Gaming Memories: Saving Up for Super Mario RPG

It’s the beginning of fall, 1995. I’m twelve. My lifelong love of video games will increase exponentially in a couple of months, when I receive Chrono Trigger for my thirteenth birthday, but before then I am quietly becoming obsessed with a game called Super Mario RPG, for the Super Nintendo Entertainment System.

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It didn’t yet have it’s subtitle, Legend of the Seven Stars, and I didn’t know much about it outside of what Nintendo Power had teased in recent issues. But I loved Nintendo and Mario games, and this one seemed more mature than Super Mario World. I had no money for games, though, and I couldn’t get the game for either my birthday or Christmas. Nintendo Power originally had it listed as a winter release on their release forecast, and at some point I’d read that it had an official release date in March of 1996. On New Year’s Eve I made a resolution to save up enough money to buy the game on my own. I’d never had very much luck with saving money for anything. Prior to this, after collecting a tidy sum of wrinkled dollars and loose change, I would inevitably succumb to the impure and ancient urges of middle school boys everywhere:  Flamin’ Hot Cheetos and Sprite. You might be surprised by how much junk food you could buy for $5 in the mid-90s.

But this time was different, I told myself. This was not some dumb pair of shoes that I wanted so that I could fit in at school, or a cheap toy that I’d eventually break or get tired of. This was a video game. A treasured, revered piece of technology that was worth far more than the plastic and metal that housed it. And I wouldn’t have to beg for it, hope that my begging worked, and then wait weeks or months for a birthday or Christmas. If I could save up the money I’d need, I could buy it on day one and have it to play all spring and into summer. The thought of it made me very serious about saving up the money, and I felt that it was something I should be able to do as a newly minted teenager. I had three months from New Year’s Eve to save up $50 plus $5 for sales tax. Let’s do this, I might have thought, if I was thirteen in 2015. But it was 1995 so I probably thought something like Totally tubular, dude, let’s do this, cowabunga, or something dumb like that.

I was off to a good start, considering I had a fresh, crisp five dollar bill, a Christmas gift from a relative. Where would I keep this glorious stockpile of cash, though? I knew it would grow to be a big pile of coins and small bills, and I didn’t have a wallet (too young) or a piggy bank (too old). Well, like any self-respecting kid in 1994/95, I was obsessed with Jurassic Park. I saw the movie seven times in the theater that year, and I had as many toys as I could convince my parents to buy me. One of these was a velociraptor egg with baby raptor inside. A part of the egg could snap on and off, allowing you to vaguely simulate that scene in the movie  where a baby raptor is born in front of our very eyes. More importantly, I could toss the baby raptor in a corner and fill the egg with my sweet, sweet stash.

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Source: https://www.therpf.com/showthread.php?t=63123

And so I did. For weeks, I did favors for family members for a few bucks whenever I could (we didn’t really get allowance money for chores or anything), I literally pulled apart our couch looking for stray silver change, and when I wasn’t hungry at school I’d save the three quarters I was given for a school lunch and toss them in my velociraptor egg. It was tempting to spend it all on Ring Pops and Fun Dip at first, but after a few weeks I was proud of the small fortune I’d saved (probably about $15) and became more determined than ever to see this through and get the game.

My obsession heated up, too, because I knew I was going to get it and was more determined than ever to love it. Nintendo Power had gone quiet about it. It was there, on their release forecast every month, but there was no new news or previews to satiate my hunger for the game. I imagined how it might play. Like Chrono Trigger, maybe, but with Mario. Would we learn more about Mario characters like Princess Toadstool and Luigi? Who were some of the other odd characters in the screenshots? I waited, and I dreamed, and I saved up dimes and dollars.

Release Forecast
Source: https://archive.org/stream/Nintendo_Power_Issue001-Issue127/Nintendo%20Power%20Issue%20079%20December%201995#page/n117/mode/2up

As unbelievable as cloning dinosaurs for a theme park might be, I might not have believed I’d be capable of saving up enough for a brand new video game at the age of thirteen. But like John Hammond, somehow I pulled it off. By the beginning of March I’d saved up almost $60. Half of it was loose change, but my mom agreed to buy it from me so I wouldn’t have to embarrass myself at the local Toys “R” Us by dumping a velociraptor’s egg worth of change onto the counter for payment. I counted the money again and again, making sure I had enough, and calculating for unforeseen emergencies like a sudden increase in sales tax. But everything was right and I was ready. I brought my not-so-fresh stack of wrinkled bills to Toys “R” Us and, not seeing a hanging tag for the game on their wall-o-games, proceeded to the video game area to ask if they had that hip new game called Super Mario RPG: Legend of the Seven Stars in stock so I could purchase it with my very hard-earned money. “Uh, what game,” a young female cashier asked. I repeated myself. “Hold on a sec,” the girl said, and disappeared into the cavernous backroom (you bought games and electronics from a separate area than the registers, with a little window that opened to a stock area). She came back after a minute or two and said they didn’t have it. Can I pre-order it, like other games? “If you could, there would be a tag for it on the wall. Did you see one?” Uh, no. “Sorry. I don’t know when we’ll get it, then.” On the car ride home, I was confused but not dejected. I mean, I had saved up this long, and maybe it was just a week or two from release. I could sit on this egg for a little longer. It would all be more than worth it. But soon after this failure, I received this in the mail:

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When I first saw the cover my pulse quickened. It was as if Nintendo had heard my nerdy prayers and sent its printed messenger to soothe my nerves. Except, well, for one little word.

