Monday, June 3, 2013

A day off

(Note: written last night, posted this morning.)

Am I going to discuss old video games, their ads, or the thousands of people who enjoy reading my thoughts on these esoteric matters?  No, I am not.  Not today.  Today is a rightly earned day off.  It's my daughter's first birthday!  (I will have to find a 2UP mushroom for this time next year.) In a roundabout way I have her to thank for this blog, since it was in anticipation of her arrival that I was nudged to liquidate my comic book collection (so as to make room for diaper inserts etc.)  The stories I had read and was prepared to make my peace with, but I couldn't bear the idea of losing all that primary source material for the marketing of old video games.  So, in what appeared to my partner to be a species of endless passive-aggressive delaying, I went through all of them (several long boxes worth) and scanned every game ad.

I started writing here back in March 2012, before my daughter's actual arrival but after I'd amassed an already profound and remarkable slush pile of game ad scans.  It's been 135 posts over 455 days since then, about a post every three days, or a quarter of my Tweet frequency -- but of course each of these posts is much more substantial (well OK no, but at least voluminous) than four Tweets combined.  By most reasonable standards, this is a torrential whirlwind of blogging, even it is primarily for an audience of one regular commentator.  (My prior semi-pro graphomania at is, well, an unreasonable standard to hold this activity up to.)

Ah, the calm before the storm.  (Hm, that's a bug - the summary jumps on-screen from June 2011 to July 2012.  Probably a consequence of the "all-time" view insisting on including zero'd data from five years for a two-year-old blog.  Google, get it together!)  If my partner thought I was passive-aggressively wasting time before, that was nothing compared to what lay ahead!  The blog only really began to pick up after our baby arrived, and I suspect its biggest boost was the extra-large student-sized 45-minute coffee breaks I got during a clinical internship starting in September 2012... all that time to kill, and me a coffee teetotaler.  If I'd had Internet access I could have happily just frittered that time away but in its absence I had to make myself somehow "productive" instead, ugh!

Of course the internship is behind me now (and actually, though home time is on the up and up as employment hours haven't yet risen to meet the internship hours, blogging time is way down as there are always more useful ways for me to help out at home) but I've got to keep chugging along at some pace (my personal minimum is one a week here) because after having amassed such a swell collection of game ads, I'l be damned if they don't get shared with the world.  There's just no drive to get it done in a timely matter since, y'know, if an ad has waited 30 years to be blogged about, what's another week or two?

I don't know how likely this aspiration is, but I hope that my daughter is able to, at some point, on some level, appreciate her old man's retro-gaming hobby.  Many of these games are pointedly engineered for kids and I like to believe that there's a timeless element to some corners of this pursuit (eg. Tetris -- will it ever be surpassed?) that rapidly changing trends in technology and home entertainment won't entirely leave in the dust.  "Dad, how were you able to enjoy these stupid platform games with big pixels and irritating chiptunes? There's no way that even nostalgia could salvage this crud!"  Maybe it's too much to hope for that she'll be able to play text adventures with me (c'mon honey, the teletype terminal is period-authentic!), but maybe she can still log a few hours in the basement with pappy grinding away at Animal Crossing before going to her friend's Third Penguin Lifecraft VR chatroom and playing Erotic Mario Deathmatch XVII on her glasses.

I missed a certain critical window with my nephew, who I thought I might be able to introduce to gamebooks (you are aware of my interest in gamebooks, are you not?) -- I quietly curated a dozen classics to introduce to one awkward pre-teen at the age at which this awkward pre-teen had discovered them, but by that point he had enough suspicion of adults to automatically and instinctively reject anything recommended as being potentially up his alley.  It's like: since nobody appreciates my profound and underrated maturity and intellect beyond my years, it logically follows that anything anyone might find suitable for a normal person of my age can be instantly dismissed as kiddie stuff.  Well all right.  I was still the only adult in his world who was capable of holding a conversation with him about Return of the King or Ratchet and Clank, but if he felt that The Black Cauldron and Deathtrap Dungeon were beneath him, well, it's his loss.  Maybe I can turn on his eventual children to them, and I won't become at that time the equivalent to a middle-aged man with an eerie enthusiasm for Howdy Doody and Bozo the Clown, understanding them to be timeless classics for children of all ages and not merely transient cultural artefacts tied to a moment in time and a specific generational cohort.  "Hey, kids!  Wanna come over to my place and play VIDEO GAMES?  Here, I'll dust off the old Magnavox Odyssey.  Hm, musta blown a fuse.  Well hey, here's something that'll keep you busy for hours -- it's called Simon.  Oh hey, outta batteries.  Well, check this out -- it's a puzzle we used to call the Rubik's Cube."  This actually leads very neatly to a donut shop in North Vancouver (Lonsdale & 25th 29th) that does double duty as a grown man's boxed toy collection showcase, but that's sadly a bit too tangential to pursue.

Anyhow.  En route to our family celebration of my daughter's 1st (ah yes, the subject of this post), we made a random stop at a garage sale and I found an offer I couldn't refuse for my next Retro Console shindig: wretched party games for the Gamecube and an SNES with a couple of classic cartridges.  The exciting find was the Super Game Boy adaptor, allowing Game Boy carts to be played through the SNES (and consequently, on a TV or projector screen rather than on a pea soup postage stamp).  This means that I'll have two more platforms on the menu at my next party (three actually -- I've been tipped off that an NES is on its way to me) and we'll be boldly marching backwards into the big-pixel nostalgia I claimed but couldn't actually produce the hardware to revive.  (Except... alas! the SNES doesn't work.  Given the condition of the unit and several of its cables, there are numerous suspects for the weak link in the chain.  But given a second SNES eventually stumbled upon, we have many potential spare parts -- like buying sports cars in pairs, the second with which to repair the first.)

A heads-up to the locals -- on an occasion or two I've remarked on that video game party that awakened this element to my personality, Video In's fundraiser where they set up lots of old consoles on lots of displays and had people interact with them all night long.  It's been something like seven years (apparently the amount of setup sweat was disproportionate to the amount of funds raised) but they're doing it again: June 14, 6 pm, through to June 15, 6 am: the Video Game Orgy returns.

In conclusion: happy birthday to my daughter, and I hope that someday she's able to enjoy video gaming (at least, in moderation); that by that point, gaming culture (both among developers and players) will be less toxic to women (I'm looking at you, Fat Princess!); and that some nugget from the previous gaming eras whose sparks I try to keep alive here will be found salvageable as classic and not just retrograde.  But until then, we have a lot of unplugged play to conduct, so if you'll pardon me...