Thursday, August 30, 2007

yeah Nofriendo!

I was hoping we wouldn't get to video games.

There is just too much to talk about. But in honor of Mr. Malozzi and my own Robust Soul...

As a writer, I can list about a handful of "influences" - in other words people I'd like to write like. Tolstoy, Gombrowicz, that guy who wrote The Perfect Storm (actually I just want his jawline and predatory butt-chin). However as a person, I have to admit that I am composed almost entirely of equal parts 1)The Simpsons 2)Bruce Springsteen and 3)Super Mario Brothers.

Like rings on a tree these three eras of my life co-exist comfortably - but the exact proportion each takes up will have to remain unknown until I am chopped into toothpicks. Suffice to say I was a satiric, romantic, and above all mythological kid. I memorized the Greek alphabet in order to combat my best friend/arch nemesis Tom Aquino's (real name!) incredible ability to spell the chemicals he got off the back of shampoo bottles. I read Edith Hamilton's Mythology and the Children's Illustrated Eddas and imagined myself splitting Jupiter open like a watermelon.

Why did I do this? We were living abroad at the time, my dad worked for the UN, and television in most developing countries is beyond shitty. Zambian TV consisted of a single channel, which showed Christian broadcasting all day and then two hours of pirated South African programming between 8 and 10 pm. For a while we could catch Fresh Prince, or - and my family got really excited about this - Dynasty. The episodes were shown out of order, frequently repeated, but none of us really cared. My parents were so ecstatic at being let back in the pearly gates of the American televisual paradise that they even let us eat dinner in their bedroom, where the TV was. They censored nothing, despite what I now recognize was the show's serious steaminess. Afterwards my brother and I spent hours discussing what, exactly, Heather Locklear had been doing in that hay bale.

So no TV - and for a long time, no other kids either. But a lot of strange scenery and interesting trees and animals. We had chameleons in our yard, tons of them - they were like squirrels - which we brought inside and put on different surfaces, to watch the way they changed color. One time, one of them turned a tarry black and crawled behind the couch and died. After that, no more chameleons in the house.

(I am talking about all this, by the by, partly in an attempt to one-up your Malozzi story, which reeked of swiftness)

Anyway, one day my father, brother and I returned from a long drive, during which my father had been describing The Empire Strikes Back to us (our favorite story despite the fact that we'd never seen it), to find my mother waiting on the porch with a huge smile on her face. Inside, we found out why: the Socrates had come. The long-promised Socrates, whose hand-carried delivery from the States had cost us three jars of Jiffy Peanut Butter (so it went in expatriate Africa), but which would now change our life. My mother promised: it would change our life.

No one remembers the Socrates these days, and for good reason: it was easily the most boring "video gaming" console available ever made. I say "video gaming" because, if there were actual games involved in its operation ("games" implying fun, or at least amusement), my brother and I couldn't find them. The thing could word process (awkwardly) and draw (an awesome, turquoise-blue mouse and mouse pad were included in the box). Maybe there was an Oregon-trail type cartridge, to improve "factual retention." But for the most part, the most fun thing about the Socrates was reading the instruction manual.

Needless to say, we were bored of the whole setup within a week; at which point my mother, to make herself feel better about our exorbitant purchase, or maybe in a little attempt at reverse psychology, became Socrates's only regular user (even she couldn't sit in front of its ugly pixellation for more than half an hour at a time).

Now skip ahead to that fateful moment, let's say a year and a half later, when I first saw Super Mario Brothers. Maybe it was at my cousin's house, maybe Tom Aquino's. Maybe it wasn't actually in Zambia at all - maybe it was in Papua New Guinea, when my parents bought a used Nintendo system from a family with a water-filled swimming pool (ours had grass in it). I must have watched whoever was playing (maybe it was me?) for four hours. Wha's a goomba? Who's Bowser? What can a Raccoon suit do that a Frog suit can't? There was an answer for everything; and each of these answers led, amazingly enough, to another question.

Eventually it was time to play outside; at which point the first thing I did was begin designing my own video game - which ended up taking up a whole three-ring binder and a year of my young life. It was called Metroplex. Metroplex, Metroplex: for a long time every little thing I saw or noticed went into that word.

I always liked watching other people play more than I liked playing. I liked the made-upness of the world, how it had its own rules that fit into one another like the pieces of a puzzle. When you were done, you could fold the whole thing up and put it in your pocket.

A question: what is the difference between a Dr. Mario fan and a Super Mario Bros. fan? I would suggest a lot. For example, your Malozzi story had a certain Doctoral verve: it seemed to fall down my screen, flipping manically and shuttling back and forth until finally it fit.

Help me figure this fucker out.