I don’t know if I have to turn in my geek membership for revealing this, but I’m not really into video games. Don’t get me wrong, there was a time when I was, but that seems like such a long time ago. I’ve come a long way from when I was a scant 13 years old and I saved my paper route money for 6 months in order to buy a Nintendo Game Boy. This was back when the Game Boy first came out, too, so I wound up paying $130 for the basic black-and-white screen that burned through 4 AA’s faster than you could finish Super Mario Land. But, time passed, and when I was around 16 or 17, the Game Boy was relegated to the back of my closet to gather dust.
You can’t blame me for eventually putting it aside. It’s been a forgone conclusion that, when it comes to video games, most licensed properties suck. For those who don’t know the lingo, a “licensed property” is a video game based on a movie, TV show, cartoon, toy line, or pretty much anything that’s not original. And when you look at my collection of video games, you’ll see it’s filled with nothing but licensed properties: Batman, Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles, Star Trek, and even DuckTales. For some reason, when it came to video games, I was always afraid to try something new.
You may have thought that a trip to Japan, the country regarded as the Mecca of video games, would have gotten back into gaming, but it didn’t. However, I did come home with a gently used Game Boy Advance. My upstairs neighbour, who worked for the rival English school down the street, was moving home and selling off his stuff. He talked me into buying his VCR, and when I went to pick it up, he said, “Hey! For another 2000 yen (about $25 Canadian), I’ll throw in my Game Boy!” I couldn’t refuse. Besides, he didn’t have change for my 10000 yen bill.
I shared the news of my purchase with some of my students, and they instantly offered me all kinds of recommendations. “But Mark-sensei!” they said. “You love Pokémon so much! Buy Pokémon!” I politely declined, mentioning that I’d buy Pokémon when I got home, so that way I could have the English version.
And I did.
For about a whole year, I was glued to Pokémon: Sapphire Edition. As it currently stands, I’ve captured approximately 170 of the 200 pokémon available in the game. Now, Pokémon is actually very addictive as you set out to catch them all, but sadly, it does grow boring after a while. In order to be able to catch all 200, the game itself never ends. Yes, there is a bit of a plot, and the game sort of ends when you become Pokémon League champion, but, it’s actually ongoing. And, after a while, you get rather bored going around in circles trying to flush out a Chimecho.
And once again, the Game Boy sat gathering dust. Until a few days ago. Now, I have it on good authority that Santa will be bringing my niece and nephew Game Boy Advance SP’s for Christmas. I reminded Santa that, these days, video game systems don’t come with games anymore. So, Santa said, “Then why don’t you get them games, Mark?” And that’s what I resolved to do.
I was a little baffled at Toys R Us selecting out games. It had just been so long since I followed the industry, that I wasn’t sure what was good. I even turned to the clerk and asked, “What’s good for an 8-year old girl?” The clerk told me that “pretty much anything based on a movie is safe.” So, in the end, I chose the Shark Tale/Shrek 2 2-pack for my niece, and The Incredibles: Rise of the Underminer for my nephew.
I walked up to the clerk, dropped my purchases on the counter, and the clerk said, “Actually, we’re having a special on the video games this week. Buy 2, get one free. So, go back and pick out a third one!” Now, if I got my niece or nephew two games, and the other only got one, I knew I’d be starting a fight between the two on Christmas morning. So, I took the only logical route. I chose one for myself.
My first instinct was to go for the latest edition of Pokémon. But, they didn’t have Fire Red or Leaf Green. It was time to try something new! So, after scanning the shelves, and finding most of my second choices were sold out, I settled on…The Nightmare Before Christmas: The Pumpkin King.
Yes, after all these years, I’m still a sucker for the licenses property. And, the old adage of licensed properties being bad video games seems to be proving itself true. I’ve only had for three days and I’m painfully close to the end. But at least it has the new quirk of several Super Mario Party-style mini games that you can play outside of the main game, so that’s cool.
But as I’ve been playing for the past few days, I’ve re-discovered something rather harrowing, and that’s how addictive video games can be. You just sit down and play it for a couple minutes, and, before you know it, you’ve wasted an afternoon. Just five minutes, and I’m once again that 13-year old with his first Game Boy. No wonder it’s become such a massive industry. It feeds an addiction.