Parting Shot: H8-BIT

“Nobody pays people to play video games.” — parents of the ’80s and ’90s

How wrong was that?!

Some of those gamers ended up making crazy money. Hell, there are people who just commentate on video games that make more money than lawyers…


And people my age would have been the Murderer’s Row of gaming, had we not been discouraged from the pursuit by Reaganaut parents. We didn’t hone our craft in immersive, open-world, save-point-abundant paradises like there are now.

Back in my day (yes, I’m aware I’m giving this explanation all the gravitas of a WWII vet talking about The Great Depression, and not just the original NES) we played on shitty rectangular controllers with bad response time, poor design, and a directional pad with corners so sharp, they’d give you callouses like an old bluesman. There hasn’t been that much suffering on a cross since Jesus. And if you fought through Double Dragon II all the way to The Mansion and then gave up the ghost falling on a spike strip, you didn’t just get whisked back to the beginning of the level. You threw down your controller, blamed a sibling, and started again from the beginning.

That’s hard.

Sure, Dark Souls is a hard game by today’s standards, but it is beautiful. There was something particularly grating about an eight-bit death.  It’s tough to wrap your mind around the idea that you could be defeated by a blocky enemy with MIDI sound effects. When you die in Dark Souls, it’s like kicking the bucket while you’re having sex—no one feels bad for you… you got the high score.

Oh, and games today usually don’t shit out right in the middle of playing them. Yeah, you get lock-ups every now and again, but in a world without save points, the red screen of death signaled an hour of work completely down the drain. Making the decision to hit the reset button was akin to deciding whether or not to pull the plug on your grandmother’s life support:

“You know, I’ve heard about these things working themselves out. There was someone two towns over who—”

“Let’s just get it over with. This suffering’s gone on long enough. Now, come on… it’s time to turn off the power, take out the game, and blow into the slot, because I saw someone do that one time, and it seemed to work—even though it really only seems to be effective one out of a hundred times.”

I still have no idea why we thought that would work, as if the engineers at Nintendo decided to design the console to function better when someone blew on the cartridge. “A thin film of child spit” rarely appears on manufacturing specs. Nothing was as unreliable as those early cartridge consoles, but Nintendo and Sega probably had no data on that. No kid was going to box up his system and ship it to them for six weeks of repairs. You’d pull out any kind of game superstition you’d ever heard whispers about before you’d put your console out of commission for a month and a half.

That’s how you could tell you were witnessing the birth of a new artistic medium.

To be without it, even for a week or two, would be unthinkable. It was finally a story in which you could participate—and you didn’t have to be a sword fighter or a Formula One driver. Poor kids could race Lamborghinis down the Pacific highway. Skinny girls with glasses could beat the captain of the football team and win the Super Bowl. The shy kid in a wheelchair could be a hero and rescue the princess.

And for once, you weren’t hearing about the adventures of someone else in third-person. These were your adventures, and the better your imagination, the more you got out of them. Today, a $24 billion a year industry is predicated on creating an immersive experience. It has called to service artists and writers and engineers. We’ve pushed technology forward at incredible rates—and it’s not because we want better spreadsheet programs.

Years from now, I think it will become apparent that the development of the video game was as significant to the advancement of human culture as the development of film. They’ll be used to relate histories of forgotten civilizations, train surgeons on experimental techniques, explore hostile environments on distant worlds, and of course…

To argue over whether or not using Oddjob in GoldenEye is cheating.

Which it definitely is.