Angry Nerd brings back bad memories

by Chris Lowrance

A while back I wrote about buying a Super Nintendo Entertainment System (“Buying back my childhood on eBay;” Sept. 9, 2006). The only reason this might have been considered odd is that the SNES debuted in 1991. In fact, I owned one as a kid, along with the original Nintendo, its competitor the Sega Genesis and, eventually, a Playstation, the last game console I’ve owned. All tallied, these systems and the games and accessories required for them probably represented an investment of a couple grand over a period of 15 years.

Unfortunately I got rid of them all years ago.

Man, was that dumb of me.

As I described in the previous column, the Nintendo Generation’s all grown up now, and surprised to find that life kind of sucks. Things cost more, money’s harder to make, college degrees aren’t worth as much, war is endless, life is complicated and in general we’d rather move back home, pour some Trix and hand Bowser his ass. There’s an elegance to the logic of good 8- and 16-bit games – a peace with the order of these 2-D worlds. Failing that, there was the Game Genie, an add-on device for gaining infinite lives and other cheats.

Real life has no Game Genie. Drugs don’t count.

Not that the pixelated pleasures of gaming were free of frustration. Some of the best games were also difficult (hence the Game Genie). And some games just sucked.

I mean sucked. Miserable, awful experiences that left wounds of frustration and disappointment on our souls.

Enter the Angry Video Game Nerd.

According to his own “frequently asked questions” page, James Rolfe is an amateur filmmaker and old-school gaming buff who got the idea to record himself playing an awful video game (Castlevania 2: Simon’s Quest) and ranting about how awful it is. His friends liked it, so he made a second, about the absolutely abysmal Doctor Jekyll and Mr. Hyde. This time, he stepped in front of the camera as “The Angry Nintendo Nerd,” downing Rolling Rock as he lamented the pain of playing a game so crap-tastic.

A couple years later, he stuck the videos on the web. That’s when things blew up.

Now, with about 49 AVGN videos, Rolfe has a gig with MTV’s, an increasing amount of press coverage, a slew of imitators and the honor of being the ninth most subscribed poster on YouTube. He’s a genuine internet celebrity. It even says so on his resumé.

What’s the appeal? The Nerd’s certainly funny, though his reliance on crap jokes can wear thin. He curses a lot, so if you don’t like that don’t watch his videos (and also, grow up). It’s hard to define the humor as anything but lowbrow, and the Nerd’s delivery isn’t always spot-on… but in a weird way, that makes it funnier. It’s less like watching a comedian, more like hanging out with a funny friend.

There’s something else working for Rolfe, though. I realized it as I watched him play Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles (yes, there was a video game). The Nerd tries over and over to make an impossible jump, only to fail repeatedly.

I remember that jump.

Suddenly I’m 8 years old. Jump, Donatello. Just jump over the hole. Just jump. I hit the button, why didn’t he jump! Jump! I SAID JUMP! JUMP YOU SHELLED BASTARD!

Across two decades, the Nerd and I are commiserating over a stupid design decision in a crappy video game that, moments earlier, I barely remembered existed.

According to his website, Rolfe quit his day job to freelance and create “The Angry Video Game Nerd” full time. The power of nostalgia, ladies and gentlemen.

Since writing that column in 2006, I graduated college, got a full time job and my girlfriend became my fiancée. We’re talking about houses and kids, realizing our parents’ mortality and our own limitations as our lives becomes increasingly less hypothetical. I still haven’t bought a Wii, Xbox, Playstation 3 or any of that crap. They’re too expensive and too time-consuming. A part of me fears, having been out of the loop for half a decade, modern games just wouldn’t make sense to me.

But smashing Mario’s head through some bricks? That makes all the sense in the world.

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