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[Comments] (1) Nostlagiaudit, Part II: Previously on Nostalgiaudit, I explained how I got hooked on electronic simulations of impossible scenarios, and how I was eventually given specialized hardware to feed that addiction. This time around, I take a look at the aftermath, and then give a detailed analysis of the years I lost to the NES.

Update: I've removed one of the stories about how I was a jerk when I was a kid, by way of apology to the person affected.

Later arcades

A corner store near the middle school had Smash TV. CJ and Ivan and I would stop occasionally and admire its hamhanded satire of consumerism. I never had the money to play it.

Throughout junior high one or another of my classes would take trips to a bowling alley in Bakersfield. Two trips a year, maybe. Instead of bowling I spent most of my time hanging out alone in the small arcade, playing Arkanoid and Ms. Pac-Man. Well, I probably didn't spend that much time in the arcade because that would have required more money than a couple dollars, but I remember the arcade better than the bowling.

I remember watching CJ and Ivan play the four-player Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles arcade brawler at a laundromat in Bakersfield, while we waited for CJ's mom to pick something up. Arvin was not so small that you had to drive twenty miles to get groceries, but you did have to drive twenty miles to get something dry cleaned. I didn't join in because I didn't like that kind of game.

End of the NES

Early in 1991--probably in April or May, maybe in June when school let out--I suddenly stopped playing my NES. Of the NES games released in 1991, I've played only three. I admired the Super NES during my Target visits, but I never wanted one or asked for one. Same with the Game Boy.

My last issue of Nintendo Power was probably the August 1991 issue, which makes sense if I had two one-year subscriptions. The March issue was the last to feature any games I've played. I read Nintendo Power on its own without asking for or renting any of the games, and then I let my subscription lapse.

I don't know why this happened. In an earlier draft I suggested my father's death might have been the trigger, but I got the dates mixed up--my father died in 1992. Maybe it was puberty, or maybe I was just bored with NES-style games. Cartridges weren't getting any cheaper, and by 1991 I had competition for my pocket money: the Prodigy dial-up service and an endless series of $20 AD&D rulebooks.

I'd still been buying PC games at retail. I remember playing Rampage a lot, and Marble Madness. They weren't as good as the corresponding NES games, but they were much cheaper.

I'd also been buying disks of shareware games from various places: a factory outlet store in Barstow, the Association of Shareware Professionals catalog, etc. Most of the games were crap, but I made three lucky discoveries. In 1990 I bought a disk of the Adventure Game Toolkit, and a disk that included an early version of Hack. In 1992 in Barstow I bought a disk with ZZT on it.

(I loved the idea of the ASP so much that in 1990 I wrote fifteen terrible GW-BASIC games and other programs, each ending with a nagging shareware registration message, and sent a disk off to the ASP so they'd distribute it and I could rake in the dough. I got a letter that said they'd given my program to someone to review, and then I got another letter politely declining my contribution to the shareware world. Among the reasons given: the fact that my disk contained the Microsoft-copyrighted GWBASIC.EXE, and most painful of all, "Programs appear to have no defining purpose." Thankfully, my GW-BASIC programs have by now ascended to software heaven and cannot be found on the material plane.)

In late 1992 I learned about BBSes. Within a month I was neglecting the Prodigy boards in favor of local BBSes. By the beginning of 1993 I was planning my own BBS. I launched it in 1993 and directed my game-collecting expertise towards stocking it with shareware. After this I bought some of SSI's AD&D games, a collection of Infocom games, and I registered some shareware games, but not until 2007 would I again buy video games on a regular basis.

I don't know what happened to my NES or the cartridges. I'm pretty sure they were still in the house somewhere when I left for college, but a couple years into college when I wanted them back they were gone, and my mother vague about what had happened to them. Hopefully everything was given to some younger kid who put it to good use. It's also possible I just took the NES apart--in high school I often took things apart to see what was inside, often destroying things I would have valued later.

From my mother's perspective, the NES and video games in general were something I'd grown out of. I'd lost interest only a year and a half after getting my own NES. My sister's obsession with The Nutcracker lasted about that long. And that's not a bad point of view. I was still interested in computer games, but my interest in specialized gaming computers wouldn't resurface until the Wii was released, fifteen years later.

After high school

I briefly rediscovered console games in college, in the form of emulated NES and SNES games, but I was busy with other entertainments--writing music, learning about Unix, and exploring the Internet. One of my freshman year roommates had an N64, and I played Bomberman with the guys a couple times, but I hardly ever played games, and when I did they were PC games like Nethack or Command and Conquer.

My sophomore year of college, my friend Andy Schile gave me an Atari 2600 and a bunch of games. I thought this was a cool gift, I played the games for a few days, and then I disconnected the 2600 and put it in storage at my mother's house. In 2005 I found it again and passed it on to another friend, Adam Kaplan.

Here's one theory about why I lost interest. After graduating from high school I went on a vacation to Washington D.C. and stayed with my uncle. My cousins also had an N64 and I played some Super Mario 64 and even a bit of Ocarina of Time, but it didn't stick with me. Why? Because these games had a first-person perspective, and I couldn't handle that. I grew up with two-dimensional side- or top-view games and I just wasn't dextrous enough to maneuver in 3D. As a PC gamer I was terrible at Wolfenstein and Doom, even though they didn't really require moving in three dimensions, just mastering a first-person perspective. In the 90s more and more games went to first-person, and I reacted by just not playing the games.

NES cartridge audit

This list was the original point of this essay: an attempt to classify my scattered memories of specific games. The essay part came out of my growing realization that there were a whole lot of auxillary memories and non-NES experiences that needed to be put into place.

I realized something while compiling this list: when I was a kid, I almost never had a bad experience playing an NES game. I played games now considered among the system's worst (Deadly Towers, Super Pitfall), games that today are fuel for snarky entertainment, but I generally had a good time playing them. I didn't know enough to hold the assumption, prevalent today, that a game should be beatable by a skilled player and that games existed to be beaten. I thought a game was a simulated world for playing in. When a game started to frustrate me, I just turned it off and played something else. My only bad experiences came from wasting a rental on a terrible game.

Games I owned

By and large these are the games that I had to own, because they were too complicated to rent and my friends didn't want to play them. You can build up a pretty good idea of the kind of kid I was from this list. For instance, I'm a science fiction guy now, but back then I really loved high fantasy.

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Comments:

Posted by Evan at Tue Jul 21 2009 14:56

There's a lot to comment on in this write-up. I'll just say I owned Balloon Fight and until now I never knew of anyone else who ever played it (it was great, and even has a 'quest' mode), and character creation was probably the best part of Ultima on NES. That game was *crazy* hard.


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