Preview

But, how? The game was supposed to be released this month! Previews were normally printed two or three months before a game came out! This should be a review! Wait, maybe that was it. Maybe this was a review, but the cover was a mistake. I quickly flipped to the feature and-

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No. How could this be? What astronomical alignment had cursed me with such a fate? May? That was two whole months away. That was almost as long as it had taken for me to sacrifice every shred of dignity and self-restraint I had to scrape together the money for this game. Do you know how many Flamin’ Hot Cheetos I could have eaten? How much Sprite I could have guzzled down? I could live in a castle made of the Laffy Taffy wrappers I could have gone through with all of that money. Two months. Now, at the ripe old age of too-damn-old, two months is nothing. I forget and remember people’s names in the span of two months. I might buy four or five games in that span. But at the age of thirteen, two months is an epic, stretching eternity. Two months is 1/78 of a thirteen year-old’s whole life. Two months would be 1.3% of my whole life that I’d already lived up to that point. At my age now, it would .5%. Do you see the difference? Two months might as well have been two forevers. I had a stupid egg filled with stupid, useless money that took way too long to save up.

So I bought a Dennis Rodman jersey with it, and used the rest on Flamin’ Hot Cheetos and Sprite. Yep. Not worth it.

 

Persona 5

Way back in 2001, I was walking around an Electronics Boutique and I came across a used copy of Persona 2: Eternal Punishment. I was always on the lookout for new RPG experiences, and the cover art for this particular game looked dark and somewhat sexual, which was even more rare during the PlayStation era than it is now (by far). I wanted to buy it but it was something like $40 or $45, and that was too much for a used game, I’d decided. I went into that store every time I went to that mall, always looking for the price to drop to $20 or $30, but it never did. No big deal, I thought. It wasn’t exactly a popular game that people were buzzing about, so I’d find it for cheap somewhere else, someday.

Persona 2 Eternal Punishment (SLUS-01158) (Front)

I never did, and the price has steadily increased to the point where I regularly see copies on eBay or Amazon for $200 (with manual and case). I picked up Persona 5 with very little knowledge of the actual game. I mean, I knew it was an RPG where you are a high school student who both attends class and fights demons… or something like that. But I avoided all previews or reviews of it because I wanted to go into the game with a fresh mind, untainted by expectation. I just got the platinum PSN trophy for the game yesterday, after 340 hours and almost three full playthroughs, and I wanted to write about my time with the game, but I was so overwhelmed by the experience that I wasn’t even sure what to say about it. I won’t let a lack of purpose stop me, though. I loved this game so much that I feel I have to say something about it, even if it’s less than cogent or coherent. So here I am. This is not a review, just some love in the written form. A warning, for anyone who might end up reading this: there will be some spoilers ahead, particularly in the pictures of my playthroughs that I’m posting.

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When I first booted the game up, I was immediately thrown by the very clearly 1970s jazz/disco-inspired song that played over the opening animation. What had I gotten myself into? What kind of RPG draws inspiration from that era? Is the whole soundtrack like this? But the more I listened to it, the more I liked it. It was fun and energetic and unique. I would eventually fall in love with the entire soundtrack, especially the normal battle theme, “Last Surprise,” and the theme for a dungeon (palace) based on a casino, “The Whims of Fate”. There is a lot of music in Persona 5, and so much of it seems so fresh and unlike anything I have ever heard in any other video game. Even the music used for minor things like video games or crane machines was good.

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One thing that kept coming up in podcasts or articles before launch was general praise for the game’s art style, and I was pretty smitten with just the few artifacts I’d seen online. But it’s hard to fully appreciate the level of detail and energy that pops from every character, level, and menu screen. It’s hard, too, to describe in absolute terms why I love this game so much, but a lot of it comes down to how much care seemingly went into the smallest of details. The meticulous detail put into the backgrounds of a shop, or how perfectly a character’s face is animated in response to a joke, or the ever-changing background chatter from classmates, neighbors, and city folk. I know video games are big productions with many people involved and the work environment can be grueling and at times boring, but it’s hard to think that a game as beautiful and elegant as this came from a team who didn’t passionately believe in what they were making and love every minute of making it.

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If I’d read that status effects and enemy weaknesses were an integral part of Persona 5’s battle system before playing it, I would have been worried. Systems like that in other RPGs have annoyed me in the past, because it was a constant hassle to remember which enemies were weak to what, and then figure out what new enemies were weak to, then start all over. But Persona 5 fixes all of that by showing you enemy weaknesses once you’ve learned them, or revealing them entirely if you’ve captured that particular enemy (shadow/persona). I took to the battle system immediately and felt rewarded by how fast-paced and simple it seemed, even though it’s quite complex in reality. On a recent episode of USgamer’s RPG podcast, Axe of the Blood God, host Kat Bailey and co-host Nadia Oxford discuss their picks for best battle systems in RPGs. Kat argues for Chrono Trigger’s battle system, and I was elated to hear that she loved it so much, it being my favorite game of all time. I agreed, too, at the time of listening. But as I write this and think more carefully about Persona 5’s battle system, the choice becomes a little less clear. I do love Chrono Trigger’s tech system, and it does encourage experimentation with party configuration and all that, but once you get pretty high level and have the strongest weapons, techs aren’t as efficient as standard attacks. So playing a new game plus in Chrono Trigger means mashing regular attacks for most of the game, if you want to save time and magic points. You can get away with that in some battles in Persona 5, if you have a strong weapon and persona, but many battles demand your attention and force you to think about which party member or persona is best suited to knocking an enemy of their feet so you can go for an all-out attack. That might sound irritating, and maybe it is to some, but I found it exciting and (at times) challenging. I don’t yet know if Persona 5 has the best battle system of all the RPGs I’ve ever played, but it’s definitely among them.

