8-bit Teeth, Red-haired Heroes, and a Mother-Gamer’s Pride

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(Note: the idea for this post was given to me by Miss Alexandra from Man Crates. Thanks Alex!)

This is going to be one of the oldest-sounding things that I’ve ever said, but…kids today have no idea what it’s like to grow up alongside the progression of video games. My daughter, for instance, is five years old and for her entire life so far she’s always been around latest-gen games. She’s watched mommy and daddy fight extremely realistic monsters, listened to immaculately-voiced characters have deep, emotional conversations, and awed at light shows that could shame Hollywood. She even plays games of her own, leading Disney, Marvel, and Star Wars characters through amazingly designed worlds that you can change and mold to your liking.

But she’ll never know what it was like to first experience video game graphics jumping from 8 to 16 bits. She’ll never have the giddy joy of sneaking peaks at Nintendo Power magazines in the drug store in order to learn how to perform special moves. She’ll (likely) never experience the ups and downs of picking up a random game at the local rental place, having absolutely no idea what it’s going to be like because none of your immediate friends have played it and internet reviews don’t exist yet.

And that’s all fine, because I’m certain my daughter will have plenty of her own experiences that will go way over my head, but it still makes me almost sad because the things I’ve mentioned were enormous parts of my childhood.

I was born at the perfect time to really grow up with video games as a home entertainment. When I was just a couple of years old my parents were still at the right age to hear about the Atari 2600 home video game console and think that it would be a really neat thing to have in the house. We had our fair share of games, and all three of us played. My mom’s favorite was Mouse Trap, which was a PacMan clone using mice as the ghosts and a cat as PacMan. My dad would get super-frustrated with Pitfall because he just couldn’t ever seem to time his jumps properly. And me? Well, at the tender age of five-ish, my favorite game was the ridiculously-conceived Plaque Attack. It was a Space Invaders clone, but instead of attacking legions of aliens, fast food items such as burgers, fries, and soda would move toward waiting rows of teeth, and instead of the defender of the Earth, you played as a squirting tube of toothpaste.

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Tell me this isn’t one of the most ridiculous things you’ve ever seen.

Looking back at it now, that game seems outrageously silly, but when I was a kid I absolutely loved it and I would play it again today if I had it. I can fondly remember sitting on my parents’ bed with that little joystick controller, blasting globs of toothpaste at cakes and candies in order to protect my rows of 8-bit pearly whites. It was great, foolish fun. It wasn’t my whole life by any means, but it was definitely a welcome amusement to have at my disposal.

At some point – I don’t remember the exact age, but I think I may have been six or so – my parents picked up a Nintendo Entertainment System for Christmas and my horizons were broadened. I was introduced to Mario for the first time, and my cousins (who also had NES consoles) and I spent hours trying to hunt down that damn princess. There was also Duck Hunt, which was a crazy-amazing innovation with its fancy, neon-orange light gun. That was definitely one of my favorites in the early days, although I loathed the clay shooter side-game and would often resort to pressing my gun right up against the TV screen in order to hit the damn disks. I also got the biggest kick out of the Power Pad when my cousin first got his, although it didn’t take long for us to realize that you could just get down on the floor and use your hands to hit the buttons rather than dance around on it as Nintendo had intended.

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You’d think they’d have learned way back then that people don’t want to exercise while they’re gaming.

There’s no doubt that the Atari and the NES were enormous parts of my childhood, but at that age I wouldn’t have described myself as a “gamer”. The games were simply among my toys, and I didn’t spend any more time on them than I did on Play Doh, Legos, Barbie dolls, or, you know…playing outside.

That all changed when I was somewhere around eight- or nine-years-old and my parents got me a Super Nintendo Entertainment System for Christmas. It was a huge deal right off the bat because the 16-bit graphics looked outstanding compared to the previous games I’d played. It was hard to believe that such amazing graphics were even possible.

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Shown: The most realistic-damn thing I’d ever seen.

And I won’t say that I didn’t play the HELL out of Super Mario World (because I did), and I definitely had something of an obsession with a little thing called Uniracers, but if I’m totally honest with myself the game that I would say turned me into a gamer was Chrono Trigger. My best friend had come across it in one of the local rental places and told me that it was amazing, so I practically begged my father to go so we could see if it was in (in those days each shop was lucky to have one copy of each video game). I was in luck that day, and the bright red, spiky hair of the protagonist on the cover immediately appealed to me. It looked like an anime cartoon, which was also something I was getting into at the time, and that definitely cemented my resolution to rent it and get the heck home immediately.

