Tuesday, January 28, 2014

No. 128 – Inner City Blues (Make Me Wanna Holler)

Performer: Marvin Gaye
Songwriters: Marvin Gaye, James Nyx
Original Release: What’s Going On
Year: 1971
Definitive Version: None.

I don’t know about you, but I’m pretty exhausted after the past three (unfinished) entries. Today we’ll cover something shorter and much less consequential.

I’ve always been a video-games junkie. I was much more so when I was younger, although considering how much time I spend on Angry Birds and their many variants, I guess I still am. But all I have is my iPhone. I don’t own a newer video-game console. As I mentioned more than two years ago (good ol No. 877), my hard-core home video-gaming ended with the Super Nintendo.

But in the early Nineties, I wasted a lot of time playing Nintendo. I can’t remember whether it had been a Christmas present or a self-purchase, but soon after I took the gig at The Flint Journal, I had a Nintendo system, and I played it all the time.

Actually, it was the perfect thing to have after I started working in sports. Because I worked overnights, I needed to keep an overnight schedule on days off to maintain a regular body rhythm (and not having kids, I could do this).

Having HBO, as I did for the first time in Grand Blanc, helped. So did having a VCR, which Mom bought for me as a Christmas present in 1988. However, HBO’s programming got a little shaky after about 1. And one could watch Bull Durham only so many times.

I was done with Strat-o-Matic, so I turned to the Nintendo. I’d put on my CD player with its six-disc changer and veg out. So, when I hear this song of social protest and angst, what do I think of? Mario. Specifically Super Mario Brothers 2.

I played a lot of Tetris, too, but Super Mario 2 was my favorite for a number of reasons. It was funky—different from all the other Mario games in terms of characters—and it had no score. It was just pure puzzle quest and getting as far as you could. In many ways, it was the trickiest of the Marios to master.

I was secure enough in my masculinity that I’d play The Princess, not Mario or Luigi or—for sure—Toad. The practical reason for being The Princess became obvious almost right away, or as Scott pointed out once: The Princess has some serious hang time. When you superjumped the princess, you could clear chasms that were nigh-impossible with any other character. Really, to play anyone but The Princess was silly.

I was going to say a waste of time, but that’s what playing video games is, isn’t it? Yes, I wasted A LOT of time paying Nintendo, time that in hindsight would have been much better spent reading, writing, learning a new language, cooking, hell, visiting the Dort Highway dance establishments.

My time-wasting activity was acceptable amongst some of my peers thanks to the killer app: Blades of Steel. If you weren’t familiar with Blades of Steel, you missed out on something. It, of course, was a hockey game that could be played against the computer or—better—head to head against Bill, Dave or Robb to much merriment. (One day at work, Bill brought in a homemade videotape of he and Robb playing that included on-screen game action and reaction footage—with commentary—intercut. It was as ridiculous as it sounds.)

Blades of Steel featured a couple of hilarious features. First, it had fights. If the digital hockey players bumped each other enough, the game changed from and angled view of the ice to a one-on-one standup fight. The winner got the puck while the loser was carried off the ice to the shame of his manipulator.

Second, if you scored, the goalie threw a fit while the other team celebrated. And if you won, you skated around the ice proudly. If you beat the computer in tournament mode, where each game got more difficult, you were handed a trophy for the postgame skate.

We called it Lord Konami’s Prized Chalice (pronounced shall-EZE) in tribute to Lord Stanley’s prized shalleze, or chalice. He who paraded around The Konami Cup was to be held in esteem.

Who said playing video games was a waste?

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