I was browsing a particular favourite message board of mine the other day, and the topic at hand was related to SNES games which seemed really difficult when you were a child, but which got easy when you were older. The chap who created the topic, was explaining how he was convinced that as a kid, he needed to use cheat codes to complete Turtles in Time for the SNES. When he reached adulthood and replayed the game, suddenly he was reaching the end of the game without having lost a life. The discussion started in regard to this, and someone piped up with the following quote:
“For me it was because I had more of an imagination and believed that anything could happen and the possibilities of what would kill me were endless because the experience was magical.
As an adult I realize that everything is just a few lines of code and based on a pattern so I just play the game while dead inside.”
This hit me so hard. It explains so much about how I feel toward the games I play today. I am so aware today of how a game works after playing a few hours of it that I stop being confused, surprised, and start to see the patterns in how it’s playing. No longer does that boss seem like an unstoppable force of chaotic destruction, but simply a piece of code that behaves in a certain way and once I figure out its method of madness, I can’t be beaten.
I can tell you now, as a child, I was absolutely awestruck by Dr. Robotnik’s final appearance in Sonic the Hedgehog 2. I was so used to his usual boss battles, with him sat in some small ship / contraption which I’d be looking to take out. The final battle with him in Death Egg Zone has him sat inside a robot suit which is almost as high as the screen you’re playing the game on. The music that partners the scene is so intense, and when I was young, the whole scenario scared the shit out of me. I managed to complete it on my first playthrough but not without losing a few lives. The ending sequence came through and the whole thing felt magical. I was truly lost in the whole thing.
I play the game now and it feels like such a boring section to play as an adult. I know the patterns. I know that as long as I oppose what the game is technically trying to do to end my life, I’ll complete it and see the ending I’ve seen so many times before now. It makes me feel so sad, and envious of my children, especially my 4 year old who is ADDICTED to Sonic 1 – 3 and CD. He has this personal grudge battle going on with Dr. Robotnik, and informs me of what the bad guy is up to in their latest battle. He doesn’t see patterns like I do. He sees them subconsciously. He probably believes deep down that Robotnik could do ANYTHING at ANY moment, so he has to be at his most aware to take the sucker down. He knows how to defeat the ginger genius, but it feels real to him. If he loses a life, he’ll tell me that the boss beat him again. He tells me this EVERY time it happens. He’ll come all the way downstairs to tell me. It means so much to him that when he does beat Robotnik, he won’t come and tell me, as he knows he needs to soldier on and seal the deal.
I wish I had that feeling of dread and worry still. I remember feeling like Legend of Zelda: A Link to the Past had an endless world that I would never reach the end of. I was part of a genuine quest, and could not let the people of Hyrule down, especially the kid who lent me his bug net. I remember playing Grand Theft Auto on the PS1 and feeling like the entire city was still playing itself out even when I wasn’t in the other areas. I didn’t notice the cars I had previously ditched had disappeared when I’d return to the same area later on. I would even get ‘personally’ frustrated when playing Championship Manager 97/98, wondering why Jason McAteer wasn’t playing the way I knew he could, and wishing there was some kind of way I could get through to the little Irish stalwart. Mind you, there’s adults today playing the latest Football Manager games who probably still feel like this.
There’s a lot to be said for great storylines in videogames. If you’re lucky enough, you’ll get enveloped in an absolute Hollywood-like belter of a plot, and get so lost in it you may even forget you’re playing the game. If this happens, embrace it. It’s a rare moment when a game grips you so much that it’s no longer just a form of entertainment you’re playing, but actually affecting you in such a way it hits you in the ‘feels’. There’s a reason why we all got so worked up when Aeris died, and it wasn’t because we’d just lost the best healer in our battle party. It’s because we’d become so invested in the game and its plot by this point that to lose such a likeable character in this whirlwind (or should that be Highwind) of a journey was the biggest of blows to our personal relationship we’d developed with the ragged crew of fighters we’d grouped together.
If you’re still not ‘getting’ what I’m talking about, then go back and read that same quote I posted at the start of the article and consider this; the same thing has happened with wrestling. When I was a kid, I believed in it all. I genuinely thought the likes of Sgt. Slaughter, Mr. Perfect, and Ric Flair to be the most unruliest of the unruly. Bret Hart, Hulk, and Savage were all there to save my day, and I was always marking out for them all. I was never reading up on the backstage politics, or wondering when the ‘big spot’ would come in the main events, because there just HAS to be one. I totally believed everything I was seeing was real, and becoming an adult sapped all the magic away from me. I watch it very sparingly now, and that’s mostly for the surprises I hope to come. Which rarely do these days!
Basically, what I’m saying is that growing up SUCKS. You can’t ever enjoy games now the same way you did as a kid. It’s impossible. You get the system and the way it works, and it simply becomes a matter of working out its kinks so you can reach the end. How many times have you heard a friend say ‘you don’t play it for the story’? The moment you don’t give a shit about the journey that’s taking you to the goal at the end of it all, is when you lose that little something inside that kept everything that little bit more special. It’s when you stopped believing in Santa Claus basically, and everything suddenly got very REAL.
Remember when summers were endless? Now it’s just another week in work.