And, well, I could list a lot more.) If you saw my posts in the Star Wars thread at NTRM when the last Star Wars movie came out, you know that I was highly involved in gaming, and I think that a lot of people older than we are don't understand how significant video games are to the younger generations. As you said, people like you and I could spend hours every day, for days in a row, playing the same game. We were in another world. Our imagination and emotions were involved more than they would be in something like a board game or sports.

Metroid was a significant advancement for its time. And video games will never be as new as they were then. For people like us, today's games will never be associated with our childhood the way a game like Metroid was either. I don't play video games any longer, but I have a lot of positive memories from many hours of playing games like Metroid.

I don't know if you ever found it, but there was a feature in Metroid that let you climb walls. It was difficult to do, but if you kept repeating some awkward controller movement (I forget the details), you could move your character up a wall. You could access areas that, as far as I know, were never accessible otherwise. It was sort of like the Minus World(s) in Super Mario Bros. (I only remember finding one Minus World, but I remember hearing for years that there were supposed to be others, though I never found them or heard of anybody else finding them. Maybe they didn't exist.)

You mentioned the ending of Metroid. I remember that there were multiple endings. I have a vague memory of one that was even beyond the ending that showed a woman behind the suit. I don't remember the details, but there probably is some web site somewhere that discusses it.

I do remember that time bomb at the end of Metroid, but something even worse was the ending to Castlevania. You defeat Dracula, which was difficult to learn how to do, but then you have to fight another creature who comes out of his body. And the ending wasn't too good, so it turned out to be disappointing.

I know that your post wasn't directly about Christianity, but when I think about video games, I keep coming back to what I said in that Star Wars thread earlier this year. I think video games appeal to people's imagination and their desire to live in a better world. I think the Christian apologist Ravi Zacharias has communicated this concept effectively, though not specifically with regard to video games, such as in his book Recapture the Wonder (Brentwood, Tennessee: Integrity Publishers, 2003). People want something better than this life, and there are a lot of things that move their emotions and their imagination (movies, books, etc.), but I think video games do it in a way other mediums don't. But all that these children are being given in most cases is either a shallow non-Christian worldview or a shallow view of Christianity (which is an improvement, but not enough). Scripture doesn't move them as much as video games, because they and the people influencing them have so poor an understanding of scripture and life in general. I think David Gelernter is largely correct when he writes:

"My guess is that our next Great Awakening will begin among college students. College students today are (spiritually speaking) the driest timber I have ever come across. Mostly they know little or nothing about religion; little or nothing about Americanism. Mostly no one ever speaks to them about truth and beauty, or nobility or honor or greatness. They are empty--spiritually bone dry--because no one has ever bothered to give them anything spiritual that is worth having. Platitudes about diversity and tolerance and multiculturalism are thin gruel for intellectually growing young people. Let the right person speak to them, and they will turn back to the Bible with an excitement and exhilaration that will shake the country. In reading the Bible they will feel as if they are going home--which is just what they will be doing. Nothing would do America more good than a biblical homecoming." (http://www.weeklystandard.com/Content/Public/Articles/000/000/005/606lxblg.asp?pg=2 )

I have a lot of good memories of playing Metroid, Mega Man, etc., but I wish more children would be made to realize that life can be far better than any video game, that life is far more significant than the thin gruel they're continually being fed. Parents ought to ask themselves why it is that their children are so interested in video games. It isn't just because they're children.

Jason Engwer
New Testament Research Ministries

Tuesday, August 23, 2005 6:25:00 PM  
Blogger Sojourner said...

Speaking of maps, I had a Commodore 64 when I was younger. (Wow, a Commodore 64. Can you say: Load "*",8,1?)

Anyway, I had a game called "The Bard's Tale". The game was huge, and the dungeons in it were mostrous. There were no maps of them either. I have distinct memories of sitting in front of a screen tapping the "I" button and then mapping another step in the dungeon, marking traps, etc.

Now, I can't concentrate on anything more than ten seconds. What was I commenting about again?

Tuesday, August 23, 2005 6:40:00 PM  
Blogger centuri0n said...

In an attempt to divert attention from video dependency and avoid admitting that I once scored over 4,000,000 points after 25+ levels of the original STAR WARS sit-down arcade game, I'm going around to my favorite blogs and asking the question:

What do you think of Pat Robertson's latest, um, political theory that the U.S. should assassinate Hugo Chavez of Venezuela, and the Venezuelan response that his comments are tantamount to international terrorism?

FWIW, my son just discovered Dig Dug and Defender. He's 6. Ruined for life.

Wednesday, August 24, 2005 9:31:00 AM  
Blogger Pedantic Protestant said...

Jibbs --- you heretic! Nintendo was 8-bit. Super Nintendo and Genesis, IIRC, were 16-bit.

Sojourner --- I remember drooling over this William Shatner ads featuring the VIC-20 computer. And, Star Raiders on an Atari 400 computer [c. 1981-2] just about blew this fellow away. And I won't go into my friend's Pong unit screwed into the back of his rabbit-eared B&W tv set either!

And, I remember the first Ultima too, c. 1980-1 IIRC.

Jason --- some points

(1) I actually beat Mega Man in '87. Castlevania too, and you're right about Dracula. That took about a week or so of swearing and thrown controllers.

(2) I just played them for fun. They weren't a worldview thing for me. Young teens don't have a worldview, unless it is Epicureanism!

(3) Part of the addiction of Metroid was, as you say, finding the little secrets and "Easter Eggs" in the game.

(4) The ending in Metroid depended on how long it took you to complete the game. Click on the Dude link in the post to see the ending screens. If you finished the game quickly enough, the entire spacesuit on the chick vanished and she was wearing a skimpy little number!

(5) I don't go as deeply as you do into the whole psychology of games. I played them, and still noodle with them from time to time, merely because they're fun. They don't modify my worldview anymore than Asimov's intrinsic atheism in his robot novels cause me to lean to atheism. Just fun, and nothing more.

(6) What would you do if you found out that I still am known to watch pro wrestling from time to time? This a merely hypothetical, mind you. :-)

Wednesday, August 24, 2005 2:24:00 PM  
Blogger Pedantic Protestant said...

Hey PP Hunk:

No comments on your query. I haven't followed any of it!

Wednesday, August 24, 2005 3:45:00 PM  

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