Gaming has always been a huge part of my life. When I was born, I was a very tiny and sick baby. In my early years, I wasn’t allowed to do a lot of physical activities because of my heart condition, and I wasn’t supposed to live past the age of five. Needless to say, I’m still here despite the universe’s best efforts. But I still remember growing up as that frail and pallid kid who wasn’t allowed to ride his bike with the other boys or play pickle or smear the queer (Sorry. That’s what it was called when I was a kid, and I don’t feel like finding the PC name for it). However, that didn’t mean I had a terrible childhood. I did, but not for that reason. I still had a lot of friends and lots of fun. Plus, by the time I was in 5th or 6th grade, I was cleared by my doctor to play sports, which I unfortunately did.
Anyway, I never really felt like I missed much when I was young, even though I actually did. You know why? Because I had the Nintendo Entertainment System, that’s why! So what if I couldn’t play tee-ball with my friends? They’d come over on the weekend and play R.B.I. Baseball with me all night until my dad yelled at us to go to bed. All the kids are down at the gravel pit swimming? That’s cool. Maybe they can use that experience to help me beat the Dam Level in Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles later tonight (this was not the case).
When this is done, start on the electric seaweed. We’ll be so ready for that level!
What I’m trying to say is that the NES really helped me in my early childhood, and I played it A LOT. I played video games in general a lot up until I graduated high school. That may sound like a whole bunch of wasted time, and it kind of was, but I don’t regret it. On the contrary, I’d say that video games have made me the person I am today, and I’d like to share with you some of the more significant times in my life where video games affected me either positively or negatively. Sit back, and allow me to give you some insight into the anomaly that is BygJuce’s mind.
~ Mario and Family Bonding
Like most people from my generation, Super Mario Bros. was one of the first video game experiences I had. I got it for Christmas back in ’89, but it wasn’t really for me; it was for my dad. He bought it and wrapped it up and put my name on the tag, but he really got it for himself, which was cool by me. I was only 4. What did I care? I was just happy my dad and I were doing something together (he worked 2 jobs to keep us afloat). I remember he got the NES that came with Super Mario Bros./Duck Hunt and the zapper. We didn’t really care too much for Duck Hunt, but Dad loved him some Mario. I used to stay up all night just to watch him cuss at that game. He was seriously good. He knew where all the warp pipes were, and he knew about the 1-up trick at the end of level 3-1. He even knew about the Minus World. I have no idea how he knew all that crap. There was no internet back then, and we didn’t get a subscription to Nintendo Power until after we got an SNES two years later. He either heard it from some people at one of his jobs, or he just played the crap out of that game and found it all on his own. Either way, it was by watching him that I obtained all this knowledge.
Lastly, son, when the Hammer Bro jumps, YOU RUN LIKE HELL!
Playing SMB with my dad was the first time I really recall bonding with him. I remember how he used to get to level 4-2 and climb the hidden vine just so I could dance on it (hold up at the top of the vine and Mario dances! Try it!).
I’m gonna dance so hard!
My dad and I played the crap out of that game. That’s why when we got Super Mario Bros. 2 I thought we would be inseparable again. Not even close. Dad popped it in, played it for 5 minutes, said, “Why the hell am I pulling shit outta the ground?”, handed the controller to me, and never touched another video game in his life. That was the last time my father showed any genuine interest in me until I started playing football my Freshman year in high school.
You ruined everything! But, damn, you’re such a great game!
~ Sleeping with Uncle Fester
I used to go to AM Kindergarten, so I was usually home from school by around noon (I seriously lived right next to the school. It was my next-door neighbor). My mom babysat for a bunch of people in the neighborhood, and noon was when she put all the kids down for a nap. I’d get home from a long, half-day at school only to be forced to take a nap. I hated this so much because there were better things for me to do than sleep, such as playing Fester’s Quest.
Better than sleep.
