Buying back my childhood on eBay

by Chris Lowrance

“It’s obviously been owned by a smoker,” my girlfriend says as we pry cellophane and packing tape from around it.

She’s right – while the case was a cool gray in 1991, this one’s the color of stained bed sheets, or perhaps Grey Poupon. A wad of electrician’s tape holds the controller wires together, and there’s a sticky purple substance on several of the game cartridges. If this were any other eBay purchase, I’d unleash a storm of negative feedback.

But this is an original Super Nintendo Entertainment System, and I think it’s beautiful.

I’ll admit, it stings to have shelled out 50 bucks for something I gave away years ago. But with four controllers and 10 games included, (I’ve got Mega Man X, people) we were lucky to get away that cheap.

My generation may have just reached adulthood, but most of us left home with a serious Peter Pan complex. You can see it in the malls, where GI Joe and My Little Pony T-shirts abound. You can see it in theaters, where Michael Bay’s live action Transformers movie will roll next year. It’s in the indie music scene, where the Athens, Ga.-based band Cinemechanica blares rocked-out versions of classic video game soundtracks while “experts” compete to beat main bosses in the shortest time possible. And it’s all over eBay, where classic consoles like the SNES can go for upwards of $100.

We want our childhood back. And we’re willing to pay for it.

With the continued refinement of 3-D graphics, innovative new interfaces and increasingly intelligent and challenging AI, not to mention the ability to go online and play with real people the world over, why pay so much for a 15-year-old system? I mean, the SNES had a 16-bit 3.58 MHz processor. My new computer’s 32-bit processors are about 1,000 times that. And there are two of them. Not to mention the dedicated graphics card.

A lot of it has to do with nostalgia. What ’80s brat doesn’t have fond memories of unlocking the “Samus is a girl?” ending to Metroid while watching Goonies and sipping “ectocooler” flavored Hi-C? Thanks to shows like “We Love the ’90s”, our collective sense of nostalgia is getting closer and closer to the present. To steal a gag from The Onion, we’re in danger of feeling nostalgic for things that haven’t happened yet.

And don’t rule out irony. Irony is our lifeblood, and playing Burgertime while your roommate beats a prostitute to death in Grand Theft Auto definitely counts. In fact, my generation is so ironic that irony is becoming sincere. Watch for “I hate you so much, Sweetie” on Valentine’s cards, and TV shows to get canceled for having ratings too high. After all, Snakes on a Plane is our fault.

But the primary factor is a simple case of escapism. Video games are becoming more and more real just as life is becoming more and more complicated for the vanguard of the video game generation. As a writer, journalist and editor of a student newspaper, I spend my working hours trying to understand a confusing and contrary world and dealing with the harsh results. I get angry emails, answer angry phone calls and meet with angry people on an almost daily basis. Their arguments rarely make any sense.

You know what does make sense? Super Mario World. Jump on the Gumba’s head and he’ll roll over. Pick him up and kick him at the other Gumba to kill them. Don’t touch that turtle; you’ll die. Grab that mushroom; it will make you big. You can go down some pipes; others you cannot. The music changed because you’re underground now. The feather will give you a cape, and the cape will let you fly. You fell down the hole; now it’s Luigi’s turn.

It’s straightforward. There’s very little learning curve. There are only two dimensions. Sometimes, that’s all that you want.

The latest-and-greatest game makers are starting to catch on. At the same time Sony’s Playstation 3 prepares to tango with Microsoft’s Xbox 360, Nintendo is making a killing with the DS, a fancy dual-screened Gameboy whose best-selling games are revamps of old classics like Mario Cart, puzzle games that require you to flip the device around, and a puppy simulator. Remember Tamagotchis, anyone?

When Nintendo does release their new power-system, the poorly named Wii, I’ll be tempted to buy a new console for the first time in over a decade. The reason? Rumor has it every Nintendo-licensed game ever made, going back to the original NES, will be available for download on the new system.

In the meantime, I’ll be washing tobacco-stained controllers with my girlfriend. And what’s this crap stuck on the “R” button? I don’t remember childhood being so dirty.