Let’s get one thing straight, right here, right now: my parents were most definitely not video game people. That’s not to say they were anti-technology or were so clueless they lost their glasses on their head. They just didn’t (and still don’t, really) care for video games. Whether they were right or wrong for thinking that way is another story. My point in telling you this is to explain why I, at the age of 10, had only one video game console.
That wouldn’t be so horrible if this was back in the 80’s, but it wasn’t. It was 2000. So there I was, with no knowledge of the game world outside of the Intellivision and seven little games. Now, the Intellivision was (from what I’ve heard) a fine little system back in its day. The smart and tech-savvy people owned them, apparently, while their inferior Atari-playing friends puttered around with a weaker console. In fact, the Intellivision still has a loyal fan base.
But all of that doesn’t really matter when your friends are talking about Playstation and Nintendo 64 and all you can say is that you have an Intellivision. Most of them didn’t even know what that was. So while everyone else was experiencing such games as Legend of Zelda: Ocarina of Time and Super Smash Brothers, I was stuck with Burger Time and Night Stalker.
As time wore on, my desire to move up in the ranks of gaming grew. I didn’t know much about the perilous world beyond Intellivision, but I knew that anything, anything, had to be better than what I had. My inventory of knowledge about consoles was pathetically small, but I knew some names: Playstation, Nintendo 64, Super Nintendo, Game Boy, and Sega Genesis. How good each one was, exactly, I didn’t know.
That didn’t faze me, though, and I started looking through the garage sale ads every week, searching for a listing with one of those wonderful words. And after a little while, I found it: “Sega Genesis with games.” It was in tiny print, jammed between “maternity clothes” and “Fisher-Price toys”, but my eyes locked onto it, and I started to sweat.
I resolved to broach the subject with my parents that evening at the supper table. It would unfold one of three ways: either it would be a casual, half-attentive “I’ll think about it”-in which case I’d probably wouldn’t get an answer in time; a period of waffling and debating on their part and begging and pleading on my part before a reluctant ‘yes,’ or an instant, non-negotiable, totally resolute and final ‘no.’ That last one terrified me. All of the hopes I’d feverishly built up over the past few hours would be dashed in a single moment.
Because of that fear, for the first quarter of an hour or so I just looked at my food. I think I started to get my courage up several times, only to be deflated and sent scurrying back into silence by the mere sound of my parent’s voice.
“Uh, never mind.”
After about three interchanges like that, my soup was practically congealed and the cornbread was anything but steaming. I knew that I had to do it during supper; once the cleanup began I’d never get their full attention again. At that particular moment in my life, nothing seemed more important than snagging that Sega Genesis. I felt like I could give up practically everything else-computer, television, you name it-just for a shot at that Holy Grail. So I tried one last time, despite the giddy feeling of adrenaline and my pounding heart.
“Hey, Dad?” I had already decided that Dad would be the one to ask. He was more open to things of that nature than Mom was.
“Hmm?” Apparently he hadn’t lost his appetite.
“Uh. You know garage sales?”
“I was looking at the ads today, and I was wondering if we could go to one.” For a split second there, I was hoping to just get to go without revealing my specific intentions. That way I could make it a spur-of-the-moment thing; if it was cheap I could appeal to Dad’s love of a good deal.
“What’s there? More Legos?” Okay, maybe not. And now I was running the risk of getting him aggravated. My biggest passion at the time was Legos, and I’d driven my parents crazy by asking to buy them all the time.
“Oh, no! Nothing like that.”
“I was thinking that-if it’s cheap-I could get a new video game.” Not the technically accurate term, I know, but I didn’t know any better, and he knew what I meant.
“You’ll have to ask your mother about that.” My parents were excellent at tag-teaming on this sort of thing, and it drove me nuts. It was worse in this situation, as Mom was right there, listening to everything. I couldn’t approach her later and put a spin on it with my own slightly-modified version of the conversation.
“But are you okay with it?”
“Depends on how expensive it is.” My heartbeat soared, if that was possible. I was getting close.
“You know what I think about more video games: they’re a waste of time and you’re obsessing on them again. If we could do it over again, you wouldn’t even have the Intellivision.”
At that point I discarded any semblance of subtlety or guile and simply begged and pleaded. I promised all sorts of things: that I’d only play it for an hour a week, that I’d never ask to buy anything else ever again, and that I would throw away some of my other toys if they let me get it.
Finally, Dad said: “It’ll depend on how much it costs.” Mom didn’t say anything in reply, and I knew I was in the green. I spent the rest of the evening in euphoria, playing Intellivision with the knowledge I’d have something infinitely better the next day. As I blasted with practiced ease line upon line of descending aliens in Space Armada and bulls-eyed saucers in Space Battle, I knew I was finally moving up in the world, and I couldn’t be happier. Until I went to bed.