There were other kids besides me that wanted to play the NES, and, because kid logic dictates as such, they all wanted to play Fester’s Quest because I wanted to play it so bad. Therefore, nap time was actually a race. The first to wake up got to play Fester’s Quest first. I think I can actually hear some of you laughing right now, and I understand. Fester’s Quest is a terrible game. I remember beating the first boss (it took like 2 hours) and getting disappointed that there was more game afterward. Anyway, my after-school activity was basically a race to see who can play this shitty game first. Kids are so dumb.
You’re using too much toilet paper, dumb ass!
Eventually, we discovered that Mom only wanted us to lie down for a half-hour. So that meant we were now fake sleeping so we could wake up to play the NES, and I was a terrible fake sleeper. I’d fall asleep every time. I’d always wake up to the bitter sound of somebody else playing my NES and sucking at my Fester’s Quest. It was humiliating.
Hopefully nobody can see me not playing Fester’s Quest now.
The solution: take Fester’s Quest with me everywhere I went. I’d seriously carry it everywhere in my hands. I took it to school, the grocery store, other friends’ houses, and church. I even slept with it at fake nap time. Of course, I still fell asleep and had to wake up to others playing NES, but they weren’t playing Fester’s Quest, so I won! The only downside to all this was that everyone thought I was weird, and, at one point, my parents and I had to talk to some people at school because they thought I was autistic. It was worth it, though. Those dirty bastards never got to play Fester’s Quest again! I’m pretty sure I actually saved their taste in video games because I still love Fester’s Quest to this day.
~ How Video Games Fostered within me Fear
Over at his blog, my buddy, THE Dustin Thomas, wrote an article about how awful water is in gaming. He asserts that water is gaming’s most terrifying enemy. I have to agree, but I’m not going to summarize his post. You should definitely go check it out for yourself. Instead, I’d like to share an incident I endured as a child that psychologically scarred me for life. And it all happened on a weekend back in the 1st grade.
As was customary with most kids back in the late-eighties and early-nineties, Friday night meant it was time to go to the video store and rent a game for the weekend. This was never taken lightly. One could easily make or break their entire weekend by renting a bad game. That’s why we all utilized an arduous and time-tested method of weeding out the bad games: looking at the box art. That’s all I really had to judge games with back then because I was just learning how to read. If a game had a kick-ass cover, it was going home with me. And that’s when I saw it: The Adventures of Tom Sawyer on NES.
Just looking at the cover, I knew it was going to be fun: Rafting, rough waters, alligators, dudes in straw hats with sticks. How could this game possibly be awful? Well, it really wasn’t that bad. It was a mediocre platformer, for sure, but it wasn’t rage-inducingly difficult or painful to play. In fact, the first level was pretty cool, and the second level had you rafting and played like a vertical shooter, so there was some variety, which was nice. However, everything took a turn for the worst when I got to the boss of the rafting level.
The level has an overhead camera that follows Tom as he autoscrolls toward the top of the screen. As the level progresses, you find yourself being attacked by land and water. Your goal is to not get hit by stuff while simultaneously dodging land as you traverse the tributaries of the Mississip’, I presume. Pretty standard stuff, really. But then it happens. All the tributaries lead to a large body of water. The land you were forced to dodge earlier is no longer in sight, and all the activity of you dodging whirlpools and the people jumping and throwing rocks at you have stopped, completely replaced with silence and a foreboding sense of cautiousness. The only things on the screen are Tom, your score, and blue nothingness. Then, suddenly, from the top of the screen, the boss of the level creeped into view, and I seriously dropped my controller so I could focus on not hyperventilating.
There is no God…
I don’t know how to explain what I was feeling, or why I even felt it. I had never reacted to anything like that in my life. Whatever was going on with my brain at the time, it still exists to this day. I absolutely cannot stand wide-open spaces, and I do everything I can to avoid large, spacious areas. As long as I have somebody with me I’m fine, but if I’m alone I get very anxious. I tend to get nervous during water levels in games, but only if there’s an air meter. There’s just something so vulnerable about swimming or being out in the water that just gets to me. Oddly enough, I love swimming, and I don’t fear water at all in real life. However, when it comes to video games, I get shaky.
