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Yeah, yeah, I know. Give me a minute to explain myself here.
As you might imagine, I wasn’t expecting to see myself put out an article like this any more than you were. However, as much as I love to blab (and blab … and blab some more) about strange and unknown games on this blog, I’ll have plenty of other chances to do that. Right now I feel that this topic, albeit a more “general” one than the usual fare around here, has more than earned a little overdue time in the spotlight. What follows, in brief, is a personal account of various real-life people and things that I’ve repeatedly, and (mostly) regrettably, forgotten over the years, directly due to videogames, along with a set of accompanying acknowledgments … and apologies.
I don’t know how much of this account might resonate with my fellow Dtoiders, but one thing is definitely for sure -- a reckoning between me and reality has been a long time coming.
Let’s start things off close to home. Nothing, after all, has suffered quite so directly from my gaming-related negligence as this homely sack of sentient meat I’m stuck in; be it ever so humble, though, unless they choose to make me the first real-life Metallo it’s all I’ve got, and I owe it an organ-by-organ accounting for my actions. I suppose I’d best begin with you, eyeballs.. I’m sorry for exposing you guys to screen after irradiated screen for hours on end until you’re bloodshot and blurry (and quite likely in need of my now-signature eyeglasses as a long-term consequence.) I never thought I’d have to re-learn how to blink regularly, but I’ll try my best. Fingers, you know just how much I depend on you, and my habit of regularly blistering and gnarling you in the name of pulling off the Final Atomic Buster repeatedly in practice mode really doesn’t do you justice. Honestly, I’m not deliberately trying to bring about the onset of arthritis or carpal tunnel syndrome, Scout’s honor. Actually, though, while I’m thinking about it, could you do me a favor and send regards to my spine while you’re at it? I know he’s a bit ornery at having been left sore and stiff so many times after laying twisted on the couch for too long … and maybe he, in turn, could pass along the general sentiment to my hindquarters, which have probably spent more time prickly and asleep than awake since my parents first bought me that SNES back in antiquity.
Stomach, you also deserve an apology. Many is the occasion that I’ve meant to grab a quick bite for lunch but then not looked up at the clock again until it’s nearly dinnertime, and even then decided to eat late rather than so much as glace at the power switch. On the flipside of the coin, at least as frequently as I’ve postponed filling my belly, I’ve also put off emptying my bladder and sinus cavities in the name of uninterrupted gaming, and each of you (and my immune system in general) has my unreserved regrets as well. I also offer a particularly heartfelt “my bad” to my muscles, or what’s left of them. My days of at least being able to survive gym class are long gone, as I’ve resigned myself to being completely winded by simple household chores and to toting a spare tire even when I’m not in the car. To my mind as well as my flesh as a whole I also express remorse for not getting to bed on time, despite frequently promising to do so after reaching the next save point. Of course, the fact that I do this in games that allow saving anywhere certainly doesn’t make me look any better. Body, you’ve put up with a lot from me over the years, and I truly appreciate the fact that you’ve still stuck around. Hopefully it makes you feel a little better that I’ve been suffering along with you the whole time.
Expanding outward a bit, the next set of mea culpas are directed at the four walls (scarred with puncture holes from long-removed Nintendo Power fold-out posters) that have surrounded me for more of my life than anyplace else; here, too, I’ve been a less-than-desirable tenant (to say the least) whenever videogames have been involved…and they’ve pretty much always been involved. Not only do I constantly put off dusting and tidying the place, but whenever I do get around to it nothing much ever gets done, as there’s simply noplace else to put the racks upon racks of games, boxed-up “dormant” consoles and peripherals, TVs and monitors to hook them all up to, piles of old, ragged magazines and player’s guides, printed-out code sheets and movelists faded with age, towering heaps of pre-order swag, and heaven only knows what else. The few trinkets that I ever manage to coerce myself into selling (always after many bitter tears of regret, even if I only liked the buggers enough to spend a few minutes total on them) are nowhere near ample compensation for the near-constant flood of new junk on its way in.
Almost without exception the whole mess, if it isn’t growing before my eyes, stays right where it is, clogging up whatever meager walkways are left, accumulating all manner of allergens, and seriously messing with the feng shui. By now, pretty much every piece of furniture I own, the bed included, is devoted in some capacity to either playing or storing away all of my gaming stuff, including the junky old couch I salvaged from the neighbors’ curb, which puffs out crusty stuffing onto the floor every time I sit on it. This place is, in a nutshell, not an environment fit for habitation by any self-respecting, civilized human being (even the thriving spider community here has had a judge force me to don an “I Am A Slumlord” sandwich board on occasion), and to both the room itself and anyone who has had to venture within over the years, I’m truly sorry. As soon as someone donates the money I need to have an extension put on so I can spread the mess out a bit, I’ll get right on it.