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I ran home with my rented treasure and popped it in the machine, practically vibrating to see what it was all about, why my friend had praised it so, and soon I was being treated to a Millennial Fair. I ran around with the red-headed hero (Crono), ringing bells on the strength game, guessing winners for the races, beating up a training robot, and dancing with people dressed as cavemen, and it was a blast. I totally understood what my friend had been talking about and I eagerly ran around that fair for about two hours, and which point I finally discovered that, yeah…there was actually a hell of a lot more to this game.

Yeah, it’s true, for a good two hours I honestly believed that the Millennial Fair opening of the game was the game. So when another character accidentally opened a time portal and disappeared into the past, prompting my red-haired hero to follow, I was flabbergasted. There was an adventure to play too! Oh, and what an adventure it was, full of time travel, a looming apocalypse, hidden magic, futuristic robots, and actual death…a character in a video game dying. I’d never seen the like before that.

I can’t even explain to you how many hours I sunk into that game. My best friend and I spent countless pocket change on renting it until my father finally decided that it was economically sound to just buy a copy, and that quadrupled my gameplay, easily. I was determined to find every hidden item, defeat every tiny side quest, and unlock each of the multiple endings (which was something else I’d never seen before). And remember, this was before you could just look everything up on the Internet. I had to actually search for all those items, and defeat the end boss dozens of times in hopes that I might have completed the right sequence of events to get a new ending.

One of the most heartbreaking moments of my childhood was when I came home from school one day and flipped on Chrono Trigger. I’d been sinking hours and hours into an overachieving attempt to raise all seven playable characters up to the highest level (100, which was depicted by two stars), and I was getting fairly close. I had two of the characters complete and the rest were in the 80’s and 90’s. But when I turned the game on, the screen didn’t load up with that oh-so-familiar title screen. Oh no…what I got was a black screen with a few angry-looking bits of digital lightning flashing across it. I immediately switched the SNES off and grabbed at the game to find that it hadn’t been seated properly. Someone had removed it and not pressed it all the way back down into the system. I pressed it down firmly now, and literally held my breath as I switched the system back on… But the damage had been done. The game had been erased. I had three blank save slots staring at me, mocking me, mocking the countless days I’d spent trying to raise those characters’ levels. I’m not proud. I seriously almost burst into tears.

As it turned out, my mother had removed the game in order to test a used game she and my father had recently picked up for me for Christmas: one Final Fantasy III (VI, in Japan), which just barely beats out Chrono Trigger as my favorite game of all time. I forgave her, because ohmygodFinalFantasyIII, but I still to this day lament the fact that I never got all seven characters to the maximum level. Later in life I even picked up the remastered Nintendo DS version of the game, but as an adult I’ve never had the time or inclination required to undertake so much level-grinding again.

Still, I definitely credit Chrono Trigger with truly turning me into a “gamer”. It was the game that awakened a desire to do everything, to see everything, to experience ever tiny detail that the programmers had hidden within. To this day, although I’ve enjoyed plenty of games since the SNES, all my favorite games are from that console: Chrono Trigger, Final Fantasy III, Breath of Fire II, Illusion of Gaia, Secret of Mana… You could say that I became a bit of an RPG-maniac.

These days I don’t have nearly as much time for games, and I tend to choose ones that can be completed much quicker than the 20+-hour sagas I played as a kid. But that’s okay because I hold the memory of first playing those games deep down among some of the most wonderful memories of my childhood. And in the meantime, I’m busy raising a new gamer to make memories with her favorite games. 🙂

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A to Z Challenge: (W)ii Sports

WiiSportsSay what you will about the Nintendo Wii (and don’t worry, I will), but its motion controlled gaming idea was kind of brilliant. But let me just back up a second first.

Nintendo has been one of the biggest names in gaming for decades now, and in November of 2006 they released their seventh-generation console, the Wii (pronounced the same as “we”). At first there was some doubt that the Wii would be able to compete with the Playstation 3 (released at the same time) and the Xbox 360 (released a full year earlier), both of which were much more robust, with more powerful processors, greater graphics capabilities, and more backing from big-name game developers. But despite the fact that Nintendo’s console was inferior in many ways, they enjoyed breakaway success because of their plan to target a much broader demographic than had previously been done. The Wii introduced motion-controlled gaming with their “Wii Remote” pointing device, which made the games that used it simper, and more intuitive to play. This mechanic, which was so different from the usual controllers full of buttons, triggers, and thumbpads, made it easier for people who otherwise wouldn’t play games to join in – which, of course, was Nintendo’s intent.

