Warp Drive

Thursday, July 23, 2015

Nintendo Rhapsody (World 1: Far From Home)

When I was eight years of age, I lived away from home for a few months in East Los Angeles at a facility known simply as The Diagnostic School. It was a wretched experience. I slept in a dormitory-style bedroom with other children like myself. All the while being monitored from just outside by a member of their staff. My medication was also closely monitored. Various drugs and dosages therein were administered. At one point, a patch was applied to my back. If a child was especially naughty, they would lock them in a padded room devoid of light, until they were willing to cooperate. Needless to say, I was quite the school trouble maker to have found myself in a place like that. By day, I attended classes per usual and ate what everyone else ate from the cafeteria. I grew to loathe cafeteria food.

It was a wretched experience. All but for two defining memories. One was the day in which my dad, on leave from a jury summons, walked into the facility by surprise and took me out to lunch. It was one of those rare whisked away on a magic carpet ride moments. One which I will never forget. The other defining memory could be found in the lounge of The Diagnostic School. A little grey box that sat underneath a television. I knew what it was called, though I could not spell it at the time. It was the Nintendo Entertainment System. Yes, it was the NES that helped me through that whole experience. Within the confines of that room, I could be anything I wanted to be. A war hero on a mission to rescue P.O.W.'s from enemy encampments, an Elvish child with a desire to wear green tunics and raid large temples, or even a lovable but often misled plumber. With the right mindset, magic awaited within every NES game cartridge. Enough so, that even now, I almost forget that which I was initially writing about. Thus began a lifelong romance with Nintendo.


The Diagnostic School: Nintendo Sketch

A war hero was I in Konami's Jackal for the Nintendo Entertainment System. I still find it a bit funny The Diagnostic School would have a war shooter in their library, but keep in mind, this was before the formation of the ESRB (Entertainment Software Rating Board). In any case, the violence in this, and most other NES games, is rather trivial. There is not a sliver of blood in sight and bodies disappear soon after being shot. For the longest time, I could not recall the name of this game. I would simply picture a jeep roaming the jungle, crossing perilous bridges, blasting turrets, rescuing poor souls from heavily guarded compounds and delivering them safely to nearby helipads. Bypassing the last part if I was feeling particularly evil. Certainly, it had to be quite an experience no matter the name. The thought does now occur to me; The Diagnostic School may have also been monitoring gameplay behavior. I must have given them a lot to contemplate.

From the time I was a young child, I have found peace and wonder in nature. A longing to explore the untamed world. Partnered with a rich imagination, I could transform an otherwise mundane outing into a grand adventure. When my parents were going through a trial separation, I invited a friend over to my grandmother's house to play with me. His name was Haugau. Nobody else could see him, you see, because he was imaginary. That limitation did not hinder us from embarking on quests all our own. When I discovered Nintendo, one game defined this sense of adventure better than any other, and that game was The Legend of Zelda. Its designer, Shigeru Miyamoto, drew heavily from his own childhood exploring the forests and caves of Kyoto, Japan. However, what first attracted me to the game, more than anything, was the cartridge's decidedly gold finish. With a coat such as that, the game must have been something truly special - and that it was. In an age before save states, web access and Facebook, Zelda was a game without parallel. Not counting Adventure on Atari 2600, it contained quite possibly the world's first virtual open world. I could become lost in Hyrule for hours. Ah, if only that were possible. It would soon be time to eat in the cafeteria, wash up and return to the group bedroom.


Parnell Park: The Fort

If one thing sent genuine chills down my child-sized spine, it was the thought of bathing at The Diagnostic School. As I entered the bathroom, I would find a bathtub, to my horror, out in the middle of the room. There were no curtains and no doors. Just a cold tub without any means of privacy. On at least one occasion, a staff member tried to assist in my bathing with a bar of soap and a damp cloth. I had to firmly insist I could handle the situation myself. I was only eight, but I felt immensely ashamed. I wanted to be somewhere else; somewhere far away. A familiar tune would often come to mind, and I could just imagine myself floating down the bathroom pipes to some place nice. A place with mushroom people and friends of all shapes and sizes. With super cool power-ups and baddies galore. A place in which nobody minds if you take down a flag. It could be none other than Super Mario Bros. Another classic game designed by Shigeru Miyamoto. The likes of Blooper, Hammer Bros. and Lakitu remain the banes of my gaming existence to this very day, but it was all in good fun. It was, more than anything else, fun that kept me going during my time spent away from home - and many more dark periods to come.

Those wretched few months seemed like an eternity, but the day came at long last to say farewell to The Diagnostic School. Of all their staff members, one stood out above the rest in my memory. Her name was Nina and I could talk to her about most anything. Beyond her, I made only one other real friend in my time there. No, I am not referring to Nintendo. We are still cool, right? While I was certainly happy to see the last of that place, I did feel sad for the people I crossed paths with, never to see again. Ah, but this was not the time for reflection. Dad was waiting for me. It was time to go home.


Pink Floyd's Another Brick in the Wall (8-Bit)