March 10, 2011
I was once an addict. Shocking, I know, but before you go calling Dr. Drew and booking a 20/20 interview, let me provide some clarification. My addiction was a common one for young’ns and agoraphobes and the pasty-skinned of this world . I was obsessed with video games. Many of my pre-teen and teenage years were spent slaughtering goblins and dunking over Larry Bird. Time, money and opportunities to chat up girls were wasted. And what do I have to show for it? An unhealthy knowledge of Kid Icarus and some undying regrets that involve never finishing Metal Gear. All things considered, not so bad. At least I’m not on a street corner, holding some cardboard, and talking about my “radio voice.”
Once an addict, always an addict, they say, but I’m going to dispute that. I set down the video game controller when I went to college, and aside from a few poor showings at Mortal Kombat and NHL Hockey, I didn’t pick it up again. It was an activity I associated with whelps. College meant I was sophisticated, and did sophisticated things. Like drink Gatorade cocktails and run through campus in nothing but my skivvies.
After college, video games occupied the same place in my mind as amusement parks. Sure, I knew they could be fun and they had gotten a lot bigger and better than they were when I was a kid, but I wasn’t about to spend my day riding The Great American Scream Machine and then writing fan fiction about it. I laid off the stuff completely for nearly 10 years.
Then my wife bought me a Wii for my birthday. I’m not sure why. It’s not like I was always comparing her to the masked love of my adolescence, Samus Aran. Perhaps I was talking in my sleep, mumbling, “look out above for Koopa…Paratroopa,” or “up up, down down, left right, left right…” In any case, she tracked a Wii down for me, in the days when they were kinda hard to get. And I was pleasantly surprised.
We had some friends over for a night Wii Sports, and it was just like a commercial. We were laughing and high-fiving as we plowed down bowling pins and beat the stuffing out of each other. The snacks were diverse and plentiful. Good times. And in the following weeks, I played a little bit on the weekends, perfecting my short game and my hook. It was fun, but I was definitely a recreational user.
Then I was reintroduced to Zelda. Just so you know, one of my greatest accomplishments was being the first kid in my 6th grade class to win the original Legend of Zelda. And I did it without the aid of hints and magazines. For a brief time, I was like some guru on a hill. Kids would come to me in the cafeteria with desperate queries and I would answer them in riddles.
“How do I defeat the Digdogger?”
“Well son. I ask you this. Do you have music in your heart?”
As games went, Zelda was bona fide – a top shelf, genuine issue classic. It’s hero, Link, was the sort of icon that Funyon-eaters and children in Kyoto tattooed on their necks. And years later, as I putted around the online Wii store, I realized I had missed out on almost all of Link’s other adventures during my hiatus from the gaming world. And my hands began to shake. I got cotton mouth. I downloaded The Legend of Zelda: The Ocarina of Time. The addiction returned.
This was about two years ago, and I got hooked on the Majora’s Mask too. They are both undeniably cheesy fantasy adventures, where people talk about Triforces of Power and descending darkness and undying pixie love and whatnot. There are amphibious jug bands and rapping scarecrows and kleptomaniacal Amazon women. All manner of ridiculous stuff. But the brilliance of the games is that they never bore you. They are designed so that you can always make progress. There are always puzzles to solve, and livestock to goose, and townspeople’s houses to trash, and woodland creatures to kill. No matter how bad a gamer you are (and trust me, my skills are pedestrian after all those years off ), you will always find something to accomplish, and find yourself proudly saying things like, “I can’t believe I out-swam a beaver in a race for a bottle! My finest moment!”
I dedicated many early morning weekend hours to solving those two games, and had to be pulled away kicking and screaming on more than one occasion. But I beat them both. And I thought I’d beat the addiction too. I set the controller back down and resumed my normal life. It was a relapse, but a minor one.
And then, a few days ago, I found myself on EBay, trying desperately to beat a demon supercomputer in some mildewy Belarusian crime den (or so I imagined) at an auction, so that I might be able to purchase Legend of Zelda: Twilight Princess for less than $22 (which is like 75% off retail, if you must know). Yes, the monkey had his claws in once again and his banana-breathed whispers in my ear were working.
“You’d be stupid not to try and get it at a low, low price. Just keep bidding. Your wife will never make fun of you for playing a game called Twilight Princess. Certainly not. Certainly not. Ooo Ooo. Eee Eee.”
Guess what? It arrived yesterday. God help me.