The perfect example of this is ‘Wii Sports’, which came packaged with the Wii as a way of showing off the motion-control capabilities. To play the game you would first create a little character to represent yourself (a “Mii”), and if you chose you could also make characters to represent dozens of other possible players. Once you had your player you could choose between five sports: tennis, baseball, bowling, golf, or boxing. In tennis, baseball, and golf the Wii Remote would act as a stand-in for your racket, bat, or club, with the equipment on the screen moving in conjunction with the remote’s movement. In bowling and boxing the Remote served to tell the game where your hand was and thus whether you were performing the proper movements.

The system was simple, fun, quick to learn, and encouraged lots of players to play together. It was a dynamic in which a 60-year-old who’d never touched a video game in their life could easily pick up and hold their own against a young kid with dozens of games under their belt. And people ate that up. All of a sudden entire families, from the youngest to the oldest, were playing video games together.

Yeah, okay, the graphics are lame, but all you had to do to learn was PRETEND to swing a bat!
Yeah, okay, the graphics are lame, but all you had to do to learn was PRETEND to swing a bat!

I can remember when my husband and I first bought our Wii. My parents were visiting and we spent half the night playing ‘Wii Bowling’, laughing our heads off, and having a hell of a time. The next morning we were all genuinely sore, having spent all evening exercising without even realizing it. Soon after that my parents got a Wii of their own, and together we made Mii characters for tons of family members. We’d have big family parties, filled with drinking, eating, and hysterics as we challenged each other to rounds of all five sports. Soon my husband’s aunt bought a Wii and we’d play there as well. My cousins bought one, my best friends bought one…people who hadn’t played a video game since Pong was the big thing were purchasing Wii consoles left, right, and center.

Now, don’t get me wrong. The Wii and its bundled ‘Wii Sports’ game are not the be-all and end-all of gaming. In fact, it didn’t take terribly long for people to get bored and stop playing – after all, how long can you really play the same simple game over and over again? There were also a lot of haters of the variety that can’t follow basic instructions; lots of people refused to use the little wrist strap on the remote and subsequently smashed their TVs by accidentally letting go of the thing in mid-swing. On top of that, plenty of hardcore gamers soon learned to loathe the Wii, since lots of game developers weren’t willing to deal with the weaker hardware, thus making the Wii’s game library woefully small. To be perfectly blunt, of all the people I know who have a Wii, the overwhelming majority of them haven’t touched their console in years. Looking at these factors, it’s easy to look at the Wii and see it as an underpowered machine with a clever gimmick that had no staying power.

But they also sold over 101 million units, so I guess there’s something to be said about that.

Did you have a Wii? If not, did someone in your family have a Wii? Don’t like to me. What was your favorite Wii Sport and how long did it take for you to get sick of it? Please share!

Enjoying the A to Z Challenge? Why not check out some of these other participating blogs?

A to Z Challenge: (S)uper Mario 64

SuperMario64No one in their right mind can deny that the Super Mario brothers are an extremely important part of the history of video games. The pudgy plumber (and, to a lesser extent, his lankier brother) have been featured in more than one hundred games in their career, and many of those games are some of the most popular of their days.

Mario made his debut into gaming as Jump Man in the very first Donkey Kong game back in 1981. He was so named because the game involved dodging barrels thrown by Donkey Kong by jumping over them. He was given a real name for American markets, and soon followed his debut title with an antagonist role in Donkey Kong Jr in 1983.

Mario’s designation as a plumber came as a byproduct of these early 8-bit roles. Because it is difficult to create a distinctive human character using 8-bit technology, creator Shigeru Miyamoto used a few tricks to ease the process, including giving Mario overalls to make his arms more visible, and adding a hat to avoid having to program hair. A thick mustache completed the look, since it was more visible than just a mouth, and the character that is so well-known today was born.

Mario has been the hero of an outstanding number of video games over the years – not to mention TV shows – and I played quite a few of them growing up. If I had to pick a favorite, I would definitely choose Super Mario 64. Right off the bat, getting a Nintendo 64 as a kid was a huge deal because I’d been dealing with 8- and 16-bit graphics for half my life at that point. So I was already pretty damn excited before I even got the game in the console. Then I saw Mario in all his “3-D” glory, and it was like my world had changed.

