After eight months in my new apartment, this past week I finally set up the emulator on the laptop that runs my living room media center. Game changer. This software finagling was inspired by Awesome Games Done Quick. Though I never watched the livestream, I spent several hours catching up on the runs that tickled my fancy. This included the spectacular four-way Super Metroid race, Mario Lost Levels, Mega Man X, and others. So far, Iíve played two of those games and Iíve come to a realization: I just donít have the fortitude for these games anymore.
As a kid, Mega Man X was part of my usual rotation. I definitely remember beating the game at least once, I think. Probably? Whatever the actual results, I spend enough time playing the game that there could be no question as to my perseverance.
This time however, Chill Penguin fell to my mighty arm-cannon. Spark Mandrill, however, was never even reached. That damnable midway boss--you know the one, big water encapsulated spike guy--helped me burn through at least six lives. My younger self, watching from his seat on the floor distracted by his Ninja Turtle toys, looked up with each repeat of the Mega Man death synth, shook his head sadly, and returned to Raphael taking down the Shredder.
Maybe that particular miniboss was particularly tricky. Perhaps Iím not the gamer I once was. Maybe my emulatorís just not quite right. ďLetís try another game, one I know even better than MMX,Ē I thought while sipping some green tea with pomegranate. Scrolling through the games, the choice seemed obvious: Super Mario World. That was my shit.
My memory of SMW is clear. The day I achieved the prestigious 96* stands out because of how long it took. I was only four when the game was released in 1990, and the SNES (pronounced in the traditional midwest manner as a one syllable word) appeared in my house a few years later. SMW began my collection along with TMNT Turtles in Time. So, Iíd say that I beat the former around 1992 or 93. Having defeated Bowser with somewhere around the minimal requirements during my first playthrough, and dicking around enough to earn some more in the following weeks, my parent took pity and picked me up an unofficial strategy guide.
(Yup. This is the guide...)
This little tome was my bible for the following months. Iíd constantly be pouring over the tiny black and white pictures, trying to comprehend its secrets. Those secrets were instructions on how to access all the levels. Though comprehensive, the guide did not adhere to any principles of clarity, concision, or ease of handling. My six or seven year-old brain could not make any real headway. Early nineties cable often offered a reprieve from the quixotic endeavor of 100%. The reprieve quickly took over because of frustration and once a day or so, Iíd get around to adding to my completion score.
This time however, I jumped into a slightly progressed save file I probably started three or so years ago. It began in Vanilla Dome. That relatively small section of the overall game sticks out from my initial playthroughs, more so than seems reasonable now.
Vanilla Dome 1, with its maze of turn blocks, killed me at least twice. I chalked it up to being rusty. (It was probably more than twice, now that, looking at a map of the level, I see the ending with its pipe gaps and that bastard footballer.) Eventually, I made it through and without feeling to horrible about my skills. It began to come back by the end, or so I thought.
My first attempt at Vanilla Dome 2 resulted in a no-death advancement to the red switch palace. Setting up and following those mid-level secrets come naturally. I see a row of coins blocking off a point of entrance, and I instinctively remove two-thirds of them in anticipation of the secrets to come.
At the moment I smacked that red switch, I was feeling good. Like, so good in a mellow way similar to what I expect finding a good parking spot must be whilst going to the mall as a soccer mom with a SUV-full of little shits yelling about iCarly or something similar except relevant to the children of today. No exclamation or other physical manifestation of my paltry accomplishment escaped my cool demeanor. Nothing like that. My girlfriend was making tea at †the time and already thinks Iím a nerd, and yelling like a sports aficionado about nothing spectacular would not help that assessment. It just felt good.
Blah blah blah, I died a few times trying to beat Dome 2 normally, but I did it with no real damage to my mood of exaltation. Then came the ghosts.
Fuck you, Boo.
It all fell apart very quickly from the moment I opened that door. I slid around with no control. All my jumps seemed to be tens of seconds too early or too late. My mojo had gone and left me to the ghosts trying to get all up in my shit. And up in my shit they did get. All up.
Dying six times in a row, and not even making it to the checkpoint was displeasing. I pretty quickly turned it off and chain smoked a few cigs. During my cancer stick suck fest, my shame consumed me. Where had my game gone? Had it left because I hadnít necessarily been using it as much as when I was a kid? Or was it a direct result of some personal deterioration of motor skills? Perhaps Iím developing Parkinsonís (considered seriously for at least thirteen and a half seconds)? I blamed everything possible of blaming: the wired Xbox controller, the (not)emulator, the LCD nature of the television, the six year-old prescriptions in my glasses, and everything between, around, or near me at the time.
Itís been a few days, and my shame has subsided, sort of. My conclusions are far-reaching and personal. In short, Iíve never been very good at games of memory and repetition. Side-scrollers and platformers require pattern recognition and reflexes that I donít think Iíve ever been capable of in any consistent way. I remember all the levels in Super Mario World, but I donít think I remember how to do anything to get from point A to point B. By that, I mean that the nuances of the patterns and flow of my and my enemiesí movements escape my pitiable brainís power of retention. AI recognition also escapes me.
Since its release late last year, Pokemon X and Y have consumed the most of my time playing games. Iíve easily put in 60+ hours between my two copies. Pokemon battles, at higher levels, require that you know the whole range of possible movesets and counters of your opponent, and subsequently how your team can manage to control and alter those opposing possibilities. For me, Pokemon is a game about walloping halfwit AI opponents in a grindfest of satisfying proportions. I donít always remember what type the opposing Pokemon is, that what the Pokedex app on my phone is for. I will never play Pokemon online because to do so would be to step outside both my comfort zone as to what a Pokemon game is, and to step outside my brainís configuration.
The late-twenties has been a period of retrospection for me in regards to my capacities and potentials. Going back to college late in life taught me a few things about what I can actually hope to do. For one, my memory is abominable for intentional usage. I can read the shortest, most moving book in the world, and the next day have no recollection of any name of any character in it. Having studied literature, this causes some problems. Some strengths have appeared to counteract this weakness, but still, there it is.
Iíve been coming to terms with these shortcomings for a few years now, but in relation to my gaming, itís required a whole different self-evaluation to break myself out of the resulting shame spiral. Itís one reason, Iím sure, that I play so much FIFA. The tension coursing through the pitch during a soccer match is not one of ďremember what to do when you get to the back four,Ē so much as it is like a flowing river. Reaction time is necessary, but there are ways to control the pacing. There is no immediate punishment to losing the ball, unless you have played too greedily. Although there is a timer attempting to rush you towards victory, it differs from the timer found in Mario games. Both teams are affected by time in soccer, whereas the Koopas and Goombas could not care less if you sit in the middle of the level making no forward progress. Mario must be stopped again and again. He is powerless except as a force upon the clockwork machinations of the level. FIFA allows me to use my intuition to manipulate the twenty-two players on the pitch.
None of this is to say I donít love sidescrollers still. I do. I plan on going home after writing this post up and playing one or another of the many waiting for me. However, I do not plan on doing that well. I will not beat SMB 1 or Sonic 2 in a sitting or two. Nor will I persist in trying, after some weeks, probably. At 27, Iím learning to let go of my preconceived notions of gaming, and to allow myself to play to my strengths. read