Tuesday, September 01, 2009


(Ok, this post's a little weird. It started off as a short 'funny story', but quickly turned into a rambling trip down memory lane…I'm going to post it anyway. Enjoy)

A couple of days ago my Stepdaughter gave my stepson a ride over to the house so he could fix the starter on our car. My Stepdaughter also brought her eldest son, TJ, and as we were all working outside, and he was the only young kid there, I put the Xbox on for him. I looked through my games and tried to find one I knew his Mom wouldn't mind him playing. I settled on Ghostbusters.

"What's Ghostbusters?" He asked, innocently.

I nearly had a heart attack. One of these days I'm going to sit all the under tens in the family down in my living room and not let them leave until they've seen Ghostbusters, Gremlins, The Goonies, He-Man, The Real Ghostbusters, TMNT, Thundercats and Transformers…the good 80's and early 90's versions, not the shitty toy-advert versions from today.

(Sorry, that's a bit of a hot-button topic for me. When a whole cartoon is based around the hero winning battles by playing a card game… a card game that just happens to be available in stores, that's not a cartoon, that's marketing. You base your merchandise on a popular cartoon, you don't base the cartoon on popular merchandise. Let's just say there's a reason there are so many different versions of the Power Rangers….because when there's fifteen different versions of the main heroes costumes, that's fifteen different sets of action figures for the kids to want.)


A little while later, I came into the living room and picked up TJ's Nintendo DS. I looked it over and was thinking about how the new DSi is a lot sleeker and smaller than his first generation DS, but I think he mistook my appraising look for one of puzzlement. He instantly paused his game on the Xbox to show me how to work his DS. He then started up the Mario game that was in it and sat next to me, showing me how to play Mario.

I really didn't want to break his stride because he seemed so happy to be talking to an adult who was showing a little interest in one of his games…but I couldn't help but chuckle every time he'd warn me that I could jump onto, but not walk into, a koopa-trooper…or that if I collect that 'thing' that's called a 'fire-flower' I can throw fireballs…oh, and collect the mushrooms, they make you bigger.

I mean, exactly how do you explain to a nine year old that you not only know how to play Mario, but that you were playing Mario almost two decades before he was born?

I mean, of course, there were graphical improvements and a few gimmicks that were different to the Mario I played, but the version he had was almost identical gameplay-wise to Mario 2, which took up a significant portion of my life on my trusty NES back in the day.

It made me think. My stepson's youngest son, a two month old, is going to grow up in a world where there has always been broadband internet that you can access anywhere at any time, wirelessly. The Xbox 360 will be his version of the Atari 2600. We were all really impressed with the touch-screen interface on the iPhone, whereas by the time he gets his first phone, that won't be impressive. Of course, you touch the screen to make things happen… it's a screen. What else would you do with it?

After my run in with TJ, in a fit of nostalgia, I downloaded a Commodore 64 emulator and a butt-load of games and after messing around with it for a while, I wondered what my step-kids kids would make of it. Imagine explaining to a kid today that when you turned the computer on, nothing happened. No start up screen, no nice graphical user interface…you took your game, which came on cassette tape and slapped it into your tape deck, typed LOAD"FILENAME", then waited anywhere up to ten minutes to play a game that was way more primitive than something you'd find on a ten year old cell phone.

Jesus H. Christ…I remember getting games out of magazines that you got onto your computer by painstakingly typing in the game code in BASIC. I also remember copying literally hundreds of lines of code and then the whole thing not working because I mistyped a single character, or the horror of discovering someone had turned off the computer before you'd saved it.

Much like Wil Wheaton's childhood assertion to his parents that the Nintendo Entertainment System was likely to be the most advanced computer system ever to be made, I remember drooling over my cousin's Amiga 500 one Christmas day as he declared that 'Graphics just couldn't possibly ever get any better' while playing 'Captain Planet'.

It makes me a little excited and a lot sad.

When I think about stuff like this, I get excited because when I was ten, if someone had told me that, not just in ten or fifteen years, but within my lifetime I'd own the entire Sega Genesis library on a USB keychain, or have well over six thousand arcade games on a single DVD, or be able to make video calls 'Star Trek style' with people anywhere in the world, I would never have believed it in a million years. I look back and think if we've come this far in just twenty years, what's the world going to be like in another twenty? Exactly what is a game console going to be capable of when the PS3 is considered as technologically advanced as we consider the Atari 2600 to be today?

It makes me sad because I realize that an entire era is over. The experiences that made me the person I am today, the experiences that I really hold dear, just aren't going to be around anymore. I remember the torture of swapping a Sega or NES cartridge at school and having to wait all day to get home and play it. Getting together with a few likeminded friends and telling someone the Mario 'turtle trick'…but only if they let you copy their hand-drawn Legend of Zelda map first. The feeling you got when you were doing so well at an arcade game that you actually started to draw a crowd. Opening an actual cardboard box that your game came in and finding goodies like cloth maps, short stories and other 'feelies' that made getting a new game feel like a real event. Running to the paper shop once a month with your pocket money in hand to buy an honest-to-god, printed on paper computer magazine with the cassette taped to the front…then pulling out the poster and adding it to the collection on the wall, putting your Turrican poster right next to James Pond: Robocod and Chuck Rock.

Guys…the box art for 'Barbarian'. 'Nuff said.

Anyway, I fired up the C64 emulator and discovered the games had aged badly. They were primitive, ugly, the sound was terrible and you can get a far more sophisticated game on a bad cell phone…but you know what?

None of that mattered.

Because once I turned off the lights, typed 'LOAD' and watched the border of the screen flash with different colors as the virtual C64 loaded the game from a simulated tape drive…I was eleven years old again, it was late at night and there was no school tomorrow.


20 GOTO 10


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