The amazing (for the time) graphics aside, Super Mario 64 is a game that many kinds from my generation remember fondly because it was outrageously fun. The story involved Mario taking a trip to Princess Toadstool’s castle to find that Bowser had attacked and hidden the castle’s power stars in the many paintings hanging throughout. To save the day Mario had to track down the 120 power stars and defeat his reptilian nemesis.

The style of game-play was amazing at the time. It was a huge, open-world concept that allowed you to unlock more and more of the castle and its hidden worlds as you played. There were lots of different ways to unlock stars – boss battles, fetch quests, races, etc. – so you never got bored. And the new three-dimensional, 64-bit world meant that you got to see all your favorite characters, enemies, and worlds in a larger-than-life capacity. I remember the first time I saw Bowser – towering over Mario like a dinosaur looking at its lunch – I almost had a little gamer heart attack.

It may not seem like much now, but a boss that size was terrifying back then.
It may not seem like much now, but a boss that size was terrifying back then.

Even years later, when the re-release came out for the Nintendo DS, I ate it up because it was just as fun as it had been the first time around. Super Mario 64 is definitely one of those classic games, the kind that lasts throughout the ages.

Do you recall the video game leap that was Super Mario 64? What was your favorite stage? Your most loathed stage? Please share!

Enjoying the A to Z Challenge? Why not check out these other participating blogs:

A to Z Challenge: (N)intendo

NintendoLet’s be real: I can’t possibly talk about video games for an entire month without bringing up Nintendo.

Not everyone knows that the Nintendo Corporation did not start out as video game producers. The original 1889 company, “Nintendo Koppai”, produced Hanafuda cards, which are playing cards similar to the 52-card decks that most of us know. It wasn’t until many years and other ventures later that the company became interested in electronic toys and video games. It was around this time that they secured the rights to distribute the first commercial home video game console – the Magnavox Odyssey – in Japan. This decision was a huge success for the company, so they followed it up by developing their own games, starting with EVR Race in 1975. Soon after came the well-known Donkey Kong, created by Shigeru Miyamoto, who is every Nintendo fan’s greatest hero.

Nintendo continued to experiment with such electronic toys as the ‘Game and Watch’ (a predecessor to what would eventually become the Gameboy), and in 1983 they released their first console, the Famicom, exclusively in Japan.

Then came the great video game crash of 1983, of which Nintendo was one of the only companies to survive. Out of the ashes of that crash, Nintendo redesigned the Famicom, fixed some issues that the previous machine had, and renamed their new creation the Nintendo Entertainment System (or NES for short). Thus, video game console history was made.

A great deal of my childhood involved the myriad products that Nintendo released over the years. I was the proud owner of one of those NES consoles at a young age, and when I was a little older I nearly had a meltdown of happiness when I found a Super Nintendo Entertainment System under my Christmas tree. For many years I subscribed to Nintendo Power magazine; it was through this magazine that I learned about the Pokemon games and subsequently begged my parents for my first Gameboy, a ‘Pocket’ version. Later I upgraded to a Gameboy Color (I had the special, yellow “Pikachu” version), and one day my parents surprised me with the Nintendo 64. The 64 was probably the last Nintendo system that I played with manic frequency, but over the years I also had a Gameboy Advanced, a GameCube, a Nintendo DS, and a Nintendo Wii. The real kicker? Although the NES doesn’t work anymore, I still have every one of those systems, with games for each of them. The only systems I don’t have are the original Gameboy, the Nintendo 3DS, and the Nintendo Wii-U, and the last two only because they haven’t really impressed me much.

Pictured: One of the greatest things I ever owned.
Pictured: One of the greatest things I ever owned.

Yes, make no mistake, though they haven’t been my source of video games for a while, Nintendo holds a special place in my heart. I grew up with such exclusive characters as Mario and Luigi, Donkey Kong, and Link and Zelda, and some of their games are still my favorites to this day.

What is your experience with Nintendo games/consoles? What are/were some of your favorite games? Favorite characters? Do you own any Nintendo relics? Please share!

Enjoying the A to Z Challenge? Why not check out some of these other participating blogs?

Rhonda @ Albom Adventures
Michelle @ Writer~In~Transit
Fil’s Place – Old Songs and Memories
Forty, C’est Fatastique
Keith Kreates
dSavannah Rambles
Rainbow kaykuala
The Old Shelter
Sabina @ Victim to Charm
Sue’s Trifles

Gift Ideas You May Not Have Thought Of

Gift shopping can be hard, especially if you don’t have all that much in common with the person you’re buying for. So with that in mind, here’s some random gift ideas you may not have thought of.

