Hedgehogs and Plumbers
“Just when I think I’m out, they pull me back in.”Michael Corleone – The Godfather Part 3I was a family man, with a house, kids and a job. I had no time for the frivolity of video games any more. I had grown up; it was time to leave behind childish things.There was more to life than button-bashing, anyway. There was football, reading, movies, music, spending time with my family. So many more things to do than sitting in front of a television screen with a joystick in my hand.Unfortunately, as the saying goes, all good things must come to an end. I was about to fall off the gaming wagon, and I was going to do so with a bump.It was my older brother’s fault. Like that so-called friend who says, “one drink won’t hurt you”, and puts a pint of lager in front of you, he called me and told me about the prize he had won in a raffle at work.With a sense of apathy and some reluctance, I went to his house to see what all the excitement was about. It was a shiny black box with a slot in the top, and in that slot sat a game cartridge. Looking back now, that game cartridge was like the tobacco in the cigarette for a smoker, or the beer in the glass for an alcoholic.I wasn’t impressed. I had left that life behind; I had moved on, grown up, been rehabilitated. I scorned such wastes of time and scoffed at my brother’s weakness.Then he switched it on. There was a slight pause, and then a white screen appeared. So far, so good – I was unmoved by this shiny black temptress. Then four large blue letters appeared on the screen, and then it sang to me, a siren song like that of the mythical mermaids that lured ships onto rocks with their voices. I had a sudden sense of foreboding. My head was screaming to me, “Get out! Get out now – before it’s too late!”I couldn’t move. I was hypnotised. That singing, not really a song, just one word melodically spoken: “Sega”, had frozen me in place. I was like a rabbit caught in the headlights of a car bearing down on me.Then he appeared – a blue hedgehog with spiky hair. He was in vivid colour, and stereo sound. He waved at me – he actually waved at me. I know it was just a computer graphic, but to my distorted, gaming-addled mind, he was waving just at me, and he was talking to me, saying, “Hi, it’s nice to meet you. Come and play; I promise you’ll have a great time.”You must resist, I told myself. Be strong. Get thee behind me Satan!My brother pressed the “start” button. The game came to life; there was Sonic the Hedgehog, on the screen, waiting to spring into action, and spring he did. He started running, jumping, bouncing. The graphics were bright, colourful, and smooth. The game was quick, fun and exciting; and that sound – that stereo sound that drifted from the speakers, filling the room with sweet music.I crumbled. I fell. The last vestige of self-control I had drained out of me like water from a sink. I had to play that game. My life depended on it, my very sanity was on the line here. I must play.“Give me that!” I snarled, and snatched the gaming controller from him.He laughed. Like an evil emperor taunting his fallen enemy, my brother laughed at me.I barely heard it. I had fallen into Sonic the Hedgehog’s warm embrace and was luxuriating in the ecstasy it brought. I was running and jumping, I was collecting rings, and there was a beautiful tinkling sound as I did so. I was jumping on crabs and mutant fish and they turned into fluffy little rabbits that hopped happily off the edge of the screen. I was in heaven. My seat at Gamers Anonymous would remain empty from now on because I was a gamer. I was born a gamer, I was there at the start, it was my ten pence pieces that helped fill the coffers that ensured the future of this wonderful pastime. It was nothing to be ashamed of, rather it was a cause for celebration, and I was proud to be partying on down with the millions of other gamers around the world.I bought a Sega Megadrive, thus completing my fall from grace. Those around me looked upon me with sadness, disappointment. They shook their heads in silent judgment of the sad, wretched man that I was. However, the funny thing was – I couldn’t have cared less. I was kicking butts in Streets of Rage, I was racing around Monaco in Ayrton Senna’s Grand Prix, and of course I was guiding a blue hedgehog as he freed countless fluffy little woodland animals from the grip of Dr Robotnick and his army of mutant robots.I felt young again. When I switched on that little black box I was able to relive those heady days of the eighties, when life was a series of high scores, tactics and levels, and the trials of adult life seemed a millennium away.Then came the betrayal. Oh, what a dark day! My best friend, of all people. How could he do this to me?Everything has to have an opposite or a rival: Good and evil, Man City and Man Utd, Tom and Jerry. The Megadrive’s rival came in the form of the Super Nintendo Entertainment System – the SNES. It had slightly better graphics, the sound was good, and it had some good games, like Street Fighter 2, Starfox, and of course the little fat plumber named Mario.A new rivalry was born, this one more deep and savage than any before. This time the two protagonists were seriously competing against each other, trying to outdo each other with better games, stronger marketing campaigns – there were also gang colours this time: like the blue and red of Man City and Man Utd, Liverpool and Everton, Arsenal and Chelsea, we had the blue and red of Sonic and Mario.Again, the gaming community was divided, again lines were drawn, and again everyone chose sides. My best friend chose the enemy. He bought a SNES. For Shame.We’d been friends for years, we grew up together, he was like a brother to me. Now he came to my house and sat there, Judas reborn, raving about some little fat guy in red overalls, a plumber no less. For one brief moment I hated him.Well, we learned to remain best friends despite our rivalries. We competed on games on each others’ consoles, and secretly we were quite impressed with the competition, although we never said anything. Happy days were here again.Unfortunately, as always, time marched on. Two more big boys were on the horizon – bigger, better, faster, prettier. New battle lines would be drawn, but whereas now the divide was based on gang colours, the new war would be based on class.On one side we would have the refined, upper class, Lord of the manor, with its more cranial games, where you had to use your head to win. On the other, we had the chav, the ASBO candidate, with games involving shooting everything that moves and blowing things up. These games were about brawn, not brains. These games were lager, while the competition was red wine, these games were fish and chips, while the competition were fillet steak, the two were like David Beckham and Albert Einstein.There was a revolution coming. Gaming was about to take a leap forward, and while we tried not to look back, there was still a special place in our hearts for the games of our youth. They were like that old teddy bear, the old memento from a particularly fun holiday, an old comfort blanket. They were comfortable and warm, somehow charming in their simplicity, and no matter what else came along, we would forever pay them a visit now and then.But, oh there were wonders to come.
To be continued…
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Shane Clarke serves as London Correspondent for The Seoul Times. He has been involved in humanitarian work for numerous years. He’s also a freelance management consultant. Having completed an honors degree in Law at Wolverhampton University, he then moved on to an MBA at Warwick Business School. He’s heavily involved in the fight against international parental child abduction to Japan.
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