Family and Friends
Now we’re finally starting to get into the nitty-gritty: trying to make nice with one’s own stuff (animate and non-) is a bit different than actually having to engage someone else…let alone, in my case, pretty much everyone else. Mom, Dad, I apologize for having shamelessly hogged the TV in your room before I could get my own to hook the systems up to, and moreover having repaid your patience by turning up the volume too loud to hear you calling me (or else pretending that the volume was too loud to hear you). In the meantime I built up a debt of cold dinners, overgrown lawns, unemptied dishwashers and rancid garbage cans that I’ll never be able to repay. Most tragically of all, our dearly-departed cat, Luna (aka Oofus) surely kept a tab detailing a great many late meals, and somewhere down the line, even from the other side, she sure as heck is going to make me pay up in one way or another (unlikely as it may sound offhand, if you’ve ever owned a cat you know I speak the truth). Cousin Lisa, please be assured that I was so eager to visit you and your folks for reasons other than you owning an NES before I had my own system to play (moreover, I even occasionally came back after acquiring one!). I also take full responsibility for loading up my share (and more) of the family computer’s hard drive with MAME ROMs, not to mention switching Japanese text support on so I could play the latest Touhou demo, interspersing kanji throughout your emails in the process (and trying to convince you to “ignore it” instead of turning it back off).
Sis, Bro, I feel bad for hogging the controller (especially the 1P side) so frequently over the years, and yeah, it probably wouldn’t have killed me to give you a little help at a trouble spot instead of growling at you to “figure it out yourself, like I did” (with the help of my cheat-filled magazines, of course – which, by the way, I wouldn’t let you read either). I’m particularly embarrassed, in retrospect, for having repeatedly, when asked to enter the stage select code in Earthworm Jim, put in the Nick Jones cheat instead (and then quickly vanish from the room before my shenanigans had been discovered, refusing to come back and fix it). My small and long-suffering group of friends, while not as frequent or severe a victim of my game-related behavior as my siblings, still has many tales to tell of my refusal to shut up about whatever “awesome” title I’d recently gotten my hands on, no matter what everyone else had just been discussing (“World peace? Whatever – which is your least favorite Chargin’ Chuck variety?”). Oh, and after finally convincing them to play me in something, going way too hard on them (and gloating about it, right on down to activating Bang’s “theme song” super move or Dan’s Super Taunt, just to annoy them, every single round and we won’t even discuss Twinkle Star Sprites). Which, come to think of it, might help to explain why only a handful of long-suffering souls have ever accepted invitations to my house. I can, however, state with the utmost confidence that I have never failed to return any of your phone calls because I was too addicted to my games. Though I might have put off said responses for a rather long time, inevitably adding that “things have been kinda crazy around here” whenever I finally got around to talking to you. Y’know, once or twice. Maybe.
This section is a particularly painful one to type as I sit here unemployed, wondering what might have been had I not spent my Art and Journalism classes either playing or designing cards for Triple Triad. Mr. M. and Mr. D., I’m beyond sorry for making you grade (let alone professionally critique) the half-hearted stuff I turned in during that phase, and Ms. P., uh, my bad for completely forgetting that your class required a final project. Of course, all of my teachers, straight through college, had to deal with my plethora of copyright-infringing margin doodles (which made me dread any class which required me to turn in my notes), though I think my middle school band director probably got the worst of it when I begged him to put some Chrono Trigger music into the next concert’s lineup. I hear he retired pretty soon afterwards.
In a more general sense, whenever I do take a break from gaming these days I can’t help but wonder what more important things I’ve unintentionally ignored in the meantime -- a policy statement from the President, an informative nature documentary, an imminent Martian invasion -- the fact of the matter is that I’m just plain not as inquisitive or well-informed a citizen as I ought to be. Though I could probably still detail the evolutionary path of every single creature in Pokemon Red, despite having not played it in years…and come to think of it, most of the several hundred hours I clocked onto that cartridge (I can’t say exactly how many, as the timer stopped at 255) were compiled - you guessed it - in class, including an SAT prep course that my parents paid extra for. If there’s one bit of consolation that I can offer to my put-upon teachers of old, if any of you had bets going with more optimistic faculty that I’d end up a pathetic, utter failure (and I refuse to believe that at least some of you didn’t), well, I think by now it’s quite safe for you to claim your winnings. You’re welcome, by the way.