Does your recipient like tea?

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Go to DavidsTea.com right now. There are dozens and dozens of loose-leaf teas to choose from, in all kinds of different categories, and there are always gift sets available as well. The pricing for the loose tea is based on weight, so the cost depends on what you choose, but considering how many cups you can get out of a bag, the price is actually quite reasonable. They also have a host of tea-related gift options, such as mugs, kettles, steeping nets, filters, tea additives (honey, sugar sticks, etc.), travel kits, and so on. It is literally your one-stop shop for tea, and as someone who has tried many of their teas, trust me when I say that they do their job well.

Does your recipient like nerdy stuff/collectibles?

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Consider purchasing them a few months worth of a nerd-and-geek subscription box service. It’s the gift that keeps on giving, and you don’t even have to go to the store to buy it. For between $20 and $35 per month, your recipient gets a monthly box full of nerdy collectibles and fun stuff, and you can order it all online, from the comfort of your own bed. Personally, I suggest Loot Crate, both because I have found it to be the superior nerd box, and because you have the choice of paying monthly, or for three, six, or twelve-month chunks. But beware! Your credit card will be automatically charged when whatever time period you’ve chosen expires, so you have to make sure to cancel the subscription before that happens.

Does your recipient like beauty products?

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See above suggestion, but replace “Loot Crate” with “Ipsy“. For $10/month ($15 in Canada) your loved one can get a beautiful little make-up bag with 5-7 beauty products in it every month. I have personally found my Ipsy bags to have a value of about $35 in products, so for a total of $120 ($180 in Canda) your recipient gets a total of approximately $420 worth of products over the course of the year. Just remember, as with the Loot Crate suggestion, that Ipsy charges your credit card monthly, so you have to remember to cancel the service so that you don’t keep getting charged after your gift budget has run out.

Does your recipient like to read…like, a lot?

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If you have a loved one who rips through whole books faster than most people can read the summary on the back cover, you may want to look into getting them a Kindle Unlimited account. KU is basically Netflix for readers; for $9.99 per month your reader has access to a library of over 700,000 ebooks and audio books. And they don’t even need an actual Kindle to use the service. If your reader has a laptop, tablet, or smartphone, they can download the free Kindle app and instantly start enjoying the vast digital library that you’ve just purchased for them. And remember, this is another monthly payment gift, so work out with your recipient when you’re going to remove your card from the account so that they can keep their subscription going undisturbed.

Does your recipient like video games…but you know nothing about them?

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Clueless parents and grandparents, I’m talking to you. Here’s the first step: find out what game console your recipient has, and make absolutely certain you have it correct. This really isn’t so hard. Just ask, and write it down so that you don’t forget. Don’t give me any of that bull about how you’ll remember. Write it down. Right now. Now that you’ve done the hard part, go to your local Walmart, Target, or wherever you know that has those huge racks of gift cards, and pick out the one that matches your loved one’s console. If they have a Playstation 3, Playstation 4, or Playstation Vita, you want this one:

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If they have an XBox 360 or an XBox One, you want this one:

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And if they have a Nintendo Wii, Wii U, or a Nintendo 3DS you want this one:

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With this gift card your recipient can pay for the online account that is required for most consoles now, or they can buy digital downloads of games directly to their console. And all you had to figure out was the name of the console. You’re welcome.

So those are my suggestions for some gifts you may not have thought of. How about you? Any ideas for gifts that people may not have thought of? Please share!

One Kid’s Video Game is Another Kid’s Raging Obsession

wpid-writing-101-june-2014-class-badge-2-1.png.pngToday’s writing assignment, along with the accompanying twist, introduces us to the idea of linking blog posts together to make a kind of series. Depending on what you choose to write about, this can be a way to keep readers coming back. Just like when reading a series of novels, if your readers enjoy the first one they’re going to want to check out the second. So let’s get on with it, shall we?

Today’s assignment is to write about a loss: something (or someone) that was part of your life and isn’t anymore. Today’s twist: make today’s post the first in a three-part series.


I grew up in the video game revolution. When I was only a toddler I had an Atari with such amazing joy-stick-based games as ‘Mouse Trap’ and ‘Plaque Attack’. When I was a bit older my parents got me a Nintendo Entertainment System and I spent hour upon hour with the Super Mario Bros. The true gem of my childhood, however, was the Super Nintendo Entertainment System, which I got for Christmas when I was about 8 or 9.

