All gamers have one achievement or feat they are most proud of, no matter how large or small. We do not need a trophy or gamerscore points to inform us of these acts, as they are etched into our memories right next to the first game we played. I am a man of very few words, however I'd like to share with you my personal gaming achievement. Why? I'm not entirely sure to be honest. Perhaps it is because of the time that has passed since it happened, or because of the circumstances surrounding it.
Regardless, here's the story of my most memorable gaming achievement:
Since I was a toddler I've been going to the Jersey shore for summer vacation, often with the whole family. In the 90's and early 2000's much of the family would come with my parents and I to Long Beach Island for a full week of vacationing and enjoying the beach, as well as the company of one another. While I enjoyed (and still enjoy) the beaches, the water, and the overall setting, nothing stood out like the amusement park/arcade smack dab in the middle of the island.
Beach Haven is home to Fantasy Island, one of the island's main attractions. It and the surrounding area are considered to be the epicenter of Long Beach Island; the island's beating heart of summer activity. As a kid (and later teenager/young adult), going to the arcade at the beach was the main event of my summer vacation. Going there with my cousins was what I would remember the most every year. At the time there was one arcade back home in east Pennsylvania that I would frequent every weekend without fail, but the energy and setting during which I would visit Fantasy Island was unforgettable.
It was during one of these Summer vacations that I made my mark, my achievement. As I mentioned earlier, I had an arcade not far from me when growing up. All the local kids went to the Hawaiian/Tiki themed Kahunaville arcade at some point; some more than others (read: Me). However, Fantasy Island is different you see. It is a place that people, and kids, from all over the country visit every year for a solid 4 months. Keep that in mind.
One of the games at Fantasy Island is Time Crisis 3, released in 2002-2003. I remember getting really, really into it not long after it arrived at Fantasy Island sometime in the middle of the last decade. I played the hell out of Time Crisis 2 back on my "home turf" of Kahunaville, and even the home version of Time Crisis 1. Time Crisis 3 blew me away and emptied my pockets at speeds I'm still struggling to calculate. I would play it over, and over, and over, to the point where I can play it in my sleep perfectly even today. I was obsessed. I even had crowds gather around and watch me dominate the game on those hot summer nights.
So, before achievements exacerbated (and created) the perfectionist in many of us, I set a goal for myself:
I would get the top score on this machine; a feat that I hadn't accomplished with any other arcade game at home or abroad.
During the summer of 07' I came close to setting the top score, barely missing 3rd place. The next summer I came back determined. I would not leave until I got that high score; money, time, and muscles be damned. The night I finally got that high score was physically draining. There was just the right amount of sweat and soreness running through my body. I pushed through it, and even got a strong second wind in the game's final act. My trigger finger moved so fast that I'm surprised the plastic gun didn't melt or break in half from the abuse I gave it. And no, I did not once use the middle finger technique on this or any other lightgun game; it honestly slowed me down.
By the time I entered my 3 initials for the score screen I was, without exaggeration, drenched in sweat. My fingers, hands, wrists, feet and ankles were aching something fierce. It's a wonder I didn't spontaneously contract carpal tunnel syndrome. Still, it was worth it. When I finally saw the top score screen come up, the proof of my determined, albeit fanatical, efforts were abundantly clear. The top 5 spots were all mine; out of the top 10 I believe I had 7 or 8 of them. I went home that summer with memories of the fun I had with my family on the island, however the memory of my high score was chief among them.
Myself playing, circa 2009
Every summer I returned I would check the machine and play it at least once; paying my respects to my old friendly foe. Despite the passage of time and the hundreds of people who no doubt gave the machine a shot since that night, my score remained.
Then nature stepped in.
Hurricane [s]Bitch[/s] Sandy
In late October 2012, Hurricane Sandy defied the preconceived notion of safety the Eastern Seaboard had of hurricanes and swung north on a crash course with New Jersey, New York, and many other Atlantic states. While it was nowhere near as bad as other infamous storms such as Andrew and Katrina, it hit the unprepared sea communities with unrelenting force. I do not claim to be a mind reader, however I suspect some of you reading are thinking, "This asshole probably thought that his precious score was more important than the people of the shore" To which I can honestly respond that such a though did not once cross my mind.
People matter far more than buildings or games.
The people who took the brunt of the storm were in my thoughts foremost, and I wondered what the shore that I had been visiting since I was a mere few years old looked like. I wondered how long it would take the folks there to rebuild their homes. I wanted to go back as soon as possible to see what remained, and to give the local economy a little boost by doing what I had done there all my life:
-Buy things in the shops
-Get some nice slices at one of the pizza places there
-Burn a hole in my wallet at the arcades.
So on July 7th I returned there with my parents for the day to see what things looked like. To be frank, going by what I saw, it will be years before the Jersey shore and Long Beach Island is where it was before. Surprisingly a lot of the houses and buildings survived the storm, however they were abandoned until repairs can be completed. But that whole "Stronger than the storm" thing does seem to be going strong with the islanders, so I think they'll be fine in the end.
Finally, I wondered going down what was left of the theme park and arcade that I had spent so much of my summer youth in. I wondered what arcade and ticket machines had survived.
I wondered if my score had survived.
When I finally got there I was pleased to see that things were virtually the same. The storm blew the wooden steps and ramps around the arcade away, however they had since been rebuilt. The same could be said for the interior structure and the machines; none of them sustained any noticeable damage whatsoever. Having been relieved that my summer beach haven had relatively spared, I began to look for the machine I made my mark on so many years before. As arcade goers can attest, arcade machines are like a sand garden; never in the same place for too long. Nevertheless, I made my way to the back where the Time Crisis machine had been for the past 6 years.
When I arrived in the back I saw it there, still humming along like nothing had changed. I watched some people playing it, however they did not make it too far and eventually changed games. After that, I sat in front of the machine waiting for the high scores screen to pop up. "It couldn't have survived" I thought. "They must've reset the machines to be safe" I reasoned.
Then it came up, and I could barely believe my eyes. There were my initials, still cemented on those top 5 positions. I was surprised, to say the least.
Me, present day
After seeing that and taking my picture, I left. I didn't play this time. In some weird way I felt that the game deserved a rest. I plan to play it next time I go, but for now I'm letting it be. I left the island satisfied. Satisfied that the community there refuses to yield to the damage of Hurricane Sandy, and satisfied that the place where I spent my summer youth still stands, able to become another young boy or girl's haven.
So, that's my tale. If any of you happen to go there, feel free to stop in and pay that machine your money and respect; it has earned it.
So what about you? What is your greatest gaming feat?
Oh, and if you Seinfeld fans out there think that this is basically the story of George Costanza's high score of Frogger come to life: You're right. And it is spectacular.