The year was 1988. The place was Aberdeen. The time was……….CHRISTMAS TIME!
I was 8 years old and after being woken up at 5.30am by my 5 year old sister blasting unsettling religious hymns into my room from her pink plastic Fisher Price radio, I headed downstairs. Obviously I made her go into the living room first as I was scared that Santa would still be in there having failed to find a way to get out of the house via our 80’s ventless gas fireplace.
My parents didn’t have much money at the time but it’s funny how when you’re 8 you don’t really give a shit about their lame excuses. I wanted presents, and lots of them. My mum used to (and still does) put our presents in a black bin liner or ‘Santa’s Sack’ as she liked to call it. Even 8 year olds know that if Santa was going to use bin liners, he would probably use the white ones – much more festive. Anyway, that particular year there was a larger box which did not fit into the bin liner and it turned out to be my first ever games console: the Nintendo Entertainment System (or NES if you wanted to keep your friends). I will admit that I already had a Commodore 64 at the time, but that was hardly a console. I remember playing Platoon and Lemmings on it and genuinely enjoying myself but the joystick didn’t really work for me. Mine actually didn’t work.
The NES changed my life. I stopped getting dressed on Saturdays for one thing, and for another, people in the neighbourhood suddenly wanted to come round my house. I never let them in though, not because I felt hurt that they were only using me for my Nintendo but because the more that other people were playing, the less I was playing. So my trusted friend Dave and I would sit on the living room floor all afternoon playing Mario and talking about which one of the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles was our favourite (Raphael obvs).
Duck Hunt. Now that was a game. A shit game by today’s standards, but at the time an almost mind-blowing technological advancement. We used to call it ‘Fuck Cunt’ which back then was pretty funny but now that I’m in my 30’s I can safely say that it was hilarious. I also have a very vivid memory of playing Zelda for the first time. The cartridge was gold plastic but it may as well have been real gold because I wouldn’t let anyone touch it. Ever. To this day beating that game remains the single most proudest gaming moments of my entire life.
As colossal as all these games were, there really was only one winner when it came to the NES and that, my friends, was Mario. I’m convinced that this beautiful little moustachioed man is to blame for my inexplicable desire to stand next to fat men with facial hair in pubs. I was completely addicted to the first one despite the fact that it gave me my first proper game rage (which was always my sister’s fault, even though she never played the thing), I even liked Super Mario Brothers 2 just because it looked like it had been guest programmed by Howard Marx. The third one is probably my favourite though, crossing an Italian plumber with a really violent woodland creature then gifting it the power of flight is all I wanted as an 11 year old.
Other than providing me with hours of entertainment, Mario also achieved something that is considered essential when you are a child with a penchant for gaming: he got my mum hooked. If you’re a pre-teen wanting your next gaming fix, there is always going to be one thing in your way: Money. You’re never going to have the cash to buy the latest console on your own, but if one of your parents wanted it……..
At the age of 11 we moved to Tunisia, aka the Gamers Wasteland. You could literally hear the crickets. I loved Tunisia, but having become bored of my NES, I only had a Gameboy and French re-runs of Saved By the Bell to keep me entertained and, well, they were both pretty gash. In 1992 I had read in a letter from my old gaming partner, Dave, that a new Nintendo was coming out, the SNES. I knew there was no point getting excited. Tunis had only just started stocking the Commodore 64 and, despite being mostly made out of goat’s shit and sawdust, even it was hard to come by. I decided to forget about it and returned to playing Kid Icarus on the now blatantly sub-standard Gameboy.
That was until one night, two weeks before Christmas in 1992, when my dad and sister were fast asleep in their beds and my mum and I were watching ‘Sauvés par le Gong’ in the living room. My mum suddenly started having a really unconvincing coughing fit on the couch, but when I asked her what was wrong she just laughed nervously. She did this about three times and I was starting to panic when she finally blurted out:
“Okay, don’t tell your dad I told you but we managed to get someone to fly in a SNES for your Christmas. I’ve been playing Mario for a week but I’m stuck on this bit. Do you want to play?”
I swear to God, I have yet to experience that level of happiness again. For the next two weeks my mum and I waited until my dad and sister went to bed and stayed up playing Mario for hours. It nearly killed me to erase the memory on Christmas Eve, and my acting skills were pushed to the limit on Christmas Day, but it was totally worth it.
In 1994 I moved to a boarding school in Malta where a school ban on consoles kicked off a 5 year gaming dry-spell. I was okay about this because I was discovering alcohol and boys and, especially when combined, it turned out they were slightly more fun than computer games. Thanks to my parents again though, I did get the N64 which I got to play when I came home for the holidays.
Upon my return to the UK in 1999, I was horrified to discover that my beloved Nintendo was facing a crisis of epic proportions. A crisis that I blame on the fucking Playstation. I will agree that the Gamecube was a piece of shit but I will forever unreasonably blame the Playstation for stealing all the Nintendo customers in my absence. If I had been there, none of this would have happened. I decided to start a war on the Playstation……by buying an Xbox. I know, but Nintendo was really, really shit in 2001 and Jet Set Radio was fucking amazing!!!!!!!!
So, now that I am settling into what some would argue is the beginning of middle age, I have rediscovered myself as a gamer. I am going to leave the Wii to the newer generation of gaming children and hope that they will get as much out of it as I did the NES back in 1988. Nowadays my platform of choice is mostly my Xbox – through which I have developed a deep seated addiction to medieval fantasy RPGs and coop-mode Borderlands – but I really hope that one day I can ruin my own kid’s Christmas in order to help me complete a game on their brand new Nintendo 🙂