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I had known it for years, but Christmas morning in 1993 cemented my presumptions: my parents were terrible liars. I believe I had spent the first few hours of the night in my bed, feigning sleep, but at least six or seven of them were spent on the toilet staring at my red digital watch, desperately trying to avoid suicide. By my late teens I had already stopped with the whole anticipation thing on Christmas eve, sleeping like a baby until my brother woke me up to come witness the tree. However, in my pre-teens and those first one or two years of actual and for-reals puberty, I really couldn’t catch a wink or a Z or anything that would help the time pass any faster. In December of 1990 I had been caught trying to sneak down the stairs for a peek at what turned out to be a fully functional Castle Grayskull. It could’ve been our loud stairs, the fact that I was 10 years old and as wise as a pair of pee-stained Underoos, or perhaps my mother was simply clairvoyant—either way, the woman was standing at the bottom of the steps with her hands on her hips, casting a dark and terrible figure into the night. With a voice like molten hate and murdered kings, she commanded for me to return to my bed, before she, “let the crows eat my eyes.” So, in 1993, unable to feign sleep, venture downstairs, or keep it together in the dark of my bedroom, I dropped trou and sat in the bathroom for seven hours, staring at my watch and sweating like I’d placed a bomb somewhere in my house.
So, the thing about my folks and their inability to pull a ruse on a pair of pubescent nutbars—my brother and I—yeah, that didn’t roll like they’d planned. I’ve written before about how we were as poor as an empty bucket, so while our folks made a great show with dozens of wrapped boxes under the tree, we had always experienced my mother’s bullshit sobbing preamble of, “Christmas is going to be slim this year.” Yet, each year, we awoke to find an unhinged Roman orgy of presents under the tree, each one a new mind blowing shimmer from Marcellus Wallace’s briefcase. They liked to have us unwrap the things in a particular order, too, and we were happy to oblige, slowly working to whatever grand finale they had planned—a new bicycle, a Red Ryder BB Gun, (yes, really), and for me, the best gifts possible: new video games.
By Christmas of 1993, the Super Nintendo Entertainment System had been out and about for a couple of years, and in America, the thing cost roughly a bazillion dollars, which meant the sons of the blue collars had to wait until the thing came down from, “Haha, you’re poor,” prices to, “a sharp stick in the ribcage,” prices. We were roaring through our gifts, wading in a pool of brightly colored wrapping and tripping out on endorphins, when we were directed to unwrap two oddly shaped little packages. The gifts were games, Super Nintendo games, and the reason this was an attempted ruse was because we did not own a Super Nintendo Entertainment System.
My game was The Legend of Zelda: A Link to the Past, arguably the greatest Zelda game ever created, right up there next to Ocarina of Time. My brother’s game was Street Fighter II, a legend in its own right, and while my brother wasn’t terribly obsessed with video games, Street Fighter became a well beloved staple in our home. As soon as we witnessed the cartridges, my brother and I shot each other a knowing look. “Oh no,” muttered my mother, “are those not the right games?” The very second my brother and I unwrapped these video game cartridges, we knew there was a fully functional Super Nintendo set up somewhere in the house, plugged in and ready for molestation. Thankful for the bounty and in no mood to disappoint my mother, we nodded our heads. “It’s okay Mom,” we sheepishly replied, “but they’re Super Nintendo games. We have a regular Nintendo.” My mother frowned. “Well then,” she said, “just put them in the other room and I’ll exchange them later.” We moseyed into the other room, and there it was, in full halo and brimming with Japanese plastic, the Super Nintendo Entertainment System. This was the room I would live in for the next two months.
While it was responsible for a vibrant and rare slice of joy in my childhood, the Super Nintendo and I did not immediately get along. The controller was riddled with new buttons, several of them, and it made me wonder what was inherently wrong with the square and indestructible two-button controller of the regular old Nintendo. This was a minor grievance to sate, however, as I wasn’t at the time aware just how magical of an experience A Link to the Past was to become. Still in my personal pantheon for soul-moving video game experiences, the game was (and still is) a masterpiece in gameplay and storytelling. While I had been previously semi-okay with a quick, “Congratulations,” or simply a slow roll of credits while Mega Man awkwardly ran through a green digital landscape for five minutes, A Link to the Past had depth, deep and detailed dungeons to explore, an actual soundtrack, and it played right into my own personal penchant with a time travel mechanic, a concept I was already head over heels in love with thanks to what I consider the “holy trilogy” in film making, the Back to the Future saga. The game’s sound effects have become canon for every Zelda game since, and now as adults, we keep the experience alive with t-shirts and ringtones. This game has since powered me creatively, and I can safely say it is the title by which, in some small way, every game I’ve played since has been measured.
It took all of two days before my folks enacted the dreaded time limits on my alone time with the Super Nintendo. My brother was given the same penalty, but it was only to balance things out, as I was the son who’d look to his mother with glazed and sunken eyes, strung out on holiday candy and promising her that, “I’m gonna stop momma, I’m gonna stop this all one day.” She’d snap the rubber hose from my arm, unplug the controller, and drag me screaming into a cold shower, keeping me there at knife-point while I sweat out the jones. Time limits on my video game play is one of those things my parents used to say I’d thank them for when I was older, and now that I’m older and my childhood memories didn’t just blank out one day in my twenties like they probably hoped they would, I can still affirm that this is bullshit. It’s not like they were paying me for a clock job I wasn’t punching properly. I didn’t have to feed the horses or remember to keep the equipment in the fucking steel mill all oiled up. I was thirteen years old and I was on winter break, my responsibilities included occasionally making my bed and punishing masturbation.
Stealing away the computer or the video games was a tactic for behavior, and I get this, but if the assumption was that I was going to misbehave after saving up all summer to pay $60 for The Secret of Mana, you were kidding yourself. When it came to me and my time with the magical video game machine, I’d do whatever it took—stretch on the black gloves and strangle a political figure or give Super Mario tips in a Home Depot parking lot for ten cents per extra life location—I was going to have my time. Now, I’m a big person, an adult, someone with a home, a car, and sexual responsibilities. I always used to think to myself that when I was older, I’d be able to eat candy for dinner. As we all know, the rub is that when you actually are older, and not insane, you don’t want candy for dinner. I also used to think that when I was older, I’d be able to play video games whenever I wanted and for as long as I wanted. You know what? I damned well do.
Article photo thanks to the gallery of X-Ray Delta One.