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video games: hookers and high scores
by Michele Christopher
Video games. Well, I am starting to think that one of the writers on this site has a little bias for them. Seems that she has a thing for them. Notice I said she. You guys figure out which one of us it is. But, today we decided to do another round of video games! Yeah! But, we limited ourselves today. Anyone can pick out their favorite stand up machine. It takes some steel balls to admit your favorite system and game. Cause then we will know how old you are. And then we can make fun of you.
So for this morning's reading pleasure, we have our two picks and our feelings about them.
Here we go.
Mortal Kombat - SNES
By the intro, you can probably figure out who is the gamer and who is the pool player here. Video games were always just there for me. Gimme pinball action or a pool table any day over video games. But, sometimes you have to realize that you might not have a pool table in your house when you need one. Or, maybe you could.....
Four of us in a band. All living in a shitty apartment with no money, sleeping on the floors while the equipment took up most of the space. The most fun we had was betting how many roaches would be under a plate when we woke up in the morning. Just guessing a number and picking it up to watch them scatter. Counting them. Four roaches! I win! No dude, there were five. What? We are counting the babies too? No one told me this!
Fun was fun, but we needed to get out. More people started living on the sofas. Beer cans covering the floor. I watched someone have sex one night with a roach crawling up his back. I really wanted to tell the girl underneath him that what she was feeling wasn't his caresses. That was "Bob the Roach" crawling up her arm. But "Bob the Roach" needed love too, so I just went to the bar and let them have a threesome. All the while thinking, "We need to get out."
I picked up the paper the next day and started looking for houses. The prices were higher than Superman smoking Thai stick, but we had to do. After you have lived in that kind of crap for years, it gets kind of old. No one really cared because basically it was a drop off zone for people who had too much to drink and couldn’t walk home. Yes, it was right next to a punk rock club. We chose our apartments wisely. But, when we first got this place there were only two of us. Now at least four were on the floor every night. We needed to change this.
A plan was formed and I contacted a landlord. We shall just call him slumlord from now on. A big house that he said he was demolishing next year, so break anything we wanted. Smash the windows or break the doors. Didn’t matter to him. He wasn't going to fix it. Dude. Oh dude. That's the worst thing to say to us. Jesus. You are looking, no begging for trouble with that one. He explained it was a very popular house in the 50's and 60's. I surveyed the rooms and noticed the size of them. Little house in the ghetto. The rooms could barely fit a bed in. There were five of them. The layout looked more like a whorehouse then a Victorian. So I asked him why the rooms were like that and why it was so popular back then.
"Well it was a whore house."
Thus The Whore House was born.
One big parlor. A sitting room. Some dark and scary room in the back. A kitchen. Five bedrooms running down the corridor. We figured out we could put a TV in the main room. Along with all of our sofas. A sofa on the porch. We could clean out the backyard and put a stage, but we needed two things. Something to fill up the sitting room and another roommate. I had a friend at the time that served our needs. He wanted to move out of where he was living and he had a huge student loan. Plus he kissed our asses. Hey, I wasn't the model of perfection you see here now. He came over to look at the place and immediately moved in. Loaded up the main room with stereo sound, sub woofer and consoles.
But we still had a problem. The sitting room. Hm. We still went out to bars every night. Still played pool at after hour bars all night, but we lived in the ghetto now. Walking there was a bitch. I mean you really had to think if you wanted to go to the bar to play pool or just drink beer at home and make fun of each other.
Too long of a walk. Too much time. Meh. My friend decided we would fill The Whore House sitting room with something this glorious house of prostitution deserved. A pool table! Hell yeah dude! Grab that student loan and grab your checkbook! We are going to do this! So we bought a used one for about $1000 and took the feet off. It took six off us to get it in the van. Have you ever lifted a pool table? We had to go up a flight of stairs with it. One step at a time. Talk about hernias. Six guys in the middle of the stairwell screaming about "How many more steps, god dammit!" With the top guy lying to us about "Just one more! We can do this!"
Full size pool tables are heavy.
