5. Renting games (for real)
No, GameFly doesn’t count. I’m talking about getting your parents to take you to Blockbuster/West Coast Video/Hollywood Video/Your Local Video Store, pouring over the racks of games, narrowing it down to just a few contenders – based on what wasn’t currently rented out, of course – and getting to bring home a shiny new game for a few magical days and nights, trying to beat it before you had to take it back. It was a way to get to play a lot more games than most of our parents could afford to actually buy us, back when games were averaging $50-$70 a pop – in 80’s and early 90’s dollars! To be fair, kids today have a lot more games to choose from that they can actually own for what we used to have to pay just to borrow games, and it’s hard to argue against that being a step up from what we had to contend with. But I think it made each game that we were lucky enough to play that much more special, and the time limit to play as much of the game as possible before we had to return it gave rented games a greater sense of value than ones that are purchased for that price, and are often just tinkered with sporadically for a week or so and never touched again.
“Dude, my friend told me that his older brother said that if you beat Metroid and enter a code, the character takes off her suit and she’s naked.” Nowadays, a quick Google search would have that debunked in all of 10 seconds. But when I was a kid, any video game myth or urban legend you heard, no matter how ridiculous, seemed like it could be possible. Everyone had a friend who had a friend who had a friend who did this or or saw that, and you were skeptical but also intrigued by the possibility that such a thing might actually be true. When the odd myth would end up being proven as fact – like Super Mario Bros.’ infamous minus world – it automatically made any of them seem possible. It was so much fun trading stories – and even occasionally making up your own – of crazy things seen and impossible feats accomplished, none of which is possible anymore thanks to the buzz kill internet. Way to ruin everything, Snopes.
3. One console to rule them all
I’m old enough that the first five or six years of my serious gaming life took place during the NES era, when – for kids in the U.S., anyhow – Nintendo’s 8-bit juggernaut was the only game in town (sorry Master System). Except for the kids who just didn’t have any games, if you played video games, you had an NES, and so did all of your friends. There never had to be that moment of, “…but wait, what system do you have?” because there was only one answer. It united us all, and made all of us feel like we were part of something special together. Sure, there was a certain amount of fun in the SNES/Genesis debate, and “console wars” were a much friendlier battle then than they are now, but it still wasn’t the same as those golden years when we were all on the same side, fighting King Koopa and Ganon instead of each other.
2. Video game magazines/Nintendo Power
I simply can’t fathom being a kid and not constantly being buried in a video game magazine. One of the best things about a video game magazine when I was a kid was that it allowed me to experience games I didn’t actually ever get to play. Nintendo Power in particular was great about laying out every detail about a game, from a complete map of the levels built out of stitched together screenshots to bios of the characters to a detailed synopsis of the events of the entire adventure. There are a number of games that I have never actually played, but that I am as intimately familiar with them as I would be if I had thanks to pouring over NP’s coverage of them over and over and over again. Plus, there was just something so fun about getting a magazine in the mail each month. When you’re a kid, you don’t really have that concept of time where you know how long it’s been since you got your last issue and when you should be getting your next one, so it was always a pleasant surprise when one would show up at my door. And with that being my only source of video game news, I literally had no idea what was in store for me within those pages and what new games I was going to be introduced to, and it was so exciting each and every time. Every turn of every page was a journey into the unknown.
1. Arcades (that aren’t bars)
Kind of a no-brainer for #1, right? When I was a kid, arcades were the most magical place on earth that didn’t feature actors in oversize corporate mascot outfits. The occasional Golden Tee or Cruis’n USA machine at a highway rest stop just doesn’t replicate how amazing it was to step inside of an actual arcade: the wonderful cacophony of chit chat, game sounds, and machines dispensing change; the games that looked five times better than what your current home system was capable of; being able to actually play games with the inputs for which they were originally designed (joystick, trackball, steering wheel, etc); and the thrill of beating an exasperated stranger at Street Fighter II, which winning at a game online doesn’t come anywhere close to in terms of overall satisfaction. And then there was that ultimate of treats, the arcade birthday party: two hours of unlimited arcade games, followed by pizza, hot dogs, and Kool-Aid. What could be better than finally getting to finish Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles with three of your best friends, each of you your turtle of choice for the entire adventure, and then celebrating your victory over a slice of greasy cheese and pepperoni? The answer is nothing. Nothing can be better.