Games of Christmas Past, Part 1

When I was six years old, my sisters forced me to sneak down the hall Christmas morning to spy out the presents under the tree. It was a dangerous mission that led past my parents’ bedroom and the threat of my dad yelling “Get back in bed!” The deal was we children had to wait until 6:00 a.m. and not a minute before to go check out the loot, but we spent a good two or three hours awake before 6:00 making attempts to get past our parents’ open door and sneak a peek at the presents. I was the smallest, so I obviously had the best chances of success.

My young mind formulated a plan. I would crawl out on my belly slowly, slithering snake-like until I made it to the stairs just before the living room where I would hide safely from the line-of-sight gaze my dad possessed of the hallway from his bedroom. I fully expected defeat on my journey. The Christmas tree lights were on, and I knew they would enable my dad to see my silhouette as I snuck toward the living room. I crawled forward as quietly as possible, and I don’t know if my dad had fallen asleep, hadn’t seen me, or allowed me to get that far and sneak a glimpse, but I made it to the stairs and had my first look at the presents waiting under the tree.
Most were wrapped, and stacked individually for me and both my sisters with our stockings placed alongside each pile denoting which presents belonged to whom. My eyes were drawn, however, to the one present that stood apart from the rest and wasn’t wrapped. It was a large black box, and though I couldn’t read at the time I recognized the Nintendo logo that I’d seen on commercials while watching cartoons (probably Ninja Turtles). The best way I can describe the elation I felt at the discovery was akin to the awe of Bilbo Baggins when he espied the Arkenstone in Smaug’s horde.
My mission accomplished, I snuck back to my sisters’ bedroom to report my findings. My return trip was much faster than the way out. I was debriefed upon my return.
“I think we got a ‘intendo,” I whispered in six year old “psghetti” talk.
There were some stifled exclamations of excitement on all of our parts. And when our clocks reached the agreed upon 6:00 a.m. we rushed out to the living room to see the loot. Sure enough, we’d been given a Nintendo Entertainment System for Christmas by “that bearded fellow who goes ‘Ho, ho, ho!'”
It wasn’t until a few hours later we had it set atop our television in the kitchen (from which it would take many spills over its lifetime), and we were playing Super Mario Bros. My turns came and went as I failed with consistency attempting to jump over the VERY FIRST GAP in world 1-1. When we tried Duck Hunt I had to hold the Zapper right next to the TV screen in order to hit ducks, and I was at a total loss while playing Al Unser Jr.’s Turbo Racing. So for a while, all I could do was sit and watch as my sisters played, which really was still quite enjoyable.
We had a lot of fun with the NES. Our game library increased quite a bit after we each received fifty dollars from my Grandma for that same Christmas and we made our way over to Toys “R” Us. I remember purchasing the original Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles video game, and it was my video game primer. I learned how to time jumps and familiarize myself with different game mechanics through it, and when I finally picked up the controller to play Super Mario Bros. again I jumped over that first gap with relative ease.
We rented NES games we couldn’t purchase, and through those rentals I first experienced Zelda, and probably a number of games I’ve thankfully forgotten. Outside Zelda, I discovered most of the “rad” games through playing at the houses of friends who often let me borrow their games. My friend Casey introduced me to Mega Man, Metroid, and P.O.W., and my friend Randall introduced me to the first Robocop game, and Gargoyle’s Quest 2: The Demon Darkness. I’m also pretty sure one of them let me borrow Battletoads as well. All of which were great, though I didn’t ever complete all of them (I STILL haven’t completed the first TMNT game! It’s so hard!).
The NES was only the first of a few game systems, and the included games were only the first of many games. Our family never had a Super Nintendo or Sega Genesis, so I was reliant on playing SNES and Genesis games at friends houses. Yet during the Game Boy, Game Gear disputes a few years after we received our NES I sided with Sega and Sonic over Mario. During the Playstation/Nintendo 64 era I jumped back to Nintendo until I realized it was plausible for me to own both of them after getting my first job as a teenager, and I’ve usually possessed two separate systems since then. It might be sad, it might be nerdy, but in some ways I don’t remember my childhood as what year in school I was in, but what game systems and video games I was playing at that time. I played some great ones over the years! But that will be my post for tomorrow.
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