I’ve never had an addictive personality; I can’t stand cigarettes and grew bored of alcohol sometime after college. For a very long time, however, I was addicted to the pixelated joy of gaming. The original Nintendo Entertainment System, or NES for short, turns 30 years old this week. I personally haven’t touched a game controller in over 3 years now, a feat I thought impossible prior, but thought the big N’s 30th is a good time to reflect on my time as a gamer. I couldn’t tell you the exact moment video games entered my consciousness. I remember watching my dad and uncle play football on the Odyssey at my grandmother’s house sometime in the early 80’s, going through a cache of quarters at the arcade connected to Duffer’s Ice Cream Parlor during summer vacations in Wildwood, and even waiting patiently while a game loaded on my Commodore 64 as a kid. I can however tell you the first time I set foot, thumbs first, into the Mushroom Kingdom via a group of colored pixels better known as Mario.
The year was 1988 and I was at my best friend’s house. He was the kind of kid who always had the latest and greatest toys aka spoiled brat. After spending an afternoon at his house I would always come home asking for whatever great toy I played with at his house. Up until this time our after school visits had included the likes of Thundercats, GI Joe, and Battle Beasts. Although we played a myriad of arcade games at the bowling alley, neither of us had played a video game lasting more than ten minutes or so. I watched as the light on the screen flickered and a small little guy in overalls came on the screen, jumping on monsters and eating mushrooms. After a few minutes he handed me the grey plastic controller and gave me a quick crash course on how to control the man on the screen. Minutes became hours and the day became night as my addiction hooked me. I would soon beg my parents until I had my very own Nintendo.
I pored hours into games like The Legend of Zelda, Dragon Warrior, Mega Man, Contra (the first game I actually finished) and Castelvania- just to name a few of my early obsessions. I soon had amassed a treasure trove of games, t-shirts, magazines, and everything Nintendo related. I remember feeling like a hot shot because my name was even in Nintendo Power magazine as a kid for completing the adventure game, “Tombs and Treasures.” I even attended a special Nintendo Championship, after winning a contest at my local Sears. Needless to say I was hooked. Nintendo eventually gave way to Super Nintendo sometime in my early teens. My friends and I filled our brains with different combinations to complete moves in Street Fighter 2 and Mortal Kombat (not a typo). Super Nintendo soon gave way to N64, then Playstation 2, Gamecube, X-Box, Wii, and eventually X-box 360, in my house. Gameboy and DS were somewhere in there too! I soon found myself to be a thirty something with a comprehensive knowledge of Hyrule, Solid Snake, and tons of other people and places, existing only in endless lines of code. So how and when did I finally unplug the game? For a little while at my current job, a group of us would go to Gamestop and each buy a copy of one game so we could all play together online. After a few weeks we would all go back to the same store and trade the game back in, for a significantly diminished return on our meager investment. The next time someone from the group suggested a game for us all to play I waited a few weeks until either my friends ditched the game or the cost came down. Rather than buying a new game each month, I was now buying a game every third month. Due to the lack of new games, I gradually began playing less and less, in favor of other non-digital activities. After a few months my X-box time was regulated to a few rounds of the multi-player mode on Mass Effect 3 once a week and only for two hours or so at a time.
My big break from gaming came during a time of great personal transformation and change in late 2012. I was in the process of purging old negative people and influences from my life while at the same time, surrounding myself with positive people and discovering new ways to better myself. I started hitting the gym hard and, in the end, lost over 80 lbs. I took up new actives like yoga, reading more, and even learning to cook. My life was no longer a stationary one, I was focused on making real changes in my life and committed to achieving the goals I set out for myself. I now rarely picked up my X-box controller and one I did, I felt depressed. I soon realized the time I spent playing Assassins’ Creed would be better used solving real word problems. The last game I finished was Arkham City and that was only because, as regular readers to this blog know, I am a huge Batman fan.
The last game I purchased, Bioshock 3, still sits in its shrink wrap on my bookshelf. All the goals I set for myself, in late 2012, have long been completed and I’ve since moved on to other goals and pursuits. I have not touched a gaming controller in almost three years. Strangely enough the only games I’ve even considered playing aren’t the latest and greatest Grand Theft Resident Evil John Madden knock off, its new adventures from my old friends Mega Man, Link, Samus, and Ryu but I still haven’t faltered. Your game is always going to have a save button but real time marches on, case in point: when I was in the 8th grade Street Fighter 2 was the biggest game ever. That same year, 1993, my brother Joe was born. 22 years later with the exception of minor style changes, not one of the characters from the roster has aged. In the same amount of time, Joe on the other hand has grown from an infant to a young man. It’s like the film A Beautiful Mind the characters never age because they don’t exist. Don’t get me wrong, Mario will always be my pisan, but I realized the princess will always be in another castle and has been for the past 30 years but the time you have to satisfy your pursuits is limited at best. Rather than using your time on imaginary accomplishments use it to create and cement a future worth taking a hidden warp zone to.
Philip A. Maenza aka “Philtastic Phil” is an entrepreneur, consumer behavior professional, and lifestyle expert. His interests include art, film, music, stand up comedy, fitness, and comic books. Phil is also a dedicated community volunteer and always open to connecting with like-minded optimists. When in doubt remember, “The cake is a lie.”