Computer afficionado James Sheppard looks back on some classic games…..
I have a beard and wear thick framed scaffolding for glasses. I yearn for classic 80’s beats and parade around in T-shirts depicting fringe bands, or geek references only a true nerd would get. I set geek vogues before those pesky hipsters came along and ruined it all; following a trend by not following a trend? That makes no sense! Next, you’ll tell me you can get cereal at a café in London at any time of day!
Ignoring the fact that the ‘trends’ I set were social awkwardness, blank stares at my geek comments, or just a general sense of weird, then I’m definitely claiming it. Getting your head flushed down a toilet at school was definitely all me. I patented it. Honest. But despite the obvious connotations of bullying, those flushers were soon my friends when it came to knowing about the latest computer game, or how to code their ZX Spectrum to play Super Asteroid Flappy Bird Solar ZX Bros. Those years were a joy of bright flashing colours, coding in BASIC, and the evolution of games that moulded my life. To hipsters, they are retro. To me, they are the lifeblood of everything I hold dear.
The other week I was trawling through the internet (watching cat videos), and came across a geek auction. Advertised as a haven for nerds, with objects of nostalgia from the 80’s and 90’s, I stumbled upon a seller reluctantly offering his classic Nintendo, with a plethora of games, in full working order and original box. My interest was piqued, but I went into full geek overload over a small throwaway sentence, something the seller probably thought was as inconsequential as every nerdy reference I make at social occasions.
“Comes with working NES Zapper.”
My jaw hit my keyboard, my heart was beating faster than a happy hardcore remix of the Super Mario theme, and a cold sweat trickled down my face. A working NES Zapper, a light gun that had burned memories into my childhood, and been a part of my life for years. I had to have a lie down. The shock of possibly holding it again had given me palpitations, the excitement of playing those classic games again made me shiver.
Days later, I channelled the spirit of Usain Bolt sprinting home with my prize, holding the box aloft like the Holy Grail. I had worked out prior how to connect old consoles to modern TVs, so nothing could prevent me reliving all those memories I cherished so dearly. I settled down for a day and night of nostalgia, a geek festival of flashy lights and classic games, and two shining titles that defined the NES console; Super Mario Bros. and Duck Hunt. Both games came on one cartridge, which was a technical marvel in and of itself, but when combined with synth sounds and psychedelic colours, blew your mind.
As it was the light gun that got me into this mess, Duck Hunt would be the first step along the nostalgia road for me. Simply turning it on and seeing the intro was worth it, but when I started a game and the dog appeared sniffing for ducks along to the classic jingle, my smile went to my ears. I shot a couple of ducks, and the dogs happy face appeared, proud of my achievement. I shot a few more ducks, and my dog heaped on the praise. At this stage, he became my dog. We had a connection him and I; we were surviving in a virtual landscape, hunting our food and living off the land. One man and his dog had never been a more fitting term. We were facing the world together. We were one.
Then I missed some ducks.
My best friend in the world stood up from behind the virtual grass and laughed at me. He guffawed, he giggled and sniggered at my failure. Why would he do that? We were in this together, dammit! I wouldn’t let him down again. I craved his approval more desperately than a besotted belieber fanboy. I needed him to love me.
I missed again.
I vaguely remembered all this from my youth, but it cut so savagely this time, that I must have blanked all of it out. How could a computer sprite of a dog hate me so much? How could “Doug the dog” discard me so easily when we had both been through so much? He stared out of the screen into my soul, but he was not truly angry, just disappointed, and that made it all the worse.
I decided to switch to Mario. The discontent from Doug was simply too much to bear. I would help a plumber rescue a princess from the devious Bowser, avoiding evil Goombas and angry Koopa Troopas along the way. Again, the music hit a nerve with me, and I hummed along to all the tunes inanely, losing myself amongst smashing blocks and jumping down pipes until sprinting to a levels flagpole. The memories flooded back, and I was happy once again. A break was called for, a celebratory tea and cake to reminisce to.
I opened up my computer and decided to see if anyone else in the world was enjoying trips down nostalgia lane, if any other geeks of my generation were sharing their memories.
I came across a kid on YouTube completing Super Mario in under five minutes. Some random on the internet, half the age of this classic game, had filmed himself completing this jewel of the NES console in less time than loading up a dishwasher. He had single-handedly not only ruined my childhood, but that of millions of his elders, with a simple internet video upload.
In my minds’ eye, Doug was chuckling again, rolling around his artificial space clutching his sides trying to hold all the laughter in.
I went to bed.