[Editor’s note: Zac Bentz tells us the tale of the magical Nintendo Entertainment System for his Monthly Musing. — CTZ]
It’s still tough for some of us to remember a time before the Nintendo Entertainment System. It’s tough to remember that, before 1985, I had been playing my Atari 2600 into the ground day and night. That I was already pumping quarter after quarter into any stand-up arcade game I came across. It’s as if that clunky little gray box came not only with a zapper and a junky robot, but some sort of subliminal brain-washing device set to eradicate all memory of videogaming past. “I AM ALL THAT IS, ALL THAT EVER WAS AND ALL THAT WILL EVER BE!” it screamed to every kid within a fifty mile radius.
Of course, to anyone who had spent years drooling over dull-colored squares that could only make mono-phonic “blurt” noises, the Technicolor, polyphonic, next-gen experience that the NES had to offer was enough to turn any joystick jockey into a devoted fan within seconds. Hell, you didn’t even need to play the thing. Just seeing a poster full of tiny screen-shots was all it took.
I don’t know where or when I first heard about the NES. In fact, I don’t think I really had any clear idea what it was until one fateful day in June of 1986. The end of school, the beginning of a glorious summer vacation and the start of an affair that has lasted far longer than that of various girlfriends and, I must admit, that of my marriage. The NES will always have been my first. My real first time was actually not with a girl, but a kid named Vance. Actually, it was a three way with him and my other friend Steve. We all came together that day in June, in his living room, with his mother watching from the kitchen.
See, I lived in, well, not bum-fuck nowhere, but somewhere close to it. We were not a rich family. Case in point, the aforementioned Atari 2600. By 1986 it was already almost ten years old (as was I.) We were never able to trade up to the later models. Plus, living where we did, we didn’t necessarily have easy access to them anyway, so when news of the NES started to circulate (again, I still don’t remember hearing much about it) my inner gaming beast started to make a noise heretofore unheard of. It was hungry and needed fresh meat.
Then, my friend Vance, my good friend, certainly my best friend, the coolest guy on the fucking planet, let us know that he had a Nintendo. “Oh really?” we said. “Huh.” we said. “Maybe we could hang out sometime?” we asked, playing totally cool. That was how I found myself in his house. A place I had never been before but suddenly never wanted to leave again.
His mother, however, had other ideas. But first … It’s still hazy, but I can almost remember seeing Super Mario Bros. boot up for the very first time.
We were looking into a rich new world. It was totally alien, yet pulled at my soul in a way that no other game ever had before. Again, simply magic. The movement of the characters was like liquid smoke. Fluid. Like, I can only image, a really great acid trip. The world was solid in a way I had never seen. Solid and deep and real. There was also Excitebike, and holy shit, you could make your own levels and the other riders seemed to be alive and breathing and totally ruthless. Even then we knew that Duck Hunt was complete crap, but that didn’t matter. We had Mario. Beautiful, sweet Mario.
We also had a time limit. Ah yes, Mommy dearest.
Vance’s mom was sort of a bitch. That could be a totally unfair view, and I have to admit that after twenty years my memory is, shall we say, totally unreliable in certain areas. So when I say she was a totally unreasonably bitch-Nazi, please try and remember that.
Anyway, she, like many other “responsible parents”, didn’t want us staying inside all day playing with this stupid thing. By “all day” I think she meant “more than ten minutes”. I swear, I had no sooner fallen head first in love with those flying turtles then we were being herded into the kitchen for some Kool-Aid and a boot outside. This was awful. I only had one thing in my head at that point. I had to get back to the NES, but this screeching Kraken was guarding the gate, and I was only a little kid. Having yet to win the Triforce, I simply did what I was told.
We sullenly shuffled around outside, playing some sort of “sport” or other. Of course I don’t remember anything else. Nothing other than my burning desire to return to that magic box and spend the rest of my life unlocking its secret worlds.
I did get some more time with my beloved, but in the end she belonged to someone else and we could never truly be together. Still, it was summer, and, believe it or not, I was a kid who loved his backyard woods just as much as the pixelated equivalent. I managed to tame my desires for a time. I amassed as much material on the NES as I could, plying my own mother, who was always loving and caring and understanding, though strong-willed, nothing like Vance’s mom, with tales of all the wondrous feats the NES could perform. How it was magic beyond all knowing. How it was like having an entire arcade in your vary own home. Oh, what? What about the Atari? Oh well, this was like having ten Ataris! We will never need to replace a Nintendo! How could they ever improve upon it anyway? It was videogaming’s greatest accomplishment, never to be outdone.
That Christmas was my own personal D-Day. N-Day, I suppose. Nothing else. I didn’t want anything else. Just a Nintendo. Besides, it came with a game! How awesome was that? Just one box and you were good to go. It was all I needed.
Christmas Eve came. I had been glued to the slowly evolving landscape beneath the tree for weeks. All packages had been thoroughly shaken and prodded, their contents guessed at and mentally cataloged. Still, it was obvious that none of them was nearly large enough to be a NES. It was like my own personal A Christmas Story. I had worked my mom over day and night and even braved the Santa-beast, telling him my darkest desires, but to no avail! How could this be?
Confused and disillusioned, my head was a fog of spiraling despair. “Go wash your hands, dinner’s almost ready,” I was told. “But I just did that.” “Well, uh, go do it again,” was the rather cryptic reply. “Do it better this time.” So off I went, down that hall, but now with a nagging hope. Something was wrong, but in a good way. They were up to something. I took way too long in the bathroom, hoping beyond hope. Was this it? Was this it?!
Of course it was.
When I returned, my eyes practically tore from their sockets as I turned the corner into the living room where the tree sat in the darkened corner. There, in the soft red glow of the lazily blinking tree lights, was a rather obvious new addition to the landscape. I grinned. They grinned. We didn’t say anything about it, but everyone knew.
I managed to save it for last. Well, almost last. In addition to my glorious dull-gray love-box was another beauty. This one more traditionally pretty. Something gold. Something about some chick named “Zelda”.
“Whatever,” I thought.
Best Christmas ever.