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I was also excited to hear that the Persona games have dating sim components, and I thought it was pretty seamlessly integrated into the plot in Persona 5. I mean, it would have been cool to have it be more acknowledged by characters around you, where maybe you are publicly a couple with your selected partner, but that didn’t irk me too much. Also, I agree with the notion that the player could have chosen a gender for their main character. I do understand that the developers might have found it culturally problematic in some scenes (like maybe the police interrogation scene early in the game), but I’m sure it would have been more immersive and satisfying for women to be able to play as women (or for male characters to pursue male characters, for that matter). There aren’t a lot of references to your gender in the game, so it seems like it would have been an easy enough thing to add. But overall I very much liked the dating component of the game. I feel like the game sort of nudges you toward hooking up with Ann, but that wasn’t exactly unwelcome on my part. She is beautiful, of course, but I also liked how laid back and fun she was. They implied at some points that she was an airhead, but I never actually got that vibe. She seemed smart and capable and willing to do what it took to help her friends. For my second playthrough I chose Futaba, because I identified with her otaku lifestyle and found her funny and charming and generally just pretty adorable. For my third playthrough I chose Kawakami. I have to admit that I was tempted to delay my pursuit of Ann in my first playthrough to see where things went with Kawakami, because the whole teacher/maid thing really did it for me, surprisingly. Well, maybe that’s not surprising, I don’t know. But I wouldn’t say I normally have a ‘thing’ for that kind of, well, thing. I liked her as a romantic partner a lot, though.

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If someone asked me what Persona 5 was “about,” I might have a hard time explaining it. Nothing that I’d heard or read prior to playing the game adequately prepared me for it. A game about a high school kid who enters an alternate dimension with his friends to fight against things called shadows… maybe? You could start there, but this game is about so much more, and even if you listed all of them (justice, society’s fickle nature, friendship, love, greed, etc.) it still wouldn’t quite capture it. This is the kind of art that is more than the sum of its parts. I can go on about how much I love the art style, or soundtrack, or characters, or funny moments, or whatever else, but it wouldn’t do this game and my experience with it justice. I played this game three times in a row, for almost 350 hours, and somehow that doesn’t seem like enough. Maybe that says something?

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Video Game Crushes: Princess Zelda

I’ve probably played around half of the ‘core’ Legend of Zelda games, but I never really had much of a thing for Princess Zelda. I mean, she was an elusive and rarely-seen damsel in distress in The Legend of Zelda, a slumbering pile of pixels that I never managed to wake up in Zelda II: The Adventure of Link, and a child in Wind Waker, so can you blame me? I do remember having a bit of a crush on her when I was young and watching The Legend of Zelda animated series, though. While she was occasionally in need of a rescue, she was often the one rescuing Link. She was brave, spunky, and was rarely ever afraid to jump into the fight against Ganon and his minions.

Zelda Animated

It wasn’t exactly love at first sight with the Princess Zelda I encountered in Breath of the Wild [some spoilers ahead]. With little recollection of the princess, Link must refresh his memory of her by searching out the locations of photos that she took before the world went to hell and Link was put into a hundred-year slumber. The order in which Link collects these memories affects how the player sees the princess, and technically the memories are optional so the player could go through the entire game learning very little about Zelda as a character.

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In the early memories that I gathered, Zelda seemed like a petulant brat. She impatiently complained about her lack of power, she lashed out at Link for following his orders to protect her, and she generally seemed distant and uninspiring when her kingdom needed her the most. I wasn’t exactly looking for a love interest in her, though, and I was just glad that she was a more vocal and prominent character than in the previous Zelda games I’d played.

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But as the game went on and I spent more and more time in Hyrule, puzzling over remote temples, toppling hearty stone taluses, and scraping together rupees for armor upgrades, I collected more and more memories of Zelda and my vision of the princess began to change without me even realizing it. Yeah, she was angry and distant and losing the will to lead – because her father had no faith in her intelligence and ability to research and problem-solve with her wit and wisdom. She was, it seems, an academic at heart, poring over texts and tomes in an attempt to find answers where others could not. She wasn’t content with waiting around for her fabled powers to become active; she wanted to find other ways to contribute to the defense of the kingdom. She wanted to learn about the guardians, and the sword of legend, and the divine beasts, and Ganon; she wanted to coordinate with the champions and talk strategy; she wanted to explore Hyrule and discover useful ways to utilize its resources. She lived under a father who dismissed all of this as wasteful, yet she defied him and carried on in secret. When her powers did finally activate, she destroyed a legion of guardians and saved Link’s life, and she was not afforded the luxury of a century long nap: she had to fight to hold Ganon in check until Link woke up and spent more than 165 hours (in, uh, my game, anyway) running around buying clothes, playing snow bowling, and corralling chickens.

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It all sort of hit me as I was about to strike the final blow to Calamity Ganon. I found myself almost dreading the end. When I finally shot that last arrow and Ganon was dying, I just knew I would discover that Zelda had died long ago and it was her spirit that was guiding me, like the spirits of the four champions guided me through their respective divine beasts. They had gifted their powers to me to aid in the fight against Ganon, so it only made sense that Zelda was doing the same. There was no way she had survived a hundred years as I had. I, as Link, was in a sleeping chamber specifically made for keeping someone alive for extended periods of time. The tragedy of Zelda’s story was that she had sacrificed everything and fought continually for decades just to perform her primary function: sealing the darkness. These thoughts swirled through my head with little cohesion, and I realized I was heartbroken about the whole thing. I had, it occurred to me, fallen into virtual love with Princess Zelda. And I was about to discover she was gone and I was alone in a Hyrule where few truly even knew me.

