The day that italians versus hedgehogs hit home.
I’ve only been in what i can classify as two physical fights in my life.
One was over a girl, and is completely uninteresting to anybody reading.
The other was about Mario Mario (of the Mario Brothers) being better than Sonic the Hedgehog.
And i lost both, and learned several valuable experiences about fighting when not having any proper kind of training, and weighing close to 80 pounds at the time.
For all intents and purposes, I’m going to talk about the story more pertinent to the retro game column.
So, it was 1992, right? And at ten years old going on eleven, I was a product of the stockades of public school system, ferried throughout a regimen of lather, rinse, repeat educational standards commonplace to the American Standard. I was in the fifth grade.
The place? San Rafael Elementary School. Oceanside, California.
Amongst the hundreds of fellow attendants of the school, I stood out in the worst kinda way. And until I figured out how to use profanity, crack wise, not have to wear the horrible clothes a parent would consider acceptable to doll their child up in, and my personal favorite, NOT be a kid, every day was a constant and never ending submersion into blackest hell.
And i was about to experience my first foray into aggressive fandom.
I recall it being lunchtime, as I was outside, alone (yes this is a sad story), hanging out by my backpack (that I’m sure had surfboarding gorillas hanging out near multi-colored triangles or some shit. Probably in step awful neon shorts/bugle boy shirt my parents made me leave the house in.), I was approached by a group of somebodies and this usually meant bad news.
I was known by my schoolmates as a couple of things. One of the nicer things, inadvertently, was i was a Nintendo fanboy. (They had a different term for it.) And the group of kids, approached me with a tumultuous foreshadowing of argument.
We were at a crux. I looked up, away from my solitary drawing of Blaster Master maps and tank on loose leaf notebook paper, to meet these gentlemen in conversation.
“Hey, (*colorful sexual orientation-themed verbal slur, prominent to cultural faux pas in dialogue of 1991) You still playing on your Nintendo?”
The answer, was obviously not, because I was clearly a busy man, sitting near a disused basketball hoop, drawing diagrams of important shit, such as stage layouts for Blaster Master that I recalled from memory, for no real justifiable reason.
This lead into segue of comparatives, as one of the other kids apparently just got a Sega Genesis. Here it comes.
“Yeah. He’s got Sonic the Hedgehog. Have you played that game, you (see aforementioned appendix on prevalent early 90’s kid slang)*?”
Nope. For some reason, my parents informed me that i would NOT, in fact be getting a Sega Genesis. That was until later, which is it’s own interesting story that will wait for a future column. So I had to make due with my trusty friend, the grey imagination box.
“Psssht. Sonic is so bad, man. He’s way fast. And that game looks way better. Mario is a gaylord.”
A moment of rage coursed through my eleven year old weakling body. Glasses would have become fogged up from the evacuating steam pouring from my skin, as the ultimate trespass of verbal altercation had commenced.
My childlike voice cracked in awkward fashion, as I couldn’t contain the fury of the situation.
“YOU…..YOU TAKE THAT BACK, YOU JERKS. I’LL… I’LL KILL YOU!”
Yes. This was in an era incidents involving deplorable gun violence and reckless abandon into psychosis in schools.
My intentions, from that moment, was to defend the honor of my friend and confidant, Mario, using the only skills I had. Slap fighting and possibly backpack swinging, until everybody lay crushed and brutalized around me in a heap, and I, the Alpha male stood victorious and vigilant.
This couldn’t be hard. I mean, it’s a fight. Everybody gets in a fight. How hard could it be to fight someone? Especially considering important matters such as this.
More verbal exchange, and then the awkward rise to the occasion as I lept from my crouched position, spilling trapper keeper to the side in the pavement, with a feral scream of “YAAAAAAAAAH!” as I swung my fists in a way resembling Dark Helmet from Mel Brooks immortal spoof classic, Spaceballs.
(I think I tried to duplicate fighting moves I had played in Kung-Fu, but they didn’t work. Strange, because one of those moves happens to be a crouching ball punch, which I consider the crown jewel of any fighting maneuver ever conceived.)
No damage was inflicted by my assault. However, to the contrary, I was not as fortunate.
But that’s not important.
I recall going back to the classroom, battered and shamed, knees skinned from falling on the concrete, and my gorilla backpack having the slightest trickles of blood on it. My trapper keeper was no longer in my possession, as it was thrown atop a roof of one of the portable classroom units (had no idea how the hell I was going to explain that one to my parents, who would soon to be angry the moment I told them I had gotten a referral to the Principal for picking a fight. And yes, this is the era where guilt would tear at me so bad, that i would make the conscious effort to be honest with my family and explain what had happened, and then, through recursive action, get grounded and lose the ability to play goddamn Nintendo for maybe a month.).
