When I was twenty-five, there was a concept buzzing around known as the “quarter-life crisis,” which was the mini-version of a mid-life crisis for twentysomethings, only without the baldness and new Ferrari. It dawned on me that as I approach thirty-two years old, there’s probably a “one-third-life crisis” looming. It doesn’t sound nearly as nifty though, but it might explain why I just bought a Playstation 3.
Now let me provide some context. I’m not what you’d call a gamer. This is the first console I’ve ever even bought for myself. Basically, nineteen Christmases passed between the time I unwrapped a shiny new Nintendo and the time I unwrapped a sleek new Wii. And I’d only wanted the Wii because I heard it played old Nintendo games.
And things haven’t changed much. The main reason I wanted the PS3 is because I heard it played the Simpsons Arcade game. I’m sort of obsessed with the Simpsons Arcade game. It has lived legendarily in my mind for about twenty years—it was an arcade cabinet that sat in the corner of the lobby of Chi Chi’s. My parents would give me a couple of quarters to play the game while we waited to be sat for a table.
What I’m basically saying is I wanted a PS3 as a two-hundred-and-fifty dollar Simpsons-Arcade-game-playing-machine. Three-hundred dollars if you throw in the second controller. And another ten bucks to buy the game.
I wasn’t going to justify it to anybody. Not to myself, not to the wife, not to the computer-gaming geeks who could easily download an emulator of the game for free. I imagined playing the Simpsons from the comfort of my couch—far away from the grubby, roachy corner of the Chi-Chi’s lobby where it smelled like industrial-grade restaurant cleaning solution and vats of taco beef, and reeked of the desperation of children trying to hang onto their last life because their parents only gave them two quarters. That’s the kind of thing that’ll toughen a kid up.
Modern gamers have it easy with their air conditioning and Mountain Dews and game-save features. We had to beat the games in one sitting. And really, that’s assuming the game was even beatable. Try getting past the first level, you sorry bastard. While modern games are made to be played and enjoyed, older games were made just to take your money. Whether it was all your quarters or dropping all your Christmas money on an NES game, it really didn’t matter to the game developers whether the games were even playable. It was like nobody learned the lessons from the 1983 video game crash and all those ET Atari cartridges buried somewhere in the desert.
Old-school gaming had its own mythology. Its own dark secrets in the desert. It had kill-screens and glitches and legends about whether Mario could jump over the flagpole. It went on in dark arcades and it went on in late-night phone calls to the Nintendo hotline. It went on in your friend’s basement who had the Power Pad and it went on in the grody Chi-Chi’s lobby with the roaches nibbling at your feet. Man, it went on in your head.
That snotty-nosed employee at GameStop who must be like sixteen or seventeen years old has no idea. No idea. He plays games online with his buddies all wearing their headgear. Look kid, we played a real game. It was a game called life. And as for the Simpsons Arcade game—well, you couldn’t even play the rest of your quarter because the waitress had your table ready, and your parents were really unfair. And on top of it, you were risking massive internal organ failure with each bite of your Super Cinco Sampler, risking taking part in the largest Hep A outbreak in US history.
All that for a game. A game, man. It was love. So no, I won’t justify my purchase of the PS3 to play The Simpsons arcade game to anyone. God knows I’m going to heaven because I’ve been in hell.
Talk about a third-life-crisis, indeed. But I was also eager to try some of the new games for the PS3. After some research I decided on Little Big Planet and Borderlands.
My thoughts on Little Big Planet: “How is this fun? Why would I want to decorate the level I’m playing with stickers?”
My wife’s thoughts: “I love it! The whole point of the game is to get things to design your character and decorate your house!”
My thoughts on Borderlands: I haven’t played a first-person-shooter since I had an illegally-obtained floppy disk of Wolfenstein 3D for DOS. Dear God, how do you play this thing? How does anyone remember the buttons? And where’s the Zelda cave with an old man with a sword?
My wife’s thoughts on Borderlands: (while screaming) “I HAVE NO IDEA WHAT’S GOING ON. THIS IS REALLY STRESSING ME OUT. I CAN’T SEE ANYTHING. I CAN’T SEE ANYTHING. *mashes all the buttons frantically*
Me: “Holy crap! Stop that! THAT’S A FIFTY DOLLAR CONTROLLER YOU KNOW.”
Her: “IT’S NOT DOING ANYTHING. THEY’RE KILLING ME.”
Me: “You’re the one who said you wanted me to get a game like this.”
Her: “I didn’t want this. I wanted Grand Theft Auto. I wanted to sleep with hookers and stuff! OH WAIT. LOOK I KILLED SOMEONE! LOOK AT ALL THIS STUFF I CAN PICK UP!”
Jesus. Thank God for the Simpsons. Pure, sweet nostalgia. Milk and honey. Manna. And why exactly does Smithers kidnap Maggie anyway?