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Which is why my eyes quite literally welled with tears when the battle was over and Zelda materialized before me, very much alive. I saw her differently now. She was tough, smart, brave as hell, caring, mature, and powerful, and she looked beautiful standing before me, having saved not only me, but the kingdom and everyone in it. A Zelda game had never made me feel this way, and Princess Zelda had never inspired these kinds of emotions in me before. I was more than happy to immediately return to the game and complete the last few things I needed to do to get the ‘good’ ending, which made me even happier about my new life with Zelda. I know Zelda has had her admirers, many of them, and I can’t claim her as one of my ‘old school’ video game crushes, but she is definitely on my list now. She has all of my hearts.

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Book Notes: Rise of the Videogame Zinesters (Anna Anthropy)

This series, Book Notes, is just my thoughts on some of the books I’ve been reading about video games. I don’t have a thesis for my dissertation yet so I’m casting a wide net, and these are loose and unfocused because I’m not sure what I might end up using them for. I may or may not end up using them, but I hope they’ll be useful to me at some point, and if they’re useful to other people too, cool.

“I have to strain to find any game that resembles my own experience. This is in spite of the fact that videogames in America are an industry and institution” (2). This might bepp; a catalyst for the book’s momentum, propelling Anthropy toward her thesis, which is an argument that game development tools are easier to access than ever and a broad community of people should be using them to make games that represent their own experiences. She gives lots of examples of people who do just that, and I think it’s something to keep in mind when using games in a classroom of students who have various backgrounds and different levels of expertise with games. Some of the tools she mentions seem relatively easy to use, but probably aren’t easy or intuitive enough to use as a tool in a first year English class. Twine might be a fair solution, though, and is worth checking out in more detail.

“The ability to work in any art form with the digital game’s unique capabilities for expression shouldn’t be restricted to a privileged (and profit-oriented) few. If everyone is given the means to work in an art form, then we’ll invariably see a much more diverse, experimental, and ultimately rich body of work” (21). When we talk to students about authorship and intent and the rhetoric of video games, it can be tricky. Most big, studio-driven games don’t have a single person who we look to as the primary creative force. It took decades for us to do the same with film, as producers were more readily given credit for a film’s ‘message’ or creative success until the 50s and 60s. With the smaller games that Anthropy and others make, there is typically one person who is responsible for the game, making authorship clear. This makes them nice, easy texts to use in the classroom, but I think it’s important to discuss how those big studio games still have authors and messages and should be critiqued as such.

“Given the expenses of distributing a game – lot check, compatibility testing, printing, marketing – how does anyone afford to make games?” (33-4). She tracks the tie between development cost and who has made games historically – middle-upper class white guys – and how computers and the Internet (35) have made distribution of small, independent games much easier, changing the landscape of what games look like and how we view game developers. This is one of the most interesting and important points in the book, I think.

“A game is an experience created by rules” (43). She goes into considerable detail in arguing for this definition of a game, and I think it works. Without rules, a ‘game’ is just activity, and video games automatically introduce rules by having a world that is run by rules – of physics, and systems, etc. It might be interesting to ask students to define what a game is, especially if we discuss games like Gone Home or Her Story, since they don’t have the trappings or rules that are typically found in popular games. But I’m not sure when I’d fit this in during a composition class.

“Folk games, like folk songs and folk texts such as the Bible, have no single credited author, but rather many untraceable authors over many years. They’re artifacts shaped by entire cultures, and generally they can tell us a lot about those cultures” (49). This is a huge part of how I already teach games to my students. Why should we study videogames? Because they are a reflection of who we are as a culture, regardless of the genre or platform or audience. Most games are commercial products first, yes, but like film and popular music before them, they still say something about the producing culture’s values, beliefs, and attitudes towards itself.

“Folk games tell us about the culture that created them; authored games tell us about the author that created them” (51). Yes, but I would argue that they also tell us something about the culture. Authors and their creative visions are shaped by the culture that they are immersed in, and if enough authored games are studied, patterns begin to emerge to reveal the same kinds of patterns that folk games do. I don’t think Anthropy would argue against this, I just thought it was important to note.

Anthropy talks about what she calls “grown-up games” and gives the example of a paper and pen RPG called Gang Rape, developed by Tobias Wrigstad in 2007 (58). Wrigstad’s intent was to highlight the mishandling of rape cases in Sweden. This is an important discussion to have, maybe with students. Video games have mostly shrugged the stigma of being for children, but they are still seen as a form of entertainment for kids, teenagers, or dumb, immature adults (see almost any movie or TV show where video games are played by characters). If we’re accepting that video games are a modern art form, which we are, then they should be allowed to deal with mature subject matter without discussions of appropriateness or censorship. I think some would like to say we already allow for that, because we protect games with the first amendment, but we still censor games as a culture in other ways, which is why sex, nudity, and sexuality is rarely shown in western games but violence is prevalent, and vice versa in eastern games. Our cultures dictate what’s acceptable in art, even if not explicitly stated or regulated.

“A better comparison [for games] than film is theater, which is where a lot of our game vocabulary (“the player,” “stages,” “set pieces,” “scripting”) comes from” (60). She goes on to explain that players interpret intent and narrative differently, performing the same role – say, of Master Chief – differently based on how they interpret it. I think this is an interesting idea, but I’m not sure I agree. The vocabulary she points to seems to have come from other arenas, like game terminology (a chess ‘player’) or film (stage and film share much in the way of terminology, including ‘set pieces’ and ‘scripting,’ but given the latter’s vast popularity, it seems more likely that we took terms from it and not from the former). The idea of players interacting and creating scenes intuitively does smack more of theater, but I think games that are collaborative and less narratively structured, like MMOs or online shooters, are really the only good examples of this. Many games are cinematic and have fairly rigid narratives that have something very specific to say, leading the player through it. They use camera angles, music, and scripted action/dialogue that can’t be improvised, making them very much more like film than plays.

