My mother was kind of an odd one in some ways. She seemed to have a sort of sense of when something was going to blow up big, usually before I did. I think Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles was one such instance.
That’s not what was weird. What was weird is that while most parents usually seem resistant to the latest trends in pop culture, or at the very least apathetic, she would actually nudge me towards the trend in question. I never really got to find out why; maybe she wanted me to get in on the ground floor and use that to make friends? I may never know.
So naturally, when she started telling me about this new Nintendo Entertainment System that seemed to be gaining traction, I reacted precisely how you might expect…
Yeah, I wasn’t digging it. To be fair, my experiences with video games were largely Pac-Man on the Atari 2600 (I think; there’s some contention about that) and the occasional round with Pole Position at the Take Ten arcade (which is surprisingly difficult to find anything about online; I’d love to get some pictures). Maybe on occasion I’d get to try something else, though that usually didn’t last very long and left me with little impression. So naturally, while I did have some small affinity for those games, it had been a few years and my interests had moved to other things, I didn’t think much of this “Mario” guy.
It wouldn’t be until some time later, maybe some months, that things would turn around. We were visiting family for Thanksgiving, and my cousin had an NES that the family were more than happy to show off. During the course of our stay, I was introduced to Super Mario Bros., Duck Hunt, and others.
Between playing the games and reading the Super Mario Bros./Duck Hunt manual cover to cover repeatedly (well, more the former part than the latter), I was hooked. That Christmas, my parents gladly hooked me up with an NES of my very own with Super Mario Bros./Duck Hunt, The Legend of Zelda, Rad Racer, and Top Gun.
Well, I say “my own,” but it was more of a family system for a time. At least, up to the point they said “to heck with it” and got one of their own. They both played the thing lots, taking turns on games and working together to map out The Legend of Zelda and various other more complex games.
My mother would also help me with the games I was playing, too. As I worked my way through Super Mario Bros. 2, for instance, she’d often have things ready for me after school by helping build up lives with the slot machines, which she was pretty good at. The same goes for Super Mario Bros. 3; while neither of them took the same interest in playing it as they did the original game, she did watch and help cheer me on as I worked my way through the Koopalings on up to Bowser. Mega Man 2 was another, and there are probably more.
She had games that were “hers,” too.
After reading about the game in Nintendo Power magazine and trying it on the brand-new Game Boy demo units at Walmart, I made a point of renting Tetris for the NES. It wound up being the Tengen version, however, and due to some legal shenanigans, that version of the game was not long for this world. Though it was recalled, my dad managed to get a copy for her, and I still have it and keep it safe to this day.
So, why not go for the Nintendo version? Two main reasons: One, the colors were a bit too bright/headache-inducing for their liking. Secondly, for whatever reason, Nintendo’s NES version lacked the two-player simultaneous mode found in both the Game Boy and Tengen versions. That’s right: Strange as it is to imagine, Nintendo released a puzzle game with no multiplayer element, while the Tengen version allowed two completely separate, individual games to take place at once– and none of that block-dropping stuff, either.
Nonetheless, Nintendo would still procure the puzzle program portion of my parents’ paycheck…
Dr. Mario would prove to be her other passion. While both my dad and I would play with her, we pretty much regarded her as the master in both Tetris and Dr. Mario alike. She was the one who could play up to the highest level– 20 for Dr. Mario– from the very first, getting the ending and everything.
These weren’t the only outlets she partook in when it came to gaming, but that’s a story for another day– one coming soon, at that.
Near as I can tell, as technology progressed and games became more and more complicated, she gradually lost interest. Still, as I’m playing and writing about video games for a living (or some sort of facsimile) today, I remain forever grateful that she was so interested in getting me interested. Truth be told, I think that was a decision she would come to regret at times, but given the way that video games have helped shape my life, I’m glad she made that push and shared in that passion for interactive entertainment.