Gaming memories: I have a few.
I am two months shy of 39 and one-half years old. My first memories of gaming in my life are brief snippets of Christmas Morning 1983. My older brother is playing with our new Atari 2600, then still called the Video Computer System, I am pretty sure but who cares? This site isn’t called Atari Enthusiast.
The moving pictures in my mind feel as real as if they could have happened this morning in my childhood home in suburban New Jersey, as opposed to in my humble apartment in Busan, South Korea, where the only signs of Christmas are the fairy lights wrapped around the railing leading up to the loft. Certain moments, including hearing the excitement in my brother’s voice as the system booted up, remain strong. But, they are his gaming memories. I spent more time that morning playing with the Nerf indoor basketball set attached to the entryway closet than crowded in front of the TV.
My real gaming moments, the moments that I will hopefully still remember when I am old and perhaps not quite as sharp as I once was to remember much else, arrive several years later. I’ll leave Christmas Morning 1983 to my brother. He has so few gaming memories that pretty much run out after the mid-1980s that I would hate to deprive him.
Welcome to “Nostalgia Now,” a look back at impactful moments in the gaming life of a man who is potentially knee-deep in a midlife crisis but doesn’t have enough money or need for overcompensation to buy a Corvette. So, he buys games.
Our debut trip down memory lane starts in 1990. The Atari from Christmas 1983 has long since been boxed away somewhere in the catacombs known as our attic. The N. E. S. (as opposed to the NES) reigns supreme and will continue to do so until I receive the Super NES for my birthday in April 1992. It is an age of limited funds, which resulted in an age of limited games. With limited options, we did what most people did to feed the gaming need back then: we rented.
Blockbuster was far from the first option for borrowing games. In my New Jersey home, we opened an account at Lincroft Video. Located in what eventually became a Dunkin’ Donuts, Lincroft Video was a fun factory for a 1980s kid not yet jaded by the seemingly-unlimited options that the Internet would usher forth a couple decades later. Videos upon videos that we could watch and not have to pay $100 for (yes, some VHS tapes cost that much back in the day)! And, games!
But, not many games. What at first seemed like an endless wonderland began to show its limitations after a few years. So, the Dunphy clan moved on. We eventually landed on Choice Video, which was given a loving nod to by Kevin Smith as the imaginitively-renamed “Big Choice Video” in Clerks.
Back then, it definitely had big choices. And, we had a big choice to make. We chose Final Fantasy.
In the U.S. in 1990, Final Fantasy was still a new intellectual property. So, the choice was not quite as easy to make as it might be today. But, for myself and my brother-in-law–who drove to New York City two years earlier to pay $80 for a copy of Zelda II: The Adventure of Link–RPGs and their ilk were our jam. And, in the pre-Final Fantasy VII days, they were pretty darn hard to come by. So, anything that was even close got our attention.
Final Fantasy certainly got our attention… for 14 hours.
Many readers will nod in recognition of similar marathons. While it does not hold a candle to the most die-hard South Korean gamers who would die hard for their Starcraft, it’s a pretty impressive session. Unlike today, however, we didn’t play for more than half-a-day simply because we wanted to. We had to. Sure, you could extend a rental an extra day or more. But, that costs dinero, dude. If you’re going to keep that game out, why don’t you just buy it? Time in 1990 was definitely money.
As I have written previously, game ownership was a lot different 28 years ago than it is today. I didn’t own hundreds upon hundreds of games, with access to thousands more through morally murky (ahem, emulators) means. I didn’t move on from Bravely Default to Radiant Historia: Perfect Chronology because the battle system felt a bit out of balance and I was losing interest in the characters. If that was all it took for me to lose interest in a game in 1990, I wouldn’t have bothered with taking out Garland at the very beginning of Final Fantasy. And, if I hadn’t, I would never have known that (nearly three-decade-old spoiler), he was Chaos, the main bad guy all along. Mind blown.
I seriously doubt we would have spent 14 hours on Final Fantasy in today’s world. There’s just too much choice (but, sadly, no Choice Video. They might have been out of business before Y2K). Attention spans, mine in particular, are far more finicky and fleeting than they were 28 years ago. Can I imagine tolerating Final Fantasy beyond the 50th time one of my heroes tried to attack the air instead of an enemy? Doubtful.
It was a different time. Games were a hell of a lot harder. They were more expensive. And, they were due back to Choice Video by 11pm tonight! Our 14-hour marathon Final Fantasy session is very much locked into one day in history and, at least for me, could never happen in another time. It is for that reason, and for the enjoyment and general bonding my brother-in-law and I experienced over that solitary day almost three decades ago, that I consider this to be one of the most nostalgia-inducing gaming moments in the life of this nostalgia addict.
Postscript: Some of you might be wondering, after all of this nostalgia… did we beat the game in those 14 hours? Well, sadly, we don’t actually remember! We did beat the game at some point. But, as to whether or not it was on this fateful day, that will remain a mystery.
John Dunphy has written, edited and managed several newspapers, magazines and news websites in both the United States and South Korea. He’s written about local government, food, nightlife, Korean culture, beer, cycling, land preservation, video games and more. His love of gaming began with the Atari 2600 but truly came of age on the Super Nintendo. Looking at his staggering surplus of console and PC games yet to be played, he laments the long-ago days of only being able to buy one $70 32-megabyte cartridge and playing it until his hands ached.