In exchange for not paying for cable for a year, my parents decided to replace our crappy old TV with a much larger one, and a Nintendo Entertainment System. That was Christmas of 1989.
The fall and winter of 1989 weren’t great times for me, as I previously mentioned. I was not making a lot of new friends at school post-move. The Oregon Coast can be gray and opressive during the winter months, and this could have been by first bout with Seasonal Affective Disorder. We had moved to the coast to help take care of my grandparents, whose health was declining. My grandfather’s stroke in the summer of 1989 was followed by steadily worstening dementia. At one point, while the rest of the family was outside with my grandmother, my granfather looked at me with a blank expression, yelled “Who the hell are you? Why are you in my house?” and tried to physically throw me out of his home. Not what a ten year old needs to deal with.
So, an NES was a godsend. We had rented a Nintendo before, with Super Mario Bros/Duck Hunt and Zelda II, and it all made sense to me. I loved the feeling of being able to control something, to impact a world in some way, that I just couldn’t as a kid in a controlling household in a new town. Now I owned a Nintendo! Or my brother and I owned a Nintendo. He wasn’t ever as into it as I was, although we racked up hours with Mario Bros., Othello, Blades of Steel, and Contra.
Aside: I got pretty good at Contra. Not “beat it with one live” good, but “Beat it with no continues and no Konami code” good. After my breakdown and realization of my depression and alcoholism, improving my time in Contra was a very compelling reason to get up in the morning, on days where I felt no reason to get out of bed, or keep going in any meaningful way. I know, it sounds stupid, but a game about shooting aliens in a jungle played a part in saving my life.
Slowly our NES game collection increased. My money from yardwork and other odd jobs was getting stretched pretty thin by now. Between magazine and books, music, guitar strings and picks, NES games were an expensive addition to Eli’s Fun Time Budget. And playing the games cut into my time for making that money. Oh, what a vicious cycle video games are!
As the Genesis and later the Super Nintendo grew in popularity, more used games were popping up at garage sales. Even a few of the local video stores were selling less popular games, to make shelf space available. I wouldn’t spend 40 bucks on Narc, but 5 bucks? OK. At no time did I have a massive collection, it was probably always under 50 games, and never did I get my own copy of Zelda II, but I was content.
When I blew my Christmas money in 1994 to get a Super Nintendo with Super Mario All Stars + Super Mario World, I kept to the same minimalist ownership philosophy, also known as being cheap. I borrowed games from friends that might have low replay value, or rented them for a weekend. I purchased used games almost exclusively, the sole exception being a copy of Super Street Fighter II. That led me on a path to discover some off-beat games, such as Robotrek. Robotrek might be my favorite console RPG of all time, for two reasons. One, it’s just a fun game that was around during a fun time in my life. There’s a lot of nostalgia fogging up my eyes when I look at at Robotrek, so I don’t doubt it’s on no other top 5 list. Two, no one else played it. No magazine coverage, none of my friends had even heard of it, nothing. It was a private treasure, something I discovered on my own, and it was glorious.
My Super Nintendo stayed packed away while I went to college, but I did take my NES. I had more two player or quick party-like games (Super Dodge Ball was a favorite) where people could spend a few hours rotating in and out while we shot the shit and had pixelmen hit each other with a volleyball. By my junior year it was all Playstations and Symphony of the Night and ridiculous Tekken tournaments in the dorms. The Super Nintendo was traded in along with an old Playstation 2 and some games for a 360 in 2009. The Nintendo and the games went to my sister in law to fill gaps in her impressive 300+ NES game collection. She later got the 360, as well.
I haven’t owned a console since 2012. The NES and SNES Classics were tempting, but my desire and product availability never lined up quite right. My days as a console gamer might be done. But who knows? In a few years the twins will be at the right age to want to get into video games. Who knows what bizarre controller scheme and cartridge/disk/digital files we’ll have then?