[The following opinion piece does not necessarily reflect the views of Flagpole Magazine LLC, Flagpole Wealth Management and Heavy Industrial Inc. or Flagpole Consolidated BioAgro and GMO Manufacturing Ltd, its subsidiaries or Bahamian financial accounts. Due to its content, this column should not be read by anyone with access to the outdoors or a social life of any kind.]
Let's think back to the great year 1996. Yeah. The Olympics were in Atlanta, Slick Willy was still unimpeached, and a humble Japanese exporter of card games and novelties was about to ship a new product to the North American market.
This product was, of course, Beanie Babies the Nintendo 64, which up until recently, was the last video game console I had purchased.
“Whoa now, Jay,” I hear you asking, “I barely know you, except from about 80 or so words in a short opinion piece; but this is so unlike you! Long have you waxed nostalgic about the glory days of the Nintendo and Super Nintendo. Oh, how difficult the games were, how they made us scream and throw the controller, how blocky and pixelated they look compared to today's digital interactive experiences.”
Yes, children, it was a different time. Al Gore had yet to invent the Internet, and we were at the mercy of two dominant video game megaliths, Nintendo and Sega. We were spoon-fed games and consoles whenever they saw fit, and our only hope for information about said games was the sage advice of friends, heinously inaccurate commercials on the television or direct marketing from the companies themselves.
So it was that I was first introduced to the Nintendo 64, or N64, as it has come to be known. I was pushing 17, had my first “real” job at a Taco Bell and saw in this plastic wonder a clear materialistic goal. So, I saved up parts of my paycheck for a few months. This was before “teh rents” and “teh billz” [sic], and after a short while, a friend and I went into our local Equally Large Retail Place, so I could purchase my N64.
Ah, but the console launched without a game! Nintendo claimed that this was to “keep costs low.” It certainly would save on your electric bill; if you could not use your system, you were keeping your costs down. Thankfully, I had read of this in advance and had saved up enough money to purchase a game, as well.
“Don't buy Mario, Jay,” my friend cautioned me.
“What game you want?” said the kindly older gentleman at the electronics counter. “We got Mario, Turok, Waverace…”
“Mario 64!” I exclaimed with glee.
For all my joy of those first six months with my shiny new console, they were to be a beacon of remembrance compared to the next few years. My dad landed a new job in Atlanta, and I journeyed with my family to our new home. I enrolled at a university and started a long-term relationship with the town that had sprung up around it. I made Athens my place, and while I was making attempts at settling down, the video game industry was doing anything but.
While I still played my N64 with unblemished glee, the gaming companies were busy getting other systems onto the market: the Gamecube, the Virtual Boy 2, the Motion-tendo, the Sega Uranus and all that ilk. Better graphics, enhanced hardware—pah! I stayed loyal to my late-‘90s console, even while the games race heated up and left my cartridge-based system in the dust.
Much to my delight, my stubbornness and penny-pinching mentality paid off: Retro gaming is a thing now; there are stores in Athens that sell old-school games and consoles, and there's a vibrant web community built around games that never truly went out of style. I purchased new titles for my N64 for the first time in almost two decades, and my passion for older games was renewed. My favorite slice of the retro pie is James Rolfe's Angry Video Game Nerd, whose videos can be seen on cinemassacre.com, though I would advise against playing them in front of young children or bosses.
For months, I basked in a hipster-ish glow, resolutely denying that I would ever purchase a newer console, still bitter over the rapid abandonment that Nintendo had shown to a showcase console. I mean, seriously, y’all: Goldeneye 64. ‘Nuff said, eh?
Recently, a change came over me; well, OK, not a change; I saw a new game that I Had To Have. You understand, right? I scratched a few pennies together for several months, and before I knew it, I not only had a state-of-the-art gaming console with all the bells and whistles, but a brand new TV on which to play it. Recalling the exploits of my 17-year-old self, I tore open the packaging and threw myself into the new system and game with exuberant glee.
There was my N64, dusty, piled into a corner of my TV stand, but still loyal to me after all these years, like an old hound ready to throw itself into a bear's maw to save its master. Well, maybe not that Jack London-esque, but you get the picture. Carefully running its outdated RCA cables into the back of my shiny new TV, I reflected upon my many good times with the system, and how cool it would be to have it side by side with my new toy. I slid in a game, flipped on the power, and… it crashed.
Yes, perhaps it was the weight of years, the recent spate of heavy use after a decade of neglect or the sheer magnitude of being next to a modern gaming system, but my N64 died that day. I tried different games, played with the cords, many things, but as of this writing, it seems to have given up the ghost. Like the samurai of old, it saw that its time had passed and, not wanting to be a ronin, it chose honorable seppuku rather than dishonor its master. Very Japanese.
This holiday season, I hope you took time to reflect upon the things that really matter in this life; that is, old-school gaming consoles and the memories you had with them. Eschew any physical activities or gatherings of loved ones, and give yourself over to the original Final Fantasy or Super Mario 3. Hug your NES—even if it’s been in the attic or in a trunk somewhere, patiently waiting for you to relive your past.
Or, sell that sucker on eBay for a handsome profit.