“I thought (and think) that ‘higher education’ is bullshit” (96). Ouch. There are certainly some aspect of higher education that are, in fact, bullshit, but I think it’s dismissive and short-sighted to label it all as such. Sure, the closer we get to a profit-based jumble of bureaucratic crap the further we get from the original intent of our institutions, but I’m sure there are millions of people who have had intellectual awakenings thanks to engaging in scholarly study and debate. But I very much digress.

“That’s part of the reason why contemporary big-budget games have so much clutter and so few strong ideas. The games are all over the place because the creators were all over the place. It’s hard to have a strong singular vision when the process of creation is spread so thin” (102-3). This is a fair point, but I would add the commercial nature of many games, too. Some of these big-budget games are not created with any artistic intent, they are crafted as products that should perform well and entertain consumers enough that they spread the gospel. Yes, it can be argued that every game is a piece of art, but sometimes the art is just a byproduct. Games like World of Warcraft or League of Legends or Overwatch are primarily focused on user experience, value, and social engagement, so it’s this focus on the product as a commercial object that keeps them from having a unified artistic vision, not a large, non-unified group of artists. There are, in my opinion, big-budget games that can have narrow artistic visions despite not have a clear artistic leader at the helm, even if it is rare.

“What videogames need right now is to grow up. The videogame industry has spent millions upon millions of dollars to develop more visually impressive ways for a space marine to kill a monster. What they’ve invested almost nothing in is finding better ways to tell a story, and in exploring different stories to tell. That’s for us to do … Every game that you and I make right now – every five minute story, every weird experiment, every dinky little game about the experience of putting down your dog – makes the boundaries of our art form (and it is ours) larger. Every new game is a voice in the darkness” (160). And here it is: the thesis, a call to action. This book was published in 2012, which is forever ago in video game years, and it’s interesting to consider its message in the wake of the indie game explosion that’s happened since the book came out. I suspect Anthropy would look at many of the commercially successful indie games – Minecraft, Stardew Valley, Firewatch, etc. – as different than the short, experimental games that she often highlights, but I do think that the number of these types of games shows that things are changing. Slowly, yes. And painfully, given that every time a game like Everybody’s Gone to the Rapture or What Remains of Edith Finch is released we have to suffer through the vocal minority that claims they’re ‘not really video games.’ Either way, I think this text’s focus on authorship and voice in the art of game making interesting to consider when teaching games as texts.

Gaming Memories: One, Two, Freddy’s Coming for Me

Drive-in movie theaters were not completely extinct by 1984, but they were scarce. Like any cliché 80s family unit, mine would occasionally pile in our station wagon and drive an hour from our home in Chicago to watch newly released movies on the big screen from our backseat. The original A Nightmare on Elm Street was released on my second birthday, and according to my mom it was the second movie in a double feature that we went to see in November of that year. The first, of course, was a family film, so after it had ended, most of the cars, ours included, began lining up at the exit while the second movie started. The way my mom tells it, the line of cars waiting to exit creeped forward until the scene where Freddy Krueger drags Nancy’s friend Tina up to the ceiling of her bedroom, then cars began to peel away and drive back to spaces to watch the rest of the movie. Again, ours included.

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A Nightmare on Elm Street (1984)

I was only two and remember very little from that night, but I did end up falling in love with the series, and my family rented each new entry as it came out on VHS. I had an odd relationship with Freddy Kruger, though. Half of me loved watching him on screen. He was frightening in a way that other horror villains were not, and of course as a kid I appreciated his quickness with a joke. But I was also genuinely terrified of him. I’d watched other horror movies as a kid, but killers like Jason Voorhees or Michael Myers had specific domains that they stuck to, or particular people they went after. Why would they come all the way to Chicago to kill a little kid? But Freddy could infiltrate dreams, and he was originally a child killer, meaning I would have been a prime target. So of course I had many, many nightmares about him, some of which I can still remember clearly today.

I was seven when A Nightmare on Elm Street was released for the NES in October of 1990, but I might have been eight by the time I rented it from Blockbuster. The game was developed by, of all companies, Rare. Yes, Donkey Kong Country, GoldenEye 007, Banjo-Kazooie – that Rare. It’s not a direct adaptation of any of the movies, but I didn’t know that when I rented it. I was just excited to play a game that might give me the experience of running from or fighting or maybe even playing as Freddy Krueger. Excited and, well, nervous.

NOESad
Ad – A Nightmare on Elm Street (NES)

The first time I sat down to play, it was a pretty standard action-platforming experience. I died several times trying to get the hang of the controls, started learning how the different enemies tried to kill me, that kind of thing. Your character is awake when you start the game, and it’s not until you fall asleep, when your sleep meter runs out, that you have the chance to run into Freddy. So it was a while before I fell asleep in the game, but when I heard the 8-bit version of “One, Two, Freddy’s Coming for You,” I can’t deny that I was scared. I frantically rushed through the level, trying to find one of the boomboxes that would wake me up. It was too late. A screen flashed “FREDDY’S COMING!” In a moment of panic, I jammed the NES’s power button.

