Sunday, June 13, 2004
memories, part iii
In growing up and moving from the stages of toddler to just "kid", I have many memories of video games. Our family had an Atari 2600 and some games... Warlords, Space Invaders, and yes... Pong. After that broke down, I thought that video games would be gone forever from the house, because both my mother and sister never were too interested in the 'ol Atari.
But then, Dad bought something new... something that everyone in America would soon know by one word:
I distinctly remember the day that my father bought the NES.
Our family went together to a leading electronics store at the time called 'Video Only'. The store was filled with televisions, stereos, and record players, each blaring a wave of electronic noise. I wandered around the store like a wolf in a hen house, staring at every bright and noisy object I found with hungry eyes - it was as if the the flickering blue light and stereo sound connected me to another planet.
Like any good Chinese person, my father began haggling with a store employee over the price of the NES, some accessories, and a few games. Eventually, our family left the store with a brand new NES, a light gun, and three games - Super Mario Bros (came with the NES), Hogan's Alley, and Gradius.
Coming home, I remember the excitement as I watched my father set up for the NES for the first time - his careful unwrapping of the box, the piles of plastic wrap and ties... the odd smell of factory-fresh plastic. Dad carefully studied the instructions, hooking wires from one part of the NES to the TV and wires from the NES to the VCR. ?Soon wires stretched across the floor from our family TV to the boxy gray shape of the NES, crisscrossing everywhere on our brown carpet. Once finished, a push of the button on the box and the NES hummed to life... and my ears heard the music of Super Marios Bros for the first time.
dum dum dum ta da dam... daaaaaaaaa...
The rectangular NES control pad felt massive in my hands, but Dad seemed to hold it easily. The whole family gathered around the TV to watch and laugh as Dad's first attempt at playing Mario finished abruptly. His untimely end came comically - who would have thought that a small pixelated plumber running into a pixelated turtle was a fatal experience?
After a few rounds of playing Mario Bros, we tried the light gun game, Hogan's Alley, and Dad really got into it. He especially seemed to enjoy the mock city landscape, with its targets of bad guys / civilians popping out. Dad would hold the lightgun in a classic shooting stance, right hand gripping the gun, with left hand supporting the bottom, head leaned over the sights. Dad was all about accuracy and one-shot kills.
When I played, my goal was to see how many times I could squeeze the trigger, especially at point blank range close to the TV. Dad chuckled as I exhibited the classic inept firearm theory of "spray and pray" - because I shot as many civilians as I did criminals, it didn't take long for me to lose everytime I played.
Gradius was something much different, though. When our family had owned an Atari, my favorite game had always been Space Invaders - there was something epic to my young mind about a single spaceship fighting alone against a horde of aliens. Gradius had the same idea (lone spaceship versus alien horde), albeit on a slightly more complex level. Gradius by far was much more difficult than the other two games, and even at a young age, my stubborn nature soon took to trying to master the game.
Over the next few days, my tiny kid brain became a bit obsessed with beating Gradius. The fact that in the game your spaceship blew up with a single hit made me think, "If I'm the lone defender of the galaxy in one little spaceship, couldn't they have made it more sturdy?"
Dad seemed to notice my stubbornness in trying to beat the game and during one session of playing the game together, we made a surprise discovery - both controllers were active during the game, even though only one player played at once. We found that one person could be in charge of shooting (which consisted of mashing the buttons repeatedly like a monkey on crack) and another person could just concentrate on flying the spaceship by using the direction pad (slightly more complex).
I would sit for hours on end trying to beat the game, but even as I failed over and over again, Dad would be there with me, faithfully mashing the buttons as his son's gunner. Only now, I realized how incredibly monotonous it must have been - to sit there and watch his kid stare at the TV, all while repeatedly pushing a small red button as I shouted at the TV.
Maybe Dad saw something more than just a kid playing a stupid video game - maybe he saw his son trying to stretch out and achieve something still slightly beyond his grasp. Or maybe Dad saw that I didn't want to quit, no matter how far I got and lost. Or maybe pushing that small red button was Dad's way of silently saying what every father has difficulty in saying to their child.
(I believe in you. I want you to succeed. You will do what I myself cannot. I love you.)
A couple of years ago, the original NES that my father bought finally broke down. It had enjoyed a long life, even in the years after Dad's death.
I still can't beat Gradius. I don't think I ever will be able to beat the game, either. Not without pressing up, up, down, down, left, right, left, right, A, B, B, A, Select, Start, at least...
And not without a co-pilot.
(memories parts ii, i)
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