One of the fundamental rules of parenting is that a sick child needs entertained and distracted. There’s nothing worse than being a six-year-old stuck on the couch for a few days as the flu rolls through the immune system, except perhaps being the parent of that six-year-old stuck on the coach and having to listen to them complain and while about how they’d rather be outside playing with their friends.
I honestly can’t recall if I had ever heard of the Nintendo Entertainment System prior to my playing it for the first time; I must have. But I do know that it was at my parents’ suggestion that we first brought a videogame system into our family home. To occupy their flu-stricken child, Mom and Dad decided to venture down the road to Funky Fred’s Video Rentals and rent an NES Action Pack, with Super Mario Bros. and Duck Hunt in tow.
Now I enjoyed Duck Hunt as much as the next person, but that first evening all I wanted to play was Mario. I’m not sure what my preconceptions about video games were before that point, but Mario completely rendered them irrelevant. I didn’t understand terms like “graphics” or “game design” but I knew that the pictures on the screen were fast and bright and that it was unbelievably fun to play. I spent all evening struggling to get past every jump, to remember where ever goomba or koopa was, but never got frustrated enough to stop. When I finally did stop for the night, my parents actually stayed up later trying to get past the part that stumped me.
The next two days were spent getting as far as possible in the game – remember, this was back in the days before games could save, so when you lost all your lives, it was literally game over (I had yet to learn about the continue cheat, clearly). I remember the first time that I reached the level-end flagpole and the fireworks went off and I had absolutely no idea what the hell I’d done. I flipped out when I reached the night world – I didn’t know that games could do that. And I had the theme song humming in my head for days, long after the system was sadly returned to the vido store.
So yeah…I was definitely getting an NES for Christmas, and thankfully Santa Claus understood the ramifications of what he was dealing with. He also brought along the first (and, in hindsight, quite awful) Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles game and an educational Sesame Street game for my brother, but once again, it was Super Mario Bros. that demanded and deserved the bulk of my attention. For all the NES games I would purchase (well…that my parents would purchase) over the years that followed, I would always keep coming back to the game, jumping over that first goomba and grabbing that mushroom time and time again.
Watch: Super Mario Bros. “Minus World” glitch (something I had read about regularly as a kid but was never able to pull off on my own):