In the sack, though, all of the glee wore off and the doubts started to creep in. No matter how great something seems earlier in the day, you begin to see the flaws once nighttime arrives. And the flaws rushed into my thoughts like a veritable flood: “What if someone else buys it before I get there?” “What if it doesn’t work?” “What if the games are gory and they don’t let me keep them?” “What if it isn’t cheap enough?” I froze. All afternoon and evening I’d been gradually reducing the probable price in my mind. Twenty dollars, at most. Then again, people don’t play it any more. Ten dollars, maybe. Or even five!
In bed, though, I started to remember the classified listings I’d seen for used Playstations: $50 for the console alone! It was going to be too expensive. It had to be. I wasn’t going to get it. I’d get there and it would be too much. Then my parents and sister would be mad for getting dragged out to the boonies for nothing.
I freaked out all night, and I don’t think I got much sleep at all.
Morning finally came, though. Night was gone, the chance for slumber had passed, and I was still freaking out. No matter how fast everybody else woke up, ate breakfast, and dressed, it wasn’t fast enough for me. The sale opened at 8 in the morning, and I wanted to get there at 7:45. Needless to say, this didn’t fly very well with my sleepy, half-sentient clan. We pulled up to the sale at around 8:30; I was out of the door before the engine was off.
I rushed into the sale, almost knocking over an exercise bike and a little kid who darted into my path. Somehow I avoided collision, though, and went into scanning mode. My eyes drifted over anything that didn’t look like it ran on electricity. Cell phones, old satellite receiver boxes, karaoke equipment. I would have looked over all of those things in boredom while my mom and sister went through the clothes had it been at any other garage sale. Had I not known there was a Genesis somewhere. I went through the entire sale, looking through everything. Nothing. It was a desperate time, and so without a qualm I turned and jogged back to the checkout table, fully ready to ask the less-than-friendly-looking lady if it had been sold. And then I saw it, just a few feet from the big rack of clothes. Or rather, I saw the tail end of an RF switch. It was just barely sticking over the top of a cardboard box that was wedged under a table. I leapt on it and had it into the free air in an instant. My sister appeared behind me and leaned over to look at it.
“Did you find it?”
I was too giddy to respond. There it was, right in front of me: a Model 1 Sega Genesis, two stock pads, a power cord, an RF box (which I later realized belonged to a SNES. It worked, though), and five games: NFL Quarterback Club ’96, Ms. Pac-Man, Pac-Man 2: The New Adventures, NHLPA Hockey ’93, and FIFA International Soccer ’95. All but Ms. Pac-Man had boxes, and two of them were complete.
Price? $3 for the entire box of goods. When I saw that, I nearly passed out.
With an incredibly high-pitched voice, I asked Dad if I could get it. He saw the price tag, and his aforementioned thriftiness kicked in: “Of course!” Seconds later I was counting out three dollar bills to the lady from my precious little cash supply. Maybe they weren’t the best games, and maybe I should have bided my time and picked up a cheap Playstation later on. But at the time it didn’t matter. I had a Sega Genesis in my arms. I finally had a real gaming system. I barely even heard the gal running the sale ask me if I knew how to hook it up; I just ran to the car and pulled out everything. The entire ride home I studied the manuals and the boxes, enraptured by my prize.
That’s how it all started. All that Saturday morning and afternoon I played those five games, marveling over how amazing they looked. Pac-Man 2 was what really blew me away, though. I could easily imagine Ms. Pac-Man on an Intellivision, and the sports titles didn’t really thrill me, but wow, was I enraptured by Pac-Man 2. It was a real world, for crying out loud! Places to explore, things to find, people to talk to! It wasn’t just contained in a single screen or a single stadium: the game ranged from his house to a farm to downtown to an arcade to a park! For a 10-year-old who had gotten used to monochrome images pixilated beyond recognition it was gaming heaven.
Since then I’ve acquired more games, and since then my wonderfully naive admiration for 16-bit graphics has been tarnished by Killzone 2 trailers and other modern games. But Genny was my first love, and I still love it. Those five games are still in the entertainment center, by the way-I refused to give them up, even when I could have gotten a pretty penny for Pac-Man 2 and needed cash for Crusader of Centy. As for selling the Genesis itself, I’d never do it. Just like there will never be another game that has the same feeling as good ol’ Pac-Man, there will never be another system that gives me the same memories as the Sega Genesis.
So in that way, I’m actually glad that my parents didn’t buy me the latest system. Why? Well, although my friends got to talk about how cool the Playstation and N64 were, I was able to- even if in a small way- take part in a previous gaming era. I got to experience the Genesis the way it was meant to be experienced. I was able to appreciate the ‘Genesis Power’ like the other kids did on Christmas morning, 1989.