Freddys Coming
Stay Away, Pizza Face

That night, as I lay in bed, I wondered how possible it was for Freddy to sense me through the game and use it to haunt my dreams. It seemed like just the thing he might do. Would I dream about him that night? Is this how I was going to die? But that was dumb. Freddy wasn’t real – probably. And if he was, why would he come after me? It was just a video game. A video game that many other people had probably played and I hadn’t heard of anyone being killed by it. They wouldn’t rent it out at Blockbuster if that had happened, right? Right? At some point, I fell asleep.

The next afternoon, the house was quiet and mostly empty. I thought about the previous night and felt a little silly for being afraid of a game. The light of day filled me with a certain kind of hesitant courage. I should try the game again. I only had it for one more day and I knew I’d regret it if we returned it and I hadn’t even seen Freddy Krueger in it. The NES was hooked up to a small TV upstairs, in a tiny room with a sloped ceiling and a single window that looked out over our back roof. I walked upstairs and looked at the NES. A series of brief and irrational thoughts came to mind: I saw Freddy laughing and sitting on our roof, waiting for me to start the game. I saw the “FREDDY’S COMING!” screen flashing. I saw Freddy bursting through the window like he jumped through Nancy’s door mirror in the first movie and chasing me down the stairs. But that was so stupid! I was stupid! It was a game! I was good at games. I could beat him in this game. I turned the NES on and the creepy opening music started. The title screen faded in and Freddy grinned menacingly at me.

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I stared at him.

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He stared at me.

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I stared at him.

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I turned the power off and ran downstairs.

E3 2017 Wishlist

I’ve been thinking about E3 for a few months now, particularly with Nintendo’s anemic release schedule for an otherwise successful Switch launch. E3 is not quite the spectacle it once was, but it certainly seems to have gotten some of its mojo back in recent years. So much so, in fact, that I continually find myself excited to watch the keynotes (as awkward as some of the speakers are) to see what surprises are in store. Since E3 is just a few weeks away and I have the space to ramble about the games I hope to see revealed there, I figured I’d post them here. Some of these are pie-in-the-sky wishes, I know, and I’m skipping games that have already been announced or are heavily rumored to appear (like the new Assassin’s Creed game or Super Mario Odyssey). But speculation can be fun, even if hopes are dashed or wishes go unfulfilled.

Nintendo/Switch

New and Improved (and Retroactive) Virtual Console

Okay, so I just finished saying I won’t be including obvious things on here, but it seems like there is a genuine air of mystery surrounding Nintendo’s plan for their Virtual Console service. It makes sense that Nintendo would save it for the fall, though, to add a huge bonus for holiday shoppers who might be on the fence about Nintendo’s new console. What’s less certain, it seems, is what the service will look like. Will they start from scratch? Will they include GameCube games now? Will it include handheld games, given the Switch’s ability to act as a portable system? The Virtual Console was incredible on the Wii, but it definitely dropped off early in the Wii U’s life. I suspect this might have been due to slow sales and Nintendo’s determination to introduce a radical new console successor so (relatively) soon after the Wii U’s launch. So my guess is that Nintendo saved their resources by shifting their Virtual Console development from the Wii U to the Switch much earlier than we might have thought. So, in the end, here’s my hope: they announce the entire Virtual Console back catalog will be available this summer, and new titles and platforms (including GameCube and portable systems) will start rolling out regularly in October.

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Mother 3/Brand New EarthBound Game

Part of what informed my thought process for my Virtual Console prediction/hope is how Nintendo handled their release of EarthBound Beginnings (Mother) for the Wii U Virtual Console. Nintendo’s announcement that they would release the game for the first time outside of Japan came out of nowhere and reignited the rumors that Mother 3 would eventually be released here, too. Reggie Fils-Aimé was even sort of evasive when asked about the prospect of a port, saying something about not having anything to announce and waiting to see what happened with EarthBound Beginnings. Well, what happened with EarthBound Beginnings was that it was very successful for them, and it was a mainstay on the front page of their Wii U Virtual Console store for months. So all signs seemed to point to an eventual release of Mother 3, and 2016 made the most sense, being the tenth anniversary of the game’s Japanese release. A loud, widespread rumor that an announcement was imminent made the rounds that year, but nothing came of it. So why now? Well, by 2016 Nintendo was almost certainly winding down Wii U development behind the scenes, and as I said about the Virtual Console, I bet they abandoned most plans to introduce new games or console options and moved team members to the Switch team. It makes sense when you look at the Wii U’s weak Virtual Console offerings in its last year (or longer, really), and it would explain them holding off on a release of Mother 3. With the Switch and NES Classic, Nintendo is riding high on a wave of nostalgia and adoration from both casual players and hardcore Nintendo fans, so they know they need to capitalize on that this fall. Announcing Mother 3 (or, if I’m really dreaming, a whole new EarthBound game) at E3 would be something for the faithful Nintendo fans and would definitely make a splash with the gaming press. I have been disappointed many times before with regards to this series, but I’m holding out a little more hope than normal this year.

