I was only eight years old. Then again, so was my friend. We both sat in front of a small television screen, NES controllers clutched in our hands. Three weeks previously, I'd been given Double Dragon II: The Revenge for my birthday, and we'd been working together to try to beat it ever since. Just the day before, after we'd finished our homework, I'd accidentally discovered that trying to perform a jump kick while Billy was still kneeling would turn into a rising knee which knocked my enemies clear the hell over to the other side.
It was a game-changing revelation to us.
With proper timing and a bit of luck, we were able to clear stages with unprecedented speed and relatively little risk. Enemies which used to greedily suck up our few lives in an endless war of attrition were mere cannon fodder next to the devastating power of the Knee Smash. We made it to the final level, died attempting the platforming, and then the next night, we finally got to the final boss.
I'd lost my last life helping my friend take down a few chunks of the boss's health, but in the end he stood alone. And with a jump kick away, he then turned and blasted the boss across the screen with a final knee which, for the first time, allowed us to view the ending. We jumped up, danced, and made loud whoops of joy while high-fiving one another as we watched the end-credits, not really caring that Billy's girlfriend Marian had been brought back to life by some magic crap. What we cared about was that, as a team, we'd overcome the obstacles in our way and triumphed together.
We began to seek out two-player co-op games. It was a ritual for us. A few years later, he told his parents he had to have a Genesis, and I convinced my parents that the Super Nintendo was the way to go. They were actually confused that we were "fighting" about which game system was the best, but it was, in truth, a carefully crafted deception to allow us to enjoy both Streets of Rage and Final Fight. We even swore a pact that we wouldn't play "our" games unless it was both of us playing.
This was the pinnacle of our wishes at one point.
Truth be told, I once popped my copy of Final Fight into my SNES once without him, and had I hit puberty by then and had a girlfriend I'm pretty sure I would have associated the feeling with cheating.
As we grew, our games grew with us. While my friend's unfortunate choice of a Nintendo 64 limited the amount of time we spent at his place (once we'd finished a weekend of fighting one another over the controller while playing Mario 64, of course), the newly-launched Playstation quickly dominated our free evenings. Games like Fighting Force and Diablo quickly grew to dominate our evenings, continuing our ongoing tradition of evenings spent in mutual discovery as we grew older.
Then, my friend, someone who by then had grown mostly into a man, did something nearly unforgivable. We both had PS2s at this point, since we both regarded the Gamecube and Xbox with the same sort of look we'd have given lepers. That fateful night, he had a copy of Dynasty Warriors 3, which he'd picked up from Electronics Boutique on his way home from his job at McDonald's.
Neither of us had played it. That much I knew, given the fact that the game was still in the shrink-wrap when we got to his place. However it quickly became obvious that I was dragging him down. I didn't like the fact he was constantly barking orders at me, and he didn't like the fact that I didn't know where to go.
We were both hormonal seventeen-year-old boys on our school's rugby team and thus, filled with testosterone. After half an hour of us arguing while playing the game, I would have been more surprised if a fist-fight HADN'T broken out. Oh, and it was a good one, too. My nose never got set properly after it and I looked like a raccoon for days afterwards, and he sat quite stiffly in class where I'd worked his ribs over and, at the time, was pleased to notice that nearly a fifth of his torso was a cheery purple when we were getting changed for a game.
Dynasty Warriors 3: Serious Business
It was nearly a week before we spoke. And we'd probably still be hating one another if I hadn't been looking at my copy of Diablo and wondering if I could finish Hell difficulty. His character was still saved on my PS1 memory card, and right before I deleted it I realized we were fighting over a game we'd have been finished with in a week had the argument not began.
Even to this day, I'm surprised I worked beyond my teenage feelings to pick up the damned phone and apologize for my part in the mess. I'm sure my friend was surprised, but it's a marked sign of his own growing maturity that instead of mocking me for calling him like a wuss, he listened and we reconciled.
Of course, we still get strange looks from his wife when I show up at his place for a "sleepover" and we commandeer the living room TV, which gets transported to the guest room, of course. We fold up the futon into a couch, microwave some popcorn, and we shout at one another while working through another co-op game, with neither of us daring to look at the FAQs for the game beforehand.
His wife writes us both off as perpetually immature. She couldn't be farther from the truth.
I see it as us spending some of the little precious free time we have to bring back memories of plainer times, which are made all the more worthwhile for the increasing demands on our own schedules. Even if we're fully grown, it's one of the highlights of my life that I can just be a hopelessly optimistic kid for a night, with no worries beyond figuring out how to get through the current level with my best friend.
No, you go press the switch!
My friend and I are in a position in our lives where we have the time to be kids again, which tells me that we have everything under control and are more mature than some guy struggling to make his car payment.
We've got real responsibilities which we address. We sit at desks with men who want to loan us money for houses or car purchases, unaware of the fact we're more worried about getting home in time to play some Smash Bros than what they think of our Equifax credit score. We're the both of us terrified of responsibility, which is, perhaps, what makes us so adept at handling it.
Perhaps my death-grip on a controller does make me a perpetual man-child. Honestly, if that's how people would like to label me, I'm all for it. So long as my buddy can drop by and we can recapture the simple joy of working together to beat a game with nothing to distract us.
Press start, buddy. I think we've earned it.