I finished Ernest Cline’s Ready Player One in 8 days. I opted for large print because some publishers use ridiculously small type when publishing those New York Times best sellers. I could not entertain the chance I’d strain my eyes while experiencing an epic narrative packed with 1980s folklore. Cline’s novel attracted me due to my early affair with Super Mario Brothers. I struggled in front of my NES shrinking because goombas and koopas seemed to love my playing style. I still recall my mother yelling from across our apartment. She’d say: “Turn that game off and go to bed!”
I’d lower the television completely only to have her come into the room and make me turn the game off. Those first levels are forever etched into my memory because I could never make it past the first “world” without finding the “warp zone”. The enemies sent me into the black void of “Game Over” within the first hour of play.
But video-games for what they offered drove me to the rawest form of hatred. This is why it’s not surprising that a man known for winning Madden game-play tournaments for money would shoot and kill someone.
It’s true. I hated my jerk-face cousins. They and their Techmo Bowl, Madden, and Blitz-induced hysteria were the purest form of rejection. They connected with one another while I sat there feeling hopeless, being the badly drawn boy in some alternate “Revenge of the Nerds” reject movie.
I suppose that’s why I could identify with Wade Watts, the underdog main character in Cline’s narrative, that lived in the ghetto and felt at home in a virtual universe. When you feel disconnected from everyone and everything, you relish the day when you find “the game” that is all yours. To my cousins, I was the runt of the litter, the curious misguided geek they could blame things on.
I remembered. And then Sonic came into my life. When Sonic the Hedgehog wagged his fingers in the face of Robotnik in 1991, I gave my cousins a taste of what I had been given. I wanted to humiliate those arrogant knuckleheads. When they asked me about my Sega Genesis, I denied them access.
No, you cannot play my game. Of course, this choice was only temporary. But it felt marvelous to deny the teenagers who had given me so much hell, something that they wanted. They could not have any of the cartridges in my 16-bit playground. The Sega Genesis and Sonic were my new obsession. I was terrible at playing the first Sonic game but by the time Sonic the Hedgehog 2 released in 1992. I was good enough to conquer all the levels and I poured all my anger into playing every Sonic game that my parents could buy.
The truth was: I didn’t care for football, because football was the enemy. What was the attraction to players repeatedly running into each other and going “HUT, BLUE 22! ARRRRGH!”
You had your I-formation, your punt, that 2-point conversion and the field goal position. The saddest thing is: I learned to mimic the Fox Sports jingle over and over again.
I was so in love with Sonic the Hedgehog that I used to imagine that I was him. I beatboxed the game soundtrack when I needed motivation to get to class on time.
Sonic was fast and strong. Mario was slow and weak. Having Sonic all to myself meant I was less of a jerk to my cousins and my elders. I just wanted everyone to leave me alone. Sonic gave me the courage to attempt to have an outgoing nature when I felt scared and alone.
It is easy for anyone to believe that videogames are pointless, but it really depends on where you’re stationed at on the road to discipline and maturity. Ready Player One reminded me why videogames exist. For lonely disconnected people, videogames offer some oasis, a temporary sanctuary away from a demanding, anxious existence.
It gets complex when the safe haven of video-gaming supersedes human connection and interaction. It can and does ruin the likelihood of human contact. We never tire of needing human touch, human conversation, human sensing. The world of social networking and sensory entertainment cannot be a complete replacement for us.
I don’t play Sonic as much as I once did. But like Wade Watts, I eventually understood that love from a person that you can reach out and hold is always more connected than the phony reward-centered praise the internet gives us. Life is to be lived offline in the presence of real people. And it’s easier to run to retreat of internet dreams, when one is not sure that the dreams one has are meaningful enough.
I remember how retro games like Pole-Position, Galaga, and Pac-Man allowed you to add your name to a pantheon of over-achievers that reached a high score. It stays there as long as people play that game. When the game is retired, the score are reset. You must enter your name here; it would say. The only way we truly retire from human life is through death, the unplugging of the life support. If you want your life to have lasting meaning, you’d better stop retiring from life too early. People are waiting to see your name. You have a light that must shine outside the arcade. Get out of the covered area, and get bravely attached to other people. We cannot go around covering our mental, emotional, scars forever. People are waiting to write your name in their hearts, where you’ll be remember long after some dusty old arcade game is unplugged.