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New Eternal Darkness Game

Nintendo recently renewed the trademark for Eternal Darkness: Sanity’s Requiem, though that doesn’t necessarily mean a sequel is on the way. It could, sure, but it could also just be a matter of housekeeping for Nintendo, or it might mean a port of it is coming for the Switch’s upcoming Virtual Console. I’m hoping that it really does mean that a new game or a remaster is coming, though, for a couple of reasons: first, the Switch has lots of new technology that a development team could play with. The most interesting and innovative thing that Sanity’s Requiem introduced was the “sanity meter” and the weird effects that the game would employ when your sanity meter ran low, specifically the ways in which they tried to mess with the player and make them think that weird things were happening independent of the game – the console rebooting, sudden deaths, fake television volume changes, etc. The Switch’s Joy-cons have infrared sensors on them, meaning they could actually change your television’s settings (if you have it synced). Those same sensors can apparently read movement and shapes, too, and the HD rumble can produce sensations that the GameCube controller never could. Bugs crawling in your palm? Maybe. The game could also force you to switch between the handheld mode and television mode, or read your game history (like Psycho Mantis does in Metal Gear Solid). So the possibilities for fun, creative, disturbing uses for the Switch’s hardware make a sequel an exciting and not totally unlikely scenario. My second reason for hoping for a sequel is in Nintendo’s new approach to their core audience. After the relative failure of the Wii U, they seem more keen to listen to their core audience than they have been in a long time, and they seem almost giddy with unannounced secrets. Sequels to games like EarthBound and Eternal Darkness would be shocking to many, so the buzz among the hardcore audience would increase noticeably, I think. Also, the Switch is going to need some original content for mature audiences, since it seems unlikely that many of the popular shooters will make their way to the system for a while, if ever.

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Eternal Darkness: Sanity’s Requiem

New Smash Bros.

This one might also seem like a given, but what I’m actually hoping for is a new Smash Bros. game, not a ‘deluxe’ version of the Wii U Super Smash Bros. The odds are not in my favor, though, since Nintendo could probably have a deluxe edition ready by year’s end, and with much less cost, but if they announced a brand new game that would be out by next spring or fall, I’d be excited. I know some people are hoping for a deluxe version with all of the current DLC and maybe a couple of surprise new characters or levels, but I’m worried that a precedent will have been set by Mario Kart 8 Deluxe, with deluxe versions of other Wii U games delaying new entries in some great series. So, yeah, sure, I’d buy Super Smash Bros. Deluxe, but I’m really hoping for a new game announcement.

Bayonetta SSB

Animal Crossing Switch

What worries me about the prospect of a new Animal Crossing is that there is an upcoming mobile Animal Crossing game. I’m cautiously enthused about that game. I don’t think it will be a full Animal Crossing experience, though, so what does that mean for the Switch? Will it give Nintendo an excuse to neglect the series for a while? It’s been five years since the series’ last proper installment, New Leaf for the 3DS, so it does seem like a good time to announce an Animal Crossing for the Switch. If we’re lucky enough to get that at E3, I’m hoping to see an easier way to visit people’s towns, vastly improved detail in the graphics (the simple design is fine, but Nintendo’s always seemed to use that as an excuse to be lazy with the graphics), and maybe more non-village places to visit (vacation homes, perhaps). Also, I know Nintendo abandoned the ability to collect and play classic NES games after the original Animal Crossing because they would go on to sell those same games digitally, but I think it would be kind of neat if you could buy/earn/find various consoles in a new Animal Crossing game and then access Virtual Console games directly from your Animal Crossing world (games you’ve already purchased, of course). If they threw in a free NES game (one per account) for your first birthday in the game, that would be even cooler. But now I’m really dreaming.

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Animal Crossing track in Mario Kart 8

Sony/PlayStation 4

Dragon Quest XI

Nintendo’s 3DS has gotten plenty of Dragon Quest love in recent years, but the last numbered entry in the series to be released on home consoles in America was Dragon Quest VIII. That was in 2004. From what I’ve seen, the world of Dragon Quest XI has the same colorful beauty that I loved about VIII, so I very much want it to make its way across the Pacific, and an announcement at E3 would be amazing, if not the most shocking thing to be announced. With the release of several successful remakes and spinoffs, like Dragon Quest Builders and the Dragon Quest Heroes games, it seems like Square Enix have every intent to fully invest in making the core series as successful in the US as it is in Japan. But the fact that their MMO, Dragon Quest X, never got a western release makes things a little more complicated. If that one wasn’t worth translating, manufacturing, and distributing, will XI be worth the same financial risk? We’ll see, I suppose, and hopefully at E3.

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Dragon Quest XI

Until Dawn 2

Until Dawn was such a nice surprise when it came out. The premise and mechanics are so simple and straightforward that it would have been easy for me to overlook, but luckily I had a friend that highly recommended it to me. The game is gorgeous, the subtle (and not so subtle) nods to a myriad of horror films were fun to catch, and the game was short and exciting enough to easily invite multiple playthroughs. Some of the actors have said that they’d be willing to do a sequel, and the game’s executive producer has expressed interest in continuing the series beyond the game’s spinoff, Until Dawn: Rush of Blood. But other than that nothing has been announced or even heavily rumored. So I’m hoping for some kind of announcement at E3, even if the game itself is a couple of years away. Bonus round: What if the sequel is fully VR? Yes, please.

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Until Dawn

Multi-platform

Bully 2

Every time there is a rumor of an upcoming Rockstar announcement, or they say that they’re working on more than one project, I hope that it’s Bully 2. It’s strange, really, because it took me a while to warm up to the first game, and even still it’s not one of my favorite games. It is fun and quirky, though, and I did end up growing quite fond of the characters and the small world that they inhabited. Members of Rockstar have said that a sequel is likely inevitable, but with Grand Theft Auto V, released four years ago, we’ve seen a dedication to producing extra content for existing IPs rather than development of a number of new games or sequels. Red Dead Redemption 2 is scheduled for spring of 2018, but what beyond that? Four years of DLC and then another game? I doubt it, but I want at least a couple of non-GTA games in the next few years, and I hope that one of them is Bully 2.

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Bully: Scholarship Edition

New Tomb Raider

With two and a half years separating the release of Tomb Raider and Rise of the Tomb Raider, the announcement of a spring 2018 release of the next installment in the series at E3 would be of little surprise to anyone, especially with the release of the rebooted movie slated for March of next year. I haven’t heard much from Crystal Dynamics or Square Enix, though, which makes me think an announcement at E3 is likely. Will it be another timed exclusive, though? Where will the game be set? Will they try something shockingly new with this one, or will it be another refinement of an already solid formula? I’m hoping for a big, flashy, informational announcement at E3.