The legs were put on. The table was set just outside my room, but that's another story for another day. The Whore House shined! Video games in one room, surround sound blasting punk rock throughout the house, pool table right over there and in the back all our gear was stored. The Whore House was back. The sofas out on the porch and my car parked on the lawn. Located right next to a Muslim temple. Oh yeah. Your new neighbors just moved in. We break things. This was a place when two o'clock rolled around and the bar was closing, people would start asking where the after party was. All you would hear was "The Whore House!" Honestly, some nights I did dread hearing that. So much so that we held a weeklong protest. We put a note on the door with a sign that said, "If you do not live here or did not call before you came over, do not knock on this fucking door."
Didn't work too well thou. Cause then people would call and say things like "Hi, turtle!" and then I would hear *click*. Great. "Hey guys. Someone’s coming over and I have no clue who the fuck they are."
See, this is the part of the story I'm going to get a little off on. Like I hadn't already. The house had a strong division. Three types of people. And we didn't associate with each other. Gamers. Pool players. And people who just wanted to use our instruments in the back room and try to set up their own little gig.
We barely spoke to each other.
But there was one game I played. Well, I kind of had to play it. Mortal Kombat. The only reason I played was when I was knocked off the pool table. There was a line like ten long to get on the table again. Shit. Let's go see what going on the other room. I would sit and just watch these guys play Mortal Kombat. It looks easy enough. I'll put my name up. The sheer joy and excitement these guys had for just kicking people's asses. I never screamed like that from playing pool. These guys were excited. Let's try this out. Oh yeah. I forgot to tell you guys. We had chalkboards everywhere. For everything. The only ones that were really followed were the game list, the pool list and the dartboard list. The dishwashing list was kind of a pipe dream to begin with so no one ever looked at it. It did end up with some pretty cool abstract art on it the end. But, that's another story. So I put my name on the game board. Thinking to myself, "Well hell. Maybe I should just go outside and sit on the couch and wait my time out." But that didn't happen. A scream of "turtle's here!" rang around the room. Covered the house in screams. This was like I was in some bad prison movie. I was in the wrong part of town. The controller was handed to me. The other names were crossed out. My roommate was the leader of the Mortal Kombat gang so he took the other controller. I was the leader of the pool gang. This was like a gang fight. The pool game stopped and people came over from the pool area. The music stopped and people swarmed us. Beers were cracked and I lit a cigarette. He loaded up his chew and asked me if I was ready.
I looked at him dead in the eyes and said, "Ok, hero. Lets do this."
Man, I got my ass kicked that night.
So maybe I don't like Mortal Kombat that much. -(T)
There were plenty of great games for Atari (Yar’s Revenge, Pitfall, Combat, Rampage) but one game ruled above them all. One game which would lead to a lifelong fascination with other games like it, one game which had an antagonist so mean that he haunts my dreams to this day, one game that I played so often I can probably navigate it with my eyes closed.
Sure, it may seem simplistic and crude now. But back then? This was a thrill a minute. Going from room to room to find all the objects, figuring out what to carry and what to drop, navigating the mazes, finding keys, opening doors, hunting for the chalices, slaying the...the.....what was that? A dragon? A duck? We took to calling it a Drucken. I know it was supposed to be a fierce dragon but really. How much did that look like a duck? Maybe even a chicken? So at first I laughed at it. I mocked it. That thing is supposed to keep me from my quest? Surely you jest. Well, I learned my lesson. Do not mock Yorgle. See, Yorgle had this way of appearing out of nowhere. He was a stealthy bastard. But what made me respect/fear Yorgle and (and then Grundle and Rhindle) the most was that godawaful noise he made as he attacked you. It was terrifying. Some kind of chomping noise that seemed to echo in your ears and vibrate in your stomach for seconds after it sounded. That sound was like a iron gate crashing on your soul. I’d hear that and panic. He was right on top of me! Can’t let him eat me! Chomp! Chomp! Arrow, use the god damn arrow, you moron! And I’d have maneuver my character - well, my square - til it was in just the right spot with the arrow facing the duck dragon dude as he bore down on me and, ohhh yesssss. Right in the gut. The game made a satisfying noise as the dragon was slain. I’d stare at Yorgle for a second, gloating over my victory, saying out loud “chomp this, asshole.” Sigh of relief. Shake off the nervousness. Onward, soldier. There is a chalice to be found.