The most recent example of me freaking out was when I was playing Okami. There’s a part where you’re at a beach, and you can swim out into the ocean to look for optional stuff. I knew this was a bad idea, and my stomach turned every time I thought about doing it, but I did it anyway. Despite my instincts, I decided that I wasn’t going to miss out on things in a game just because I was a pussy. Lo and behold, as soon as I swam a good distance away from the shore, and the horizon had become nothing more than where the ocean meets the sky, a huge fucking dragon came out of nowhere and swallowed my ass whole.
Why must you mock me, O Lord!
The moral to the story: Fuck water.
~ Mohawk Man!
By the time I was in the 2nd grade, I was a huge Mega Man fan. I wouldn’t shut up about it. All I did was play the games, write about them at school, bring the carts in for show and tell, and devise ways to become Mega Man. I remember when my sisters played softball. One of my sisters played right field, and I actually broke her concentration by pretending to be Mega man shooting at her, causing her to miss an easy fly. I put a cup on my hand and yelled, “PEW! Air Man!” She was so pissed. So much so that she decided to exact her revenge by doing something that would bring upon the wrath of our mother.
I got one bad haircut and my ma got scared…
It was the night before school pictures. My mom had everything planned out the night before because she had to work the graveyard shift: we would wake up, our grandma would come over and dress us in all the nice clothes Mom had set out, then grandma would walk us to school, ensuring that we didn’t do anything stupid to mess up our appearances. Well, my sister waited until Mom left for work before she asked me, “Hey, you wanna look like a boss from Mega Man?” I crapped myself in response, and she quickly got to work. She grabbed some clippers from the draw and started buzzing the sides of my head. “Now you’re Mohawk Man! You can kill Mega Man by cutting him with the blade on top of your head.” Duh, I thought. That’s exactly what I was going to do. So I decided to stay up all night practicing my headbutt on everything. I eventually ended up with a black eye and a bloody nose because I thought hitting the stove with my face would be a perfect way to hone my craft. My dad decided I was an idiot, cleaned me up, and sent me to bed. He didn’t say anything about the mohawk. He just stopped questioning the dumb crap I did.
*Sigh* As long as it keeps your mouth shut. Daddy’s trying to watch his stories.
Morning comes, grandma comes over, and she immediately accuses my parents of listening to devil music. Why else would I have hair like that? She gets us ready the best she can, drops us off at school, and I got my picture taken as the black-eyed Mohawk Man, the next great Robot Master! My mom ripped my sister a new one when we got home from school, but even to this day I’m pretty sure it was the greatest picture I had ever taken. I tried to strike a pose and look mad, but the photographer was being a real bitch. So I smiled as broadly as I could, playing the “Robot Master Selected” music in my head all the while. The picture’s around somewhere. It’s either with my mom or I lost it in the fire, but, if I find it, I’m posting it.
~ Chrono Trigger got me noticed as “Gifted”
6th grade was a pretty big time for gaming. The 16-bit era was coming to an end; the SNES and Genesis were on their way out, being replaced by the N64 and the Saturn, respectively, and the Playstation would be coming out very shortly. Fortunately, I decided to stick with my SNES while my best friend went on to the N64 (I would eventually get a Saturn, which most of my friends viewed as an act of treason, but more on that some other time). There were a few games that I still hadn’t got to experience all the way through yet, such as FFIII, because I couldn’t beat it in a weekend and renting it meant somebody constantly messed with my save data.
Whoever kept renaming my characters “Patty,” I will find you!
