I’m 27 years old, which usually means I’m older than most of my peers when it comes to things like Xbox Live. It’s also why I usually have my status as “Away” or choose not to play many online games; there are only so many times I can hear an “eleventeen” year-old scream at someone for “hax.” I miss the old days of the NES and knowing that I was only connected to a world consisting of my imagination.
I was maybe four or five when I got my first NES for Christmas, way back in 1985-1986. I remember tearing that box open on Christmas morning and seeing the console in all its greybox glory. I remember being in my Flintstones PJ’s and plugging in the first game I had the pleasure to own, Lode Runner, then playing in 3D RAD Racer! I didn’t experience Mario Brothers for quite some time to come, but it was all about the Lode Runner anyway. I remember falling asleep in my Dad’s room playing till late, and although I wasn’t too bad at Lode Runner, my 80-year-old grandmother absolutely pwn’ed it. However, it soon dawned me that I wanted to get more games for my collection. Enter Bionic Commando.
While that game was hard as hell, I still remember swinging around and bouncing around on spikes and shooting guys with his bazooka-like gun. When I found out the local video store rented NES games, it became heavenly when Saturday rolled around and I could rent a game or two and play until Sunday night. Curling up with a bag of cheesies and a bottle of Coke and playing until the next morning…. It was times like those I love and remember.
One of my clearest memories was going into a video store that smelled a lot like a log cabin — and was actually like one, in a lot of ways. Going inside, I saw a piranha in a fish tank next to the games shelf, but I pushed forward and rented a game that still kicks my ass: Star Voyager. It was cool because you could get sucked into black holes, your ship took realistic damage, and systems could be affected. A lot of the innocence of my childhood growing up in the 80s came from experiences like this. A Saturday could be spent with friends playing Mario Brothers and going to sleepovers and movies our parents tried to protect us from, like CHUD or Nightmare on Elm Street. In fact, the first movie I remember seeing was Friday the 13th: Part Five. How’s that for an innocent childhood memory?
The 80’s was a great time to be a gamer; it was just an accepted part of childhood, and it was not unusual to see neighborhood kids trading games. It felt like the pulse and the lifeblood of the 80’s, especially when movie-licensed games didn’t suck as bad back then. I remember playing Robocop and thinking it was the greatest thing since they brought back Classic Coke. Truly, it was one of the times in my life that I look back on and really remember fondly. And I miss it more often than not.
It doesn’t seem like a lot of the younger kids these days act this same way. Maybe I just don’t hear about it because I have no younger family, but I’d like to believe that it’s still alive and well, and that gaming childhood are still very much a part of one another. Being with my friends surrounded by Nintendo games and toys was like being wrapped in a blanket of fun that no one could take away from us. It was a feeling similar to those you get when you watch stuff like The Wizard or Goonies. It was groundbreaking news when we could read GamePro and Nintendo Power and “be in the know” of what was happening in the electronic world. The advent of things like the Internet brought a new sense of awareness that killed that sense of wonder. Back then we had to wait; there was no such thing as YouTube for spoilers.
Some of my best memories include being with my best friend, Quincy, and playing Mega Man at his cottage, then games like Super Mario 3 and Zelda 2, The Adventures of Link. I still remember how we cheered when we got the raft and could explore more of Hyrule. I remember fighting Link’s shadow, which we never did beat (and that sucks!), but now I have the Wii Virtual Console release and can try it again. Many Saturday nights and sleepovers were spent just gaming. We’d just talk about Link, Mario and other heroes like Mega Man. Quincy and I bonded over that little greybox, and we were inseparable for a number of years. When I sold my NES to buy a Super Nintendo, things started to change. I think selling was my NES with my 21 games was a sign of the times. It was time to graduate to the next level. And with that, things change, and people grow apart.
It was a simpler time in my life before girls, high school and all the other parts of growing up came into being. It’s good to be able to look back on this time in my life and be able to share it with people here. I know I owe my parents a large thanks for my first NES, and for giving me a childhood of pixelated fun and a lot of great memories with my best friend.
— Mike Dodd
Mike Dodd is co-founder and host of
This Week in Geek, an International radio show and podcast and a place where gamers and “geeks like us” can chill. His gaming column appears on DailyGame every Friday.