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Rise of the Tomb Raider

Soulcalibur VI

I could swear I recently read an interview with someone at Namco Bandai where they said they have no plans to continue the Soulcalibur series, but I can’t seem to find it anywhere. I can’t find very much about the future of the series either, though, so maybe that’s saying something similar. As it stands, it seems like there are no immediate plans for a Soulcalibur VI, but I would love to see something at E3. I do feel like the last couple of games have been less accessible than Soulcalibur II, but the games are always visually stunning and fun to (clumsily) play with friends. I’d love for the next entry to be a bit more casual/arcade-y, because I don’t have the time to commit to mastering fighting games like I used to, but I’ll take anything at this point.

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Soulcalibur V

I have other hopes and dreams, like a surprise fall release date for the Final Fantasy VII remake, or a Chrono Trigger sequel, or a new Parasite Eve game, but those seem pretty unlikely, so I’ll just cross my fingers and hope I get half of my list above.

Dear Nintendo: Where is Dr. Peach?

I find myself thinking a lot about games I’d like to see made, especially when a new console or technology is released. I don’t mean “I want Nintendo to make another Mario Kart,” because that’s inevitable. I mean the sort of far-fetched, pipe dream type of games that seem unlikely candidates for development – actually, a good example would be a mobile or 3DS/Switch version of the old LucasArts game Pipe Dream, funnily enough. My time with the Nintendo Switch has spurred a flurry of these ideas. Some, like a new Eternal Darkness game, are not unique, especially given the fact that Nintendo recently renewed their trademark on that title. One of these ideas is not likely as popular, though: I want to see a new Dr. Mario game. Actually, I want to see a Dr. Peach game, to be more specific.

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Dr. Mario came out for the NES and GameBoy in 1990, and I remember renting it several times from Blockbuster video because it was colorful, fun, and challenging. It was the only puzzle game that held a candle to Tetris for me, and it had an equally excellent and memorable soundtrack to boot. The game has been ported to several Nintendo consoles since, and has even received a couple of updates/sequels: Dr. Mario 64 (N64) and Dr. Mario Online Rx (Wii). Both were slightly upgraded glossy remakes, though, with a few new game modes and not much in the way of evolutionary gameplay. With Nintendo riding a new wave of nostalgia with the NES Classic Edition, and its surge in brand popularity with a strong release for the Switch, now seems like a perfect time for a new Dr. Mario game. Snipperclips has done well for Nintendo, showing that there is an audience for puzzle games on the Switch, and the genre is a popular choice for mobile gamers, who Nintendo seems to be catering to. Nintendo also seems to (finally) be fully on board with small, downloadable, indie (or indie-like) games, so all of this makes for an optimal opportunity to release a flashy new reimagining of an old classic. And the marketing would take care of itself. I mean, look at the Joy-cons, then look at the pills in Dr. Mario. You’re welcome, Nintendo marketing department.

But hold on a second, Nintendo. I can see you over there in Japan, reading this and thinking “how did I come across this blog, nobody visits this site,” but then also thinking “what a great idea, let’s start production tomorrow!” Before you do that, I have one major request: make Princess Peach the doctor. Why was Mario the one with the advanced degree in the first place? Who was more likely to have the money and privilege to attend medical school: a plumber who never actually practices his current profession in the real world, or the princess of a royal family who has a title and vast wealth? I understand there were probably some 1980s-era gender norms coming into play, which is why Peach was in the game… but only as Mario’s assistant, nurse Toadstool.

Dr Mario Booklet
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The picture above is a page from the original game’s instructional manual, and as with many NES-era games, the premise of the game was presented in a short blurb in the manual. So, according to this premise, Mario ends up as a virologist in the Mushroom Kingdom’s research lab, which is already a little odd, but somehow Princess Toadstool (as she was known at that time) ends up as his assistant? The ruling monarch of the Mushroom Kingdom is letting a plumber run his research lab, and he makes his daughter, who is royalty, an assistant nurse?

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Wait, wait, Nintendo, don’t get all defensive. I know that Dr. Mario was released a long time ago and I’m sure you’re cautious about revising the elaborate and nuanced background you so carefully introduced on that single page of an instruction booklet.  So don’t do that. Just give Princess Peach her own story. Maybe she got tired of being an educated, cultured nurse for an unqualified doctor, so she went to Mushroom Medical School and got her own PhD in microbiology. Or maybe, on all of those long nights when she was captured by Bowser (in the Super Mario Bros. games, Super Mario RPG, Paper Mario, etc.), she did a lot of independent studying. If you really want to get crazy, pull a Super Mario Bros. 2 ending and show us a scene where we find out that the previous Dr. Mario games were Mario’s drug-fueled hallucinations, with him strapped to a hospital bed and Peach having attended to him as the kingdom’s primary physician.

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However you decide to develop the plot, a Dr. Peach game would be an excellent move. The Princess has long deserved a more prominent role in your games, and women’s rights are once again a hot political topic. Disney, who you have modeled yourself after in many ways, has made great strides to introduce stronger and more independent female characters in their work, so why not you? Some might argue that Peach is not smart or capable enough to be a doctor, given that she is always ‘getting herself kidnapped by Bowser’ (scare quotes to remove myself from that kind of victim blaming), but isn’t it about time she becomes strong, independent, and accomplished? It’s never too late for her to grow and mature as a character – and it’s not too late for you, either, Nintendo.