The SNES introduced me to some of my very favorite games of all time. I spent ridiculous amounts of time playing The Legend of Zelda: A Link to the Past, Final Fantasy 3 (US version), and the little-known gem, Uniracers. And then my best friend told me about this role-playing game that she’d tried out from the local rental place (do you remember those? If not, you’re too young to understand the joy of the SNES). It was called ‘Chrono Trigger’, she told me, and to hear her tell it this game was absolutely amazing.

I rented it for myself one night, and I was immediately hooked. Chrono Trigger had amazing graphics (for the time; shut up, youngsters), an amazing storyline, lovable characters, and something I had never seen before: multiple endings that were rewarded to you depending on certain decisions and achievements you made while playing. It quickly became one of my favorite games of all time (and still is), and it didn’t take long before I’d convinced my dad to buy it for me (a wise financial decision, considering the amount of money I was pumping into rentals).

Owning the game made me obsessed with collecting every item, achieving every ending variant, and maxing out all the characters’ stats. This required a massive amount of grinding (killing enemies over and over again to gain experience in order to gain levels) that took hours and hours of my precious childhood. It may seem silly, and a waste of time to people who don’t play video games, but it was a serious ambition of mine to grind enough to get all the characters up to the maximum level of 100 (denoted by a pair of stars next to the character’s name).

I was getting so close. I had two of the characters maxed out already, three characters in the 90’s levels, and two in the 80’s. I was going to do it.

Then, one day after school I came home, grabbed my SNES controller, and turned the game console on. The screen flashed for a moment, and then remained black. I began to panic immediately.

There may be some of you reading this who are too young to remember cartridge games, but the Super Nintendo had them. Instead of disks or digital downloads we had rectangular hunks of plastic with a circuit board sticking out of the bottom that had to be pressed firmly into the top of the game console. If the game was not properly pressed all the way down before turning the console on, you could cause a short circuit that could cause all kinds of problems. Problems like deleting your game save data.

I touched the top of my Chrono Trigger cartridge and pressed down. It moved a good inch, meaning it hadn’t been seated properly when I’d turned the console on. With my little heart dancing in my chest, I turned the console on again and loaded up the game.

Empty. My game save data was gone, as though the game was fresh from the store.

I can’t describe how I felt at that moment, but it was an interesting mixture of rage and depression. To a kid, losing that many hours of gameplay on a video game is like a college student accidentally deleting the term paper they’ve been working on for weeks. I felt robbed. Robbed of hours and hours of “work”, and robbed of my victory, my bragging rights. I was certain I would never come close to touching this achievement again, and I was right. Even as an adult with a remastered version of the game on a newer console, I never came anywhere near maxing out all my characters’ stats ever again.

But that’s not the end of this tale… You see, I hadn’t removed the Chrono Trigger cartridge from my SNES in weeks. So how, you might wonder, did the cartridge wind up popped out of the console and seated improperly? Well, that’s a story for another day…

A to Z Challenge Day 7: Gau (the Wild Orphan)

GGau

Video games have been an important part of my life, off and on, for the past two and a half decades or so. I had an original Atari, which I was absolutely obsessed with, and I’ve owned every generation of Nintendo console and hand-held aside from the Virtual Boy (because I honestly never knew it existed until years later), the 3DS (because my regular DS works just fine, thanks) and the Wii-U (because screw it, I’m not that big of a sucker). I’ve also, in partnership with my husband, had all four Playstations (plus the Vita), and the first two X-Boxes (the third will probably come along at some point), and we’ve got a Dreamcast squirreled away upstairs somewhere.

There have definitely been times in my life where video games became less important, but I’ve always loved them since I was barely old enough to be able to figure out how to play them, and to this day turn-based RPGs are my favorites. And of that classification, Final Fantasy III (VI in Japan) definitely ranks at the very top of my all-time favorites list. I can not tell you the number of times I have played through this game. I love everything about it from the story, to the characters, to the battle system. To this day I get the random urge to pop in my Gameboy Advanced version and start a whole new game right from the beginning.

I love pretty much all of the characters in this game, but one character I always thought was under-appreciated was Gau. He’s the sweet little orphan boy who was raised by monsters and joins the party simply because they were nice enough to feed him. He’s never been a fan favorite amongst the FFIII characters, but I think that was mostly because of the effort required to make him a force to be reckoned with. You see, whereas the other characters learned their special attacks naturally, Gau had to be fighting in a particular area, and in order to get him to learn new attacks you had to let him leave the party and then keep fighting in random encounters until he showed up again. You might fight ten battles and have him come back and have learned one new attack, out of the 250 attacks that he could learn…and often the one he did learn would be total crap.