Adventure awaited in the other rooms. Not just adventure, but secrets as well. Who doesn’t remember the first time they found that Easter Egg? Finding that magic dot in the black castle and figuring what you had to do with it...well, I’m not so sure I figured that out on my own. I think there might have been a gaming magazine involved. Electronic Gaming maybe? My memory is fuzzy at this point. We’re talking 1978 or so here. For all I know I could have discovered the secret through some portal that opened up in my mind some smoky, stoned evening. The payoff of this secret part of the game? You got to see a room with the programmer’s (Warren Robinett) name. Whoa. Mind blowing, I know. But at the time, Atari had refused to let their programmer’s take credit for their games. So Robinett snuck that in there. Way to go, Warren.
Eventually, Nintendo answered that call. Super Mario, baby. Clearly the successor to Adventure. My sister and I bought a Nintendo the week it came out and subsequently spent the next month at least glued to the tv set, giving up sleep, real food and interaction with civilization to guide this little fat dude through some magical world that looked eerily similar to my last visit to the mystical world of LSD hallucinations.
Super Mario Bros. was Adventure times infinity. It had all the magic of Adventure - the quest, the hero, the villians, the scrolling from screen to screen as you tried to find your way around. But it was so much more. It was that expansion I was looking for. More worlds. More hidden features. More surprises. You never knew what would happen next. Would this brick bring a star or a mushroom? What will happen if I crouch down on this pipe? You can go up into the clouds!! Every time you played, there was something else to find, another clever trick or hidden surprise. I had so fully integrated myself into the world of Mario at one point that my sleep deprivation hallucinations took on Mario-like qualities. That garbage can in the road was a Koopa Troopa. That wasn’t my mother screaming at me to get a life and get out of the house. That was Bowser! Man, was my mother pissed when I threw a hammer at her that one time.
As much as I loved Adventure, it lacked one thing that SMB gave me. A life lesson. Sure, you can find a lesson in Adventure if you think hard enough. Stay away from dragons that look like ducks? Go left in a maze when your mind tells you to go right? No, nothing compares to the metaphor for life that appears when you finally complete your Mario mission. Do you get confetti and a ticker tape parade? No. Do you get a hero’s welcome in the Princess’s land? No. You get this:
Thank you Mario! But our princess is in another castle!"
What the fuck? Another castle? I spent a month of my life giving up sleep, food and bong parties so you can cock tease me with this ending? I was dejected, furious and saving my money for the next installment of the game.
It wasn’t until many years later that I realized just how awesome that ending is. See, that, my friends, is how you learn coping skills. That's how you learn to handle disappointment. Put your kids in front of Super Mario Brothers and let them play their little hearts out until they think they won, and then those lowly mushroom retainers appear with the bad news and your kids will have learned one of life's greatest lessons. Disappointment sucks, but you must go on! I taught my kids how to play SMB at an young age just so I could let them know early on in life what if feels like to have the rug pulled out from under you. To work hard at something to achieve a goal and then to have that goal swiped from you at the last minute. The disappointment. The anger. The realization that life fucking sucks sometimes. It will all come in handy later on: "I know you completed the entire project on time and you did a great job, but I think I want you to write me a ten page essay, too." THANK YOU MARIO! BUT OUR PRINCESS IS IN ANOTHER CASTLE! Oh, thanks for spending eight hours slaving over a hot stove to cook this amazing dinner for me darling, but do you think you could go back in the kitchen and bake me a pie, bitch? THANK YOU MARIO! BUT OUR PRINCESS IS IN ANOTHER CASTLE!
You just can't beat a video game that's not only fun to play, but gives you a harsh dose of the realities of life to boot. -(M)