Back in the dark ages, I ran a pen-and-paper video game club at my school called The Nintendo Force, or something equally mortifying ... but in the late 80's it was also a nerdy symbol of status. If you still only had an Atari, then your parents probably hated you and wanted you to die alone.
There was only one thing arguably worse: being stuck with only copies of Gyromite and Duck Hunt with an unquenchable thirst for a gamer's life that you could not afford, as magazines began to appear with middle-class kids in skateboarding apparel hugging their mountains of games with pasty faces. I wanted to be a pastier. The pastiest, if possible! For you 90's babies, imagine owning PlayStation and having to play Bubsy 3D on loop for a fiscal quarter. It's no way to go through life.
My parents didn't believe in allowance. The concept was so foreign to them that they actually laughed at me. Extorting my grandparents for dollars, digging through the sofa and drawers for change, and gradually syphoning lunch money was taking too long. What kind of a reputable video game club only plays one video game for months? It was a disaster! There was only enough tape-trading you could do with neighborhood kids before you end up trading Double Dragon for Clu-Clu-Land, then again for Urban Champion out of desperation. This was not sustainable.
On the wise advice of a neighbor we turned to knocking on doors and asking people if we could wash their cars. My best friend and I had three consistent clients (namely, our parents and the wise neighbor) each willing to pony up a whopping $5 dollars for a full-service wash and tire shine. This would take us hours and, when split between us and factoring costs of materials, was a total waste of a weekend. Like the great men that founded this country I ultimately gave up on actually doing the work myself and resorted to capitalism and robbery. Had any siblings slavery would not have been above me. I tried selling Kool-Aid once but parking lot dust got in it.
After acquiring an audiotape at a book fair called "The Buck Starts Here" I learned the power of the sale. It taught me that if I purchased packs of Garbage Pail Kids in bulk and used bags of G.I. Joe action figures from the Thrift Shop, I could sell them for double what I paid by selling them one by one at school. Kids had loose dollars, it was just a matter of figuring out how to collect them. (The Japanese call this process "Pokemon"). Ultimately I got greedy and would look for things my parents could innocently purchase and that I could resell. Margins are higher if your supply comes free! I did this with school supplies, baseball cards, chocolates, and even a 6-pack of cereal once. Perhaps the most preposterous thing was attend a big family wedding and rob each table of its plastic gold rings, a party favor, and sell them for a quarter each to susceptible older girls on the tether ball courts.
Yeah, I went there.
On one hand I hated being so hungry. On the other hand, there was a certain magic about it. When I would get my hands on a new game it was like having a new lease on life. I would read the instruction books from cover-to-cover over and over (Kid Icarus was amongst my favorites). The damn ride home from the toy store felt longer. The art of trying not to crease the box while bouncing around the back seat to sneak an early peek of your conquest! The mystery and weeks of anticipation and sweat equity to discover if the game you've carefully selected will not suck, for the concept of game demos would not appear for another decade! Thus, I got really good at picking my games.
Anyway, this story has a happy ending as Wendy's is indirectly buying my next game, and I worked for it this time! I've so many games now that I can't give them away fast enough, much less play them all. Sucks to be me, right?
Did you hustle for your video game purchases before you had a big boy job? Share your old-timer stories in the comments below!
+Amount pertaining to cash prize only
**T-shirts sold by Homage LLC under license from Wendy’s International Inc. $4.25 of each Wendys Threads t-shirt sold through 3/31/12 will be donated to Dave Thomas Foundation for Adoption.
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