But I stood my ground. I held the line. And in hindsight, I still feel resoundingly proud of my actions. Well, for a time, anyway.
It’s many years later. I’m typing this as a grown up, recalling the time I got the shit beaten out of me in elementary school over an argument involving a video game franchise.
You know what? No…Let’s not downplay the severity of the event. If you grew up in the early 90s, you’re all aware of it.
You, a video game player, at any level, were on one of two sides.
You were a Nintendo person. Or you were a Sega person.
There is no middle ground. If you had two, you were Benedict Arnold, and deserved to have both of those consoles taken away, and be given an Atari Lynx for your treachery.
This was THE GREAT CONSOLE WAR. One unlike anything that you will ever see, ever again.
And it was touted and egged on by schoolchildren everywhere due to superiority in your choice of mascot.
I picked my side. I picked the console that I treasured dearly, and wasn’t going to fall into gimmicks like Blast Processing, or….a better color palette….or…superior sound system…or….that gigantic 16-bit text for no reason on the front of the original Genesis…
For my ally was Nintendo. And a power ally it was. For every game you can come up with that was released on the Sega Genesis that was awesome, I’m pretty sure I can name four more from the NES that surpassed it. (and then, later, the SNES. But i don’t even need to bring Fat Man into a combat situation that Little Boy has already won.)
I don’t even need that.
I’m going to go on record with the truest fact ever put to the internet (at least from my perspective.)
Sonic the Hedgehog is a smug, pompous asshole. You know what I mean. With his angry face, toe-tapping action…like, if you have to take a hot minute to calculate where you might have to go in the stage. Oh, shit no. “Your angry “Blast processing fast” anthropomorphic hero is waiting on you, fuckhole.”
And also? Sonic can drown. I know a certain Italian plumber who I’ve seen spend a better portion of his game library underwater and not seem to have an issue with that.
In one of the venerable game of Chess, I believe we would call that “Check Mate.”
This article, in case you haven’t realized, is about something important that all of us may or may not have subscribed to in the past. Sticking up for something because of a brand name.
A trend that exists today, but in stranger mutations.
Those who grew up and lived in the turmoil of Nintendo vs. Sega saw the development of many interesting trends.
From the popularity of the Genesis, launched prominently by Joe Montana pointing at the other end of your TV screen and telling you “If you have an Nintendo console, you’re essentially an asshole” through a smear-advertising campaign the likes of which the world had never seen, we had the escalation of some serious shit in the world of Video Game ownership.
It instilled elitism, the creation of a class of privileged “Oh, look what I have here?”-types, in ownership of consoles.
The 80’s yuppie d-bag, with his flash sports car, Compact Disc player, and PORTABLE phone, had a chance to have his own narcissistic spirit funneled in by your average 8-14 year old, brandishing state of the art GAME hardware.
(And something that’s neither here nor there, but worth mentioning, is the de-escalation of repeated failed hardware attempts since the Genesis that eventually led to Sega’s high and mighty attitude eating humble pie when it was placed back in a software development role at the beginning of the 21st century for other, more viable companies, including that of, Oh?….Yep. Yes. I believe Nintendo was one of them.)
But this kind of poo-pooing what sits on each other’s entertainment center attitude thrives today, fueled by online congregations of players, in what you see in the Sony versus Microsoft camps.
(I find not nearly as interesting, because of the near-similarities in largely codependent game libraries. Sure. I can’t play any of the Killzone games or Little Big Planet on 360, nor could I play Halo 4 on PS3. But I can guarantee that a good 80% of games that you can purchase on the shelf are going to be released right next to each other and are available for both consoles. And when the differences in console are comparable only by online price model and technical analysis of computer hardware, you’re going to find that you’re playing the same games, and that defending your console is pretty much a moot point.)
(That is, unless you’re Nintendo, who have their own bizarre agenda to keep trying to remind people that last generation’s hardware is still apparently viable enough to buy again, and again, and again. But that’s a different sad story I’ll desire to get into in a future column.)
But what made it all different during the 90s? Was it the fact that it was simply because of the exclusive titles developed for each system? If so, then why do the debates exist when so many of the must-play titles of today are homogenized to play on (nearly) both “rival” consoles?
What makes us exclusionary with our choices in entertainment when the end game is meant to have fun? What does it all matter?
I apologize for a lot of the rhetorical questions here, but I am curious to hear someone else’s thoughts on this. I thought sharing my story about who I sided with during this console cold war, and might draw out some final conclusions on why the hell this all went down the way it did, and years past this, why can’t we get past the issue of exclusivity.
In the meantime, excuse me. I’ve gotta go outside in my blue T-Shirt and yell with 50-million people.
(P.S. – I have a twitter and a Facebook page. Go bug me on it. I’d love to hear your thoughts. Facebook.com/joerocks1981, or just @joerocks1981 on twitter.)