But, if you were willing to be a little patient, Gau could become a great addition to your party, one who could do an enormous number of special attacks. Plus, he was just fun to have around. Come on, FFIII fans…speak up! You know he was the cutest thing since kitty-shaped sliced bread!

What’s in a Room?

Yesterday afternoon, while my husband and I were hemming and hawing over the placement of her furniture, our daughter wandered upstairs, sneaking up on us, and peered into her new bedroom for the first time. It’s not finished yet (half of her stuff is still hiding away in the guest room, and we haven’t got any of her new wall decorations up yet), but she seemed quite excited. She pranced around the room for a while, snuggled up with her “Twilight Sparkle” blanket (it’s totally just a purple blanket, but whatever she wants to think, right?), and overall just seemed happy with it.

It got me thinking about my different rooms when I was younger. I had three different ones, even though we always lived in the same house, and each of them was very me.

The first room that I had was the logical room for the baby, before my parents’ house was renovated in any way. It was in the back corner of the house, across the hall from my parent’s room. It was, as far as I can remember, a perfect square, and the walls were painted a very light pink. I believe I remember that there was a flowery border around the center of the room as well…pink roses, I think. Obviously I can’t remember back as far as when I was in a crib, but I do remember my big-girl bed, a white deal with drawers in the bottom and a headboard that allowed me to keep some of my favorite books beside me at all times. I also had a little double crib in that room for my baby dolls…not a toy, and not the real deal, but one of those miniature display models you see at the store when they don’t have the room to put up one of the full models. I don’t recall who got it from the store for me, but it was pretty damn awesome because I loved my dolls, and it was the perfect thing to keep them in. I don’t recall a whole lot more about that room, except for little flashes of additions (my first TV, my first “boom box”, my first Nintendo system), and eventually I moved on to…

My second room was the one that was adjacent my parents’ room, and across the hall from the bathroom. This room was illogical for a child’s bedroom because of the shape and the size (it was much smaller than my old one), but I can remember insisting that I wanted to move in there. The embarrassing thing is, thinking back, I think the only reason I wanted to move into that room was so that I would get to have decorations in my window during the holidays. Kids are dumb sometimes. But for better or worse, I moved into that room. A lot of the space was taken up by the closet, which jutted out at the front of the room near the door. The space created between the side of the closet and the window wall of the room was where I jammed my bed, and everything else logically had to go on the opposite wall. I actually quite liked the layout because at the time I had about a million stuffed animals that I loved and had given names to, and with the way my bed was crammed into that spot I could have all of them on there with me without any chance of them falling off. It was a bit silly, to be sure…the stuffies took up more room on that bed than I did…but I loved it. Later on in that room I completely negated the use of the closet by building myself a dollhouse in there. I’d never had a dollhouse, but at the time I was too old to not sound weird if I asked for one, so I made my own by building furniture out of cardboard boxes and the like, and making all kinds of little stuff like magazines and the like with paper and crayons. It was mind-blowingly immature, but sometimes mind-blowingly immature stuff is what keeps us happy. I like to think that that homemade dollhouse was an important moment in my creative life.

After some time in the small room I actually moved back to the bigger room, which was mostly the same except that now I was older so I started papering the walls with posters of my favorite bands and actors, and since I was doing a lot of drawing at this time in my life, there was a lot of that as well.

I don’t remember when, how, or why I brought up the idea of me moving into the basement (knowing me, I probably read it in a book), but several months after I first brought up the idea, my parents sold their pool table (which didn’t really ever get used), carpeted the main room of the basement, built a wardrobe/shelf/desk combo, and moved me down there. It was more like a small apartment rather than a bedroom, really, it was so big. The desk combo and my bed were down in in the smaller section, and in the bigger section there was a love seat and the TV and games, and a kitchen table (of all things) on which I would do puzzles and models and the like. I didn’t even have to go upstairs to go to the bathroom, since there was a toilet in the basement. It was really quite ridiculous for a teenager, but I loved it and in the end my parents loved it as well because it allowed them to start renovating upstairs (by way of knocking out walls to make the important rooms bigger). The poster-papering continued down here, and I hold that I probably had the most ridiculously dark room in teenage history because of all the black that wound up on my walls.This photo doesn't even come close to showing how bad the walls eventually got.

This photo doesn’t even come close to showing how bad the walls eventually got.

