Jeremy's Ramblings, Babblings, and Other Pretentious Bullshit.
Tuesday, December 21, 2004
One of the perks of my new living situation is that, being a wannabe computer whiz, I live with two actual computer whizzes, who have been able to outfit my computer with some wonderful bells and whistles.

Perhaps the greatest of all of these are "emulators" that let me play non-PC games on my computer. I currently have hundreds of games, taken straight from the arcades of my youth, now available for playing on my computer. For the past few days, I have been rediscovering the joy that I got in grade school, feeding quarters to such treasures like "Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles", "The Simpsons", "X-Men", "Star Wars" (the 80's version with the lines) and "Michael Jackson's Moonwalker" (I just realized that most of my favorite games are licensed from already established franchises. I was quite the commercial bastard when I was young).

One of the games that I revisited was "Mortal Kombat". For those of you unfamiliar (and if you are, where were YOU in '92?), "Mortal Kombat" (or "MK", for those of us in the know) was a one- to two-player fighter game, in which the main goal was to basically beat the shit out of whoever you were playing with.

It was a pretty innovative game for several reasons. The characters were digitized, which made them look more realistic than your average video game character. It had an absurd plot, involving a mystic fighting tournament, and it offered a cast of characters that seemed to come straight out of various 80's movies like "Bloodsport" and "Big Trouble in Little China". This was a game that knew it was a bad kung-fu film, and loved every minute of it.

The distinctive factor of the game, however, was its creepiness. Unlike the colorful and comparatively light "Street Fighter II" - with its minimal blood and near-comical cast of characters - "Mortal Kombat" was steeped in brooding music and shadows. Just getting to the character selection screen and choosing which menacing, lifelike being I would assume would send chills down my spine when I was ten years old.

And then there was the violence. At the end of the each match, the winner would was commanded to "finish" their opponent, who stood dazed in front of them. They were then given the option of mutilating the loser in truly horrific ways (personal favorites of mine were pulling the head and spine from the rest of the body, pulling out the still-beating heart, or the always-popular uppercut into the pit of spikes).

Before getting it on my computer a few days ago, I never owned the game (my parents would never let that kind of shameless violence in their house, for reasons that seem fairly reasonable to be now, though not then). Being forced to only play the game on the sly at the local arcade, it became an unattainable thing of desire for me. I would see it at a game store, and wish that it would somehow grow legs, walk to my house and hide in my room. I would get in debates with my parents over its content, citing that it was merely a piece of entertainment that was no more damaging to my notions of violence and death than Looney Tunes or Ninja Turtles (an argument that, at the age of ten, was condensed to "C'mon, it's not that bad!").

Being such a significant part of my childhood, I of course turned to it almost immediately upon receiving it. Not having played it for many years, I was struck by how flawed the game is. While the atmosphere is every bit as good as I remembered, the controls are somewhat clunky and it feels at times like it was slapped together.

And yet...I can't help but love it. "Street Fighter II" is, in almost every way, superior as a game, and yet I keep returning to "MK".

I've noticed this as a trend that has been occurring with me lately. At a DVD store last night, I almost bought a copy of "Honey, I Shrunk the Kids", a movie I loved when I first saw it at the age of eight. Last night I watched some of the Superman cartoons that the Max Fleischer studios made in the 1940's, a cartoon that I watched on video as a kid.

There are various things that, because they are so steeped in my childhood, I cannot possibly dislike, no matter how bad they may be. "Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles 2: The Secret of the Ooze" will continue to be a great film, with breakthrough performances from Ernie Reyes, Jr. and Super Shredder. No amount of "Hook"-bashing will convince me that it's anything less than the perfect allegory of lost childhood. "Animaniacs" is, was and always will be the epitome of deconstructing the madness of pop culture.

What amazes me is how much my childhood stays with me, even when I change. I no longer embrace the beliefs that I had as a kid (cartoonish violence in games makes me uneasy, and I now lean toward the weightier, cause-and-effect violence of "Grand Theft Auto" and the like), and yet those beliefs stay with me.

The older I get, the more it seems I try to remember the things that I loved as a kid (I'm working on getting copies of "The Oregon Trail" and "Math Blaster"). So many negative influences in my life (alcohol, traffic, steady employment, financial anxieties) rob me of the innocence that I once had, so this is the way to warp back to a time when a great tragedy was the guy who took over my character on "The Simpsons" after I lost, even though I saved up a dollar in quarters specifically so I could get a high score and put my initials in.

And now, since I remembered that there was a "Hook" video game, I'm going to play that now, too. Viva la adolescence!

P.S. I realized last night why I wait until the last minute to buy Christmas gifts. It's not so much out of procrastination as it is my enjoyment of the thrill of the hunt. Last night, having completed most of my shopping, I had a feeling of accomplishment much more satisfying than if I had completed all of my shopping early.

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