As wince-inducing as the previous section was, few things truly hurt me more inside than the neglected little snippet near the top of my blog’s sidebar titled “Other Interests” -- in all honesty, it’s hard for me to recall the last time I really immersed myself in any of them. Part of it is due to my current economic situation (or lack thereof), but even during the downtime when there are no more want ads to scan or leathery, unfeeling corporate derrieres to kiss, I almost always find myself firing up some videogame instead of doing any number of other things I used to love. In fairness, to some extent those ships have sailed, as my lack of talent in several of those areas (and my long-time refusal to acknowledge it) is what got me into this mess in the first place, but at the same time I can’t help but fondly recall the hours upon hours that I used to spend sitting on a cheesily-adorned stage or staring at a poorly-realized canvas. The fact of the matter, when you get right down to it, is that you just can’t start memorizing a soliloquy or composing a still life as easily as you can pop in a cartridge, but ironically it’s a whole lot easier to stop.
If anyone wanted to try to make sense of this state of affairs, one might theorize that by this point I’m badly in need of success in some form or another, and even if it doesn’t further my life in any “meaningful” way, playing videogames is something I know I can do, something I have at least a little bit of a knack for (though not too much) -- all of the other, slightly more “practical” stuff that I’ve attempted to take to “the next level” has hit a series of dead ends, and that makes it tougher to go back to them than you might think. Of course, heaven only knows where I might wind up down the line, but these days neither a script nor a paintbrush can offer the sense of comfort, of satisfaction, in my hands that they used to, and controllers of various shapes and sizes have decisively taken their places. About the only thing I can still “do” aside from gaming is write about gaming – though that’s less about me suffering for art than you guys suffering when you read it.
As much as I hate to say so, I guess that a self-indulgent piece like this could only end up in one place - pathetic as it is, even as I affix my full attention upon videogames I manage to neglect them (I’m sure there’s some deeper sentiment to be found in such a phrase, though I’m buggered if I know what it is). But back to my beloved games -- to wit, “nursing home” games, untouched and unplayed for years, despite how eagerly I wax poetic about them to others when an opportunity for self-promotion arises. “Nameless” games I lent out to manipulative acquaintances ages ago, many of which I either never bothered to request back or simply forgot were gone in the first place. “Fool’s gold” games that I pleaded and begged and cried for, shamelessly ruining days and weeks on end for my folks in the process, only to sell them off not long afterwards without so much as a “meh” (the name Super Adventure Island still makes me blush, nearly twenty years on). Not to mention, of course, the “petrified” games that I’ve every intention of keeping until kingdom come, but still haven’t gotten around to finishing -- or even dusting off (in either a literal or figurative sense) once in awhile. And deep down I know that I quite likely never will.
And that doesn’t even touch upon the overheated, overstressed hardware, ready to combust in spectacular fashion after an unwisely long session, all the while jacked up with backups, boot discs, memory card exploits, soldered-on chips, and any number of twisted modifications that would make Dr. Frankenstein queasy. Or controller after controller coated with caked-on, sweaty crud, oozing into seams and encrusting buttons, likely leading to unfeeling, premature disposal in favor of a cheap used replacement, soon to suffer the same ignoble fate. Or, for that matter, televisions and monitors constantly rotated back and forth (despite every manufacturer’s warning in the book) so as to allow my arcade shooters to be played in their original vertical format (nothing else will do!) – of course, when the innards inevitably start acting up, their shells are roughly unscrewed and cracked open in a vain effort to “fix” them even though I have no earthly idea how to do it. Scratched discs as a result of my klutziness, systems left on overnight due to my forgetfulness, accessories lost forever due to my cluelessness (I’m loath to admit how many VMUs have vanished without a trace on my watch, especially so soon after Dreamcast week), and the list goes on -- for a hobby that seems to overshadow so much else in my life, I don’t treat even it very well, do I?
So, um … sorry about that, everyone. We’re still tight, right?
Well, I think that covers at least most of the major areas of my life that have gone forgotten, time and time again, due to my gaming lifestyle. While my first reaction upon re-reading this to myself was “good God, how did such an innocuous hobby ever come to make such a huge honking mess?”, on second thought I suppose that the same could apply to almost any pastime or devotion. Ask them to analyze it closely enough, and everyone from car tweakers to exercise mavens to religious devotees could likely tell a similar tale, especially if they’ve been at it awhile. Somehow, though, I’m still a bit uneasy with myself; maybe it’s just the societal double standard when it comes to videogames versus other forms of entertainment rearing its ugly head (i.e. a regular moviegoer is a “film buff” or “aficionado”, while a frequent gamer never gets to move beyond “geek”) within my psyche, but somehow forgetting other, more important things directly because of videogames still strikes me as particularly “wrong” or “irresponsible”. My logical mind insists that I’m no better or worse than the well-meaning husband who always comes home later than he said he would from League Night at the bowling alley, but the rest of me, for whatever reason, has a hard time getting on board with that.
Well, whatever, I’ve already gone on about this longer than I intended. If anyone needs me they know where to find me. I might not answer, but you know I’m there.