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Bringing the Video Game Feels:
Memories of a Master System

I’ve always found the connection between our physical senses and memories to be fascinating. The smell of a screen door can bring back a long forgotten childhood memory. A certain piece of food might remind you of the night you met your spouse. An annoying pain in your foot reminds you of that game-winning goal you scored for your high school soccer team. Any memory stored in your brain could be conjured up at any time from things you can’t control. How is that not fascinating?

During my boring commute the other day, I was feeling nostalgic. I was reminiscing over my quarter-century long gaming history for no apparent reason. As I sifted through the console generations, my mind’s eye was flooded with random memories intrinsically tied to the game I was playing at the time. Hungry for more of these flashbacks, I began thinking of my favourite titles throughout the years and I relished in the memories that came along with them. Some were funny, others were sad, but all of them have been vivid. If anything, I figured this would be a fun exercise in nostalgia.

Sega Master System

What a fine piece of space-age technology this was. The Master System was my very first gaming console, making the memories a little sparse. My parents bought it used off a “frenemy” that I had back in 1987 – imagine that, a five-year-old with a frenemy already. That kid’s parents said he spent too much time on the system and sold it on him. He was such a jerk and kind of deserved it, so his loss was my gain. Like most kids in the 80s, I had a keen interest in video games and the Master System was the gateway into this addictive virtual realm.

For years, my parents rented games for me from this hole-in-the-wall shop in downtown Stoney Creek, Ontario. I never owned a single game for years, just rented. Most of the time, I was stuck playing the games built into the console: Hang On, Safari Hunt and Snail Maze. Eventually, I lent the console to my cousin years later, who subsequently misplaced the whole thing. Thankfully it’s not worth much these days, otherwise it would have came to blows. One thing I’ll never forget is the horrendous box art that accompanied each game.

Penguin Land (1987)

This game portrayed penguins in a really negative light and I actually didn’t notice until now. You play as a jerk penguin who pushes eggs down holes, which sometimes crack open, on some martian planet in hopes of reaching the rescue crew at the bottom of the cavern. Why is this in outer space? How does the penguin even know there’s a rescue crew under the surface? Why would I even question what’s happening when games back then never made sense anyway?

My only real memory is playing Penguin Land in my apartment room on a small, 10-inch TV with the afternoon sun beaming in through the window. I remember how my room was setup with a small desk, bed and a kid’s rocking chair. I was happy and content, because the weight of the world had yet to crush my spirit. I played this just before I started kindergarten and was sent out into the world to live a mediocre life.

Alex Kidd in Miracle World (1987)

Alex Kidd really set the tone for how someone should tackle most of life’s problems and that’s with a clenched fist. Whether it’s a rock, treasure chest or senior management, just tuck your fingers in, pull the hammer back and sock it right in the face. I’ve since internalized that lesson and apply it liberally as often as possible.

I know I rented this game a million times – I don’t remember why though. The first level stands out the most  and I’m surprised at how well I remember the level design after all these years – I could actually draw most of it out on a piece of paper. The game brings back memories of hanging out with my mom in our little apartment and, at some point, being forced to shut the game off to go out with my parents. Look at that, my parents didn’t leave me home alone in front of the TV. I really do have great parents.

Wonderboy III: The Dragon’s Trap (1989)

I have some weird memories with this one and it might have been the first RPG-type game I had ever played. The memory that sticks out the most is being forced to shut the game off (there’s a trend forming here) to go to my dad’s friend’s chicken farm. The place reeked of ammonia inside the chicken coop. No wonder why that memory stuck (or should I say “stunk”?). It was literally burned into my nostril hairs. The two things I remember most about the gameplay was being able to turn into a dragon and collecting hearts to increase my HP. I wasn’t big into Zelda, so this was my first experience with that concept and I liked it … I liked it a lot.

Ghostbusters (1990)

Marshmallow Alert? You’re forgetting that the marshmallow is actually a man! I was a huge Ghostbusters fan as a kid, however, this game was so confusing and hard as hell that it tried the patience of my little child brain. I still have no idea what you’re supposed to do 26 years later, so the saga continues. I vividly remember not understanding the point of the game at all and that frustration has always stuck with me. I couldn’t hop on the Internet and read a walk-through or ask a friend for help because they had no idea either.

I later rented the second Ghostbusters game despite strongly disliking the first one, but it turned out to be a completely different game, thankfully – a kid’s opinion is fickle at best, right? I remember that day like it was yesterday though. I recall the clear, plastic box it came in and the orange-y coloured paper insert listing some of the store’s rental policy. Now that I’m thinking about it, it’s bothering me that I don’t remember what that store was. I can only partially visualize the sign.

Outrun (1987)

All of these memories are making me realize that I went to the arcade a lot as a kid, causing more memories to flood in. I feel like I’m in the Matrix. Anyway, Outrun was one of those arcade titles that always stood out because you had the steering wheel. Naturally, I enjoyed playing it on the console, despite the lack of steering wheel. I never got very far, but it was a change from the other racing game that was built into the system (Hang On). Outrun will forever and always remind me of Billy Ocean’s “Get Outta My Dreams, Get Into My Car” and Chucky Cheese’s prize display (where I first played the game). Damn that place.

The memories continue as I tap into the deep recesses of my brain in search of my long, lost NES days in part two! Click here!

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