This weekend, during a fit of closet cleaning, I busted out my old Dreamcast. I got this Dreamcast for my birthday when I was an exchange student in Nagoya almost 10 fucking years ago. My friends all pooled together their money (it was $100 total, I happen to know) and hooked it the fuck up. At the time, I owned a couple of my own games, but whenever I wanted to play them, I had to borrow the Dreamcast that belonged to one of my fellow exchange students. But this one was mine, my own, my precious, forever, and stuff. Crazy Taxi was a big hit with my friends who lived in the dorm, and we also played Biohazard: Code Veronica a lot on that thing – working out the riddles and puzzles in Japanese as a team. Space Channel Five. Berserk – that was a good fucking game. And those were good fucking times.
When I brought it out this past weekend, the first thing I noticed was how fucking yellow it had become. I tried wiping it down with baby wipes, but the new old color was here to stay. It’s sad, in a way, because much like the system’s reputation itself, the superficial bullshit interferes and obstructs from view how beautiful it really is inside. Psh… ha! Or something. (But seriously, what a great system it was. I still think it’s better looking than the PS2 and on par with the Gamecube. Really great for arcade games – especially if they’re made by Sega.) I pressed the open button, and the disc cover obediently rose, and wouldn’t you know it, Crazy Taxi 2 was inside and had been for the last six years of neglect. I plugged it in and turned it on. The VMU (the memory card with the little screen you keep in the controller) didn’t know what time it was, but neither did I. I thought maybe all the data on it had aged past recovery, but the game loaded up just fine, and I soon found that my saves were in perfect condition, too.
The real treat of the weekend came when I got to introduce my eight-year old nephew to the Dreamcast and explain how it was ever so slightly his elder. Now I’ve known him since he was three, and was there the first time he played Super Mario Bros. Hell, it was on my GBA, and I was the one who handed it to him. He laughed every time his little fingers pushed the buttons and the fat little dude on the screen got killed. Then he learned to jump. Since then, he has become extremely adept at gaming and in addition to mastering Mario across the platforms, he has played through at least three Pokemon games, catching the rarest of the rare, and can beat the shit out of me in a battle. He started playing Dragon Quest IX earlier this year and finished it a month later. He can Smash and identify 90% of the characters from their series of origin. One of them is Sonic the Hedgehog.
I thought he might enjoy a little Sonic Adventure, so I put it in, and without giving him a demo, dropped him into the first action stage. “Okay – this is run, this is jump, and this is charge (spin). If you jump and then jump again, you can attack enemies by flying into them. Got it?”
“Yeah,” he said, and off he sped down the Emerald Coast.
After a couple of deaths he was getting the hang of the controls. But the one thing I noticed about his Sonic style was how reckless he was with the charge spin. He would be running, and then spin, and then he’d be rolling. “Uh, you might not want to spin so much,” I suggested, as mid-air spinning was causing him to miss jumps and fly off the edges. However, the spinning was admittedly faster than the running, and my nephew knew that Sonic’s game was all about speed. After explaining a little about the running and the rolling (jump in a mid-air roll and you’ll fall), he was learning to distinguish which mode was appropriate – in other words, when it was safe to launch into a charge spin. I still thought he was overdoing it with that spin, but then I saw him go flying up a hill after rolling into a launcher and he soared high into the sky, coming down safely after some careful positioning by the young pilot. “God damn,” I thought, “I never thought to play it that way before.” Whenever I played, I just ran through that launcher and up the hill. He had found a most ingenious aerial shortcut – on his first try! What was once a game of run, jump and dodge I now saw as a pinball / golf / gorillas game of physics and ballistics.
It is important to teach the youth what we know so that they can continue the process of learning and discovery. The elders are not necessarily the masters. The learning process is not always a one-way flow of knowledge from the top to the bottom.
Sometimes pupils kill their teachers. When it happens to me in Smash, I hope I can take it well – with the pride of knowing my work is done, the cycle completed, and that the custodianship of my beautiful, epic games are well placed in the hands of the new stewards.
Or I can teach him how to curse and throw a controller in rage. Never stop learning!