The SNES was here to stay for all I was concerned. And what better game to play while I waited for the weekend than one of my favorite games of all time? Chrono Trigger! God, how I loved that game! I used to play it nonstop. By the time I hit the 6th grade, I had gotten all the endings. I loved the characters, I loved the battle system, I loved the settings and environments, I loved the music (man, did I love the music!), and I loved the plot. I loved everything about that game (and I still do). I knew everything about it and could recite pretty much all the dialogue. I remember hanging with my friends during recess and having to explain to them how to get the Rainbow Sword. Let me tell you: for a little kid, figuring out how to get the Rainbow Sword on your own is mind-boggling. I don’t know how I managed to do it.
Making a sharp, phallic object from such fabulous material? Studly!
Getting back on track, when I was in 6th grade, there was a program at school called “TAG.” It was an acronym that meant “Talented and Gifted.” Kids were placed in the program if they exhibited some sort of higher intelligence than kids normally showed at their age. I was not a part of that program. I didn’t get considered for the program until my 6th grade teacher decided to give everyone some busy work. I can’t recall exactly what we had to do, but the worksheet had something to do with history. Basically, I think we were given important events in history, and we had to use encyclopedias to find when they occurred. Ultimately, we had to place the events on a timeline with the earliest events on the left and the more recent events on the right. It was nothing spectacular, but there was a bonus question at the end, and I decided to answer it. The question was:
What kind of order did you place these events in?
I had no idea. The first thing that came to mind was “Time Order.” I immediately decided that was stupid, but then I remembered something from Chrono Trigger Ayla said: “‘La’ mean ‘Fire.’ ‘Vos’ mean ‘Big.'” That doesn’t help, I thought. Then, I remembered how smaller words could be put together to make a bigger word, like “Lavos” or “herbivore” if you want a real word. Then, I remember actually getting the Chrono Trigger in the game. Gaspar had called it the “Time Egg.” Maybe “chrono” meant “time”? I grabbed a dictionary, looked up “chrono, ” and eventually found the word “chronological.” I put “Chronological order” down as my answer and turned in the worksheet.
Using big words…
A few minutes later, my teacher yelled my name and asked me to go into the hall (she was notorious for being mean). I wasn’t doing anything, so I welcomed the change of scenery, though I was a little nervous. She came out to the hall, leaned over to meet me eye-to-eye, shoved the paper in my face, and asked in her Southern accent, “Do you think normal sixth graders know what that word means?” She was pointing at “Chronological.” I think I muttered no, or at least I squeaked some facsimile thereof. She raised to her full height, keeping her eyes and stern expression on me, and said, “That’s what I thought.”
I also think I’m very ill. WHY IS MY HEAD SO LARGE!?
I was worried that she thought I was cheating. I don’t know how I could have been cheating, but I was still scared. I went to school the next day and an unfamiliar man was introduced to me by my teacher. He asked how I knew that word. I told him my thought process, omitting the video game references of course, and how I looked it up in the dictionary. Within a week I was asked to be a part of the TAG program. From that day forward, I knew that knowledge of the written word and its usage would get me far in life.
Unless I have to swim out and get it. Then fuck that.
Now, I know that looking up a word may not seem like the work of a “Talented and Gifted” person, but it was the problem-solving mentality, intuitiveness, and ingenuity behind the act that got me recognized, and it still gets me recognized to this day. I’m not trying to sound boastful, but I would like people to learn from this story. What should one learn from this tale? That tangential learning is the most effective learning. Learning something because you’re curious and genuinely interested in what you’re learning will likely result in lasting self-improvement. As an educator, if there was a guaranteed way for me to bottle and sell intrinsic motivation, I would. But, for now, maybe I’ll just focus on finding what interests people and go from there.
Thanks so much for reading! I hope you feel as if you know me a little better now. Or maybe you’ve realized how completely ridiculous I am. Whatever the case, there is still a ton more I’d like to write about, but this has already gotten out of hand! Perhaps the rest could be visited at a later time. Thanks again for your reading!