I don’t know why I felt the urge to write this post. Maybe I just like talking about my childhood, or maybe I was just struggling for something to write about. Either way, thinking about my various bedrooms allowed me to remember how important it was for me, growing up, to have a space that was my own, that I could decorate the way I wanted, my own special sanctuary, and I hope that my daughter grows up feeling the same way about her room.

I think she will. :)
I think she will. 🙂

Things I Know About Kids: Pay Attention to What They Like!

Let me start off this post by asking a question: how many of you can recall at least one birthday, Christmas, or other present-giving holiday where you were disappointed by a present? Maybe you got the cheap knock-off version of the thing you really wanted, or maybe you got something that was way outside your age range, or maybe you got something completely different from what you’d asked for because what you really wanted was deemed somehow inappropriate. Or maybe, just maybe, you got something completely random that you didn’t want, and all you could think was, “Geez, does anyone even pay attention to what I like?”

2nnneNow here’s the thing. I’m not suggesting that kids shouldn’t be grateful for the presents they get, because they should, and it really peeves me when kids are ungrateful little brats. I’m also not suggesting that parents should break the bank when it comes to presents…if you genuinely can’t afford it, then your kids are just going to have to deal (and again, be grateful).

But I am saying this: for the love of god…pay attention to what your kids like.

I bring this up because of my “jobs I’ve had” post a few days ago. Mentioning my previous positions at various department stores reminded me of something I dealt with a lot while working retail: clueless parents. I can’t count the number of times I got questions from parents who had only the basest inkling of a concept of what their child wanted as a present. For example, once I had a mother come into Zellers and ask me for help finding a game that her kid wanted. She said the game was called “Mario”. I had to bite my tongue to keep from screaming as I asked her, “Which Mario?”

A SMALL clipping of the Wikipedia list of Mario games...notice the dates?
A SMALL clipping of the Wikipedia list of Mario games…notice the dates?

A brief discussion thereafter revealed that not only did the woman not know which one of the dozens of possible “Mario” games she was looking for, but she didn’t even know which video game console she was buying it for. She knew that her kid had a “Nintendo”, but not which version, and at the time N64 was still booming, while Gamecube was wracking up new sales. Each system had a plethora of “Mario” games, so I had absolutely no way of advising this woman as to what she should buy. In the end I practically begged her to go home and ask her kid about the game again.

Now seriously, folks…it’s one thing to get a little confused when you find out that there are multiple games with similar titles…but if you don’t even know which system you’re buying it for? Sorry, but you must have your head lodged firmly up your back-end. I know there are lots of parents out there who don’t know a damn thing about video games, but how can you honestly not even know which console(s) your kid owns? Is there really not enough space in your brain to commit the words “Gamecube” or “Playstation 3” or “Gameboy” or “XBox” to memory?

I don’t mean this post to torment parents who are a little out of touch with video games and toys and the newest gadgets. We can’t all know everything about everything. But this is your child (or children) that we’re talking about. Is it really so hard to pay a little bit of attention to what they enjoy? The toys they play with? The TV shows they watch? You have no idea how many times I watched parents struggle over a wall of action figures because they had no idea which superhero they were actually looking for, or how many times I’ve watched a parent pick up some random toy with a look of bewilderment on their face and ask me, “Do you think my kid will like this?”

You have no idea how many returns I’ve seen after a holiday, during which the parent grumbled that they’d, “Apparently got the wrong thing.”

Really, I swear, it’s not rocket science.

Yes, there are an outrageous number of options out there and sometimes it can be a little overwhelming, but you know what works? Ask your kid questions. If your kid is playing with a bunch of dolls, ask them what their names are and which ones they don’t have. BOOM, gift idea. Simple. Direct. Almost 100% success rate. Or you know what else works really well? When your kid asks for something specific, take ten seconds to really listen to what they said. The “Mario” game fiasco above could have been easily rectified if the mother had paid attention long enough to hear the full name of the game and, ideally, write it down so she wouldn’t forget. Bada bing, bada boom.

We can’t all be super-parents, and no parent has a 100% grasp on everything their kid is into…but that doesn’t give us an excuse to be ignorant. Your kids have as much right as anyone else in your life to have your attention long enough for you to be able to buy them nice presents without begging a bewildered sales clerk for help. It’s not difficult. It just takes a little bit of effort. Aren’t your kids worth a little bit of effort?

Shown: Something worth a bit of effort.
Shown: Something worth a little bit of effort.