Milestones

In middle school or thereabouts, I began writing down “Dates to Remember,” which were dates when important events happened in my life, starting with my birth.  About a week ago, I read through these dates, which now cover over 9 lined pages.

Two things struck me as I read.  One was the type of events I thought important to remember.  The other was how long ago many of these events occurred, and how much has happened since.  Most of the dates cover 8th grade through college.  There are quite a few from when I was in Japan.  Many of the events not covered are in my diary entries, but important weddings, births, and deaths are listed, as are romantic milestones.

For example, I included when my pet hamster died and the first school dance I went to.  I have the date we picked up our dog, and the day we put our dog to sleep.  Lots of firsts, too.  Besides the first dance, there’s my first pep rally, first marching band competition, and first rejection letter from a girl (which I still have).  I have the date Dan Jansen finally won his gold medal, and the date Steven Spielberg finally won his Oscar (which I watched on my Game Gear TV from bed).  My first girlfriend, first date, first job, and first kiss are included, as are the day I learned how to tie a tie and the first time I swallowed a pill.

Some dates turned out not to be as significant as I thought they would be.  Meetings with people I never saw again, dates with girls I never dated again, important parties that are no longer important.  And there are some dates that happened later than expected, and some that have yet to happen.

And yet, as I looked through these dates, I felt overwhelmingly content.  No matter the reason for remembering them, they are all times when something significant happened.  They remind me of how much has happened in my life, and how much I have to look forward to.

The Age of Video Games

I grew up with video games. When I was a child, my family had an Atari 2600, which broke after too many people tripped over the cord. Lesson: don’t play games during extended family functions. By the time that happened, however, I had been introduced to Nintendo at one of my friend’s houses, and Super Mario Bros.

I grew up with video games.  When I was a child, my family had an Atari 2600, which broke after too many people tripped over the cord.  Lesson: don’t play games during extended family functions.  By the time that happened, however, I had been introduced to Nintendo at one of my friend’s houses, and Super Mario Bros.  For Christmas that year, my dad bought both an Atari 7800 and a Nintendo, not knowing if the latter system was good or not.  We played a few games on the 7800, like Pole Position II, but whereas everyone had played games on the old Atari, I ended up being the only one who kept playing games on the Nintendo, at least until my brother was older.

For me, Nintendo was the golden age of video games.  Most game genres, as we know them today, were created during that time (two exceptions, created during the era of 16-bit gaming, were one-on-one fighting games and first-person shooters).  Most games were platform games, but on the computer, Lord British was creating the first role-playing games with the Ultima series, and other genres exported from the computer included puzzle and strategy games.  Still, those games and genres got their greatest exposure on the 8-bit NES.  Even though Atari systems and games were still around during the early days of Nintendo, and the Sega Master System had its converts, it was Nintendo that all but ruled the gaming world during the heyday of the NES, a span lasting almost 10 years.  In fact, the Famicon (the original Japanese version of the NES) was supported from 1983 to 2003, an unprecedented 20 year span.

Over that period of time, games got bigger and more complex, graphics got better, and the music improved.  The best example of this is to compare the original Super Mario Bros. with Super Mario Bros. 3–the latter of which is, in my opinion, the best platform game ever made, and one of the best games ever made.

Next came the silver age of gaming.  When Nintendo released Double Dragon on the NES without Sega’s permission, the resulting lawsuit allowed Sega to get a head start on the 16-bit wars, as well as relegate Nintendo’s first portable handheld system, the Game Boy, to black-and-white.  This lawsuit, and the release of third-party companies from their exclusive contract with Nintendo (which was Nintendo’s biggest advantage over Sega, since they had huge third-party support), paved the way for the 16-bit wars of Sega and Nintendo, with some wiggle room for a third system, the TurboGrafx-16 (which used dual 8 bit processors instead of one 16 bit processor).  And let’s not forget that TurboGrafx-16 was the first system to have games on CD, provided that you bought the TurboGrafx Duo or TurboGrafx CD accessory.

When Super Mario Bros. 3 was released, it contained 4 MB of memory, making it the largest game at the time.  16-bit games started at 4 MB and increased from there.  The catalyst for this was Street Fighter II, the monster hit of an arcade game that sent everyone scrambling to enter the fighting genre arena. Games at that point has expanded to 8 MB; now they expanded to 16 MB.  By the time consoles were making way for the new 32-bit systems like the Playstation and Dreamcast, cartridges were as large as 48 MB, mainly for graphical storage space, as was the case with Super Street Fighter II. In addition, with each new development in the gaming wars, more and more buttons and functions were added to controllers (the Atari Jaguar took this to ridiculous extremes, even if computer games nowadays use many more).

With increased storage space, games also became more expensive to buy.  One game, the 24 MB Phantasy Star IV for the Genesis, cost a hundred dollars to buy (on the other hand, the 24-bit Neo Geo system had been selling cartridges for $200 for years, one reason why their games were popular in the arcades, but somewhat of a Holy Grail for the average gamer)!  With the advent of CDs (and then DVDs and Blu-rays), games have dropped back down to within the $60 range, which is incredibly when one thinks that Zelda II: The Adventure of Link (released in 1988 in America) cost roughly $50 the year it was released.  To compare: the almost $50 Zelda II:

…with 2011’s The Elder Scrolls V: Skyrim, which can be purchased for $60:

The Atari 2600 was the birth of my exposure to video games, the NES my childhood, the Genesis my adolescence, the Playstation and computer games my college and post-college years, the PS2 and old gaming sites my young adulthood.  I read Game Players magazine and Nintendo Power when young, and GamePro magazine when older. With that kind of upbringing, how can I not love video games?

And yet, to play NES games now is to realize how frustrating they were, where one missed jump could spell death, where the challenge was often due to how many continues you received, or whether there was a password feature or not, or where you could save the game.  Now, games allow saves wherever you wish, platform games are mostly a memory (though you can still fall to your death in some games), all environments are immersive, and simplistic game play can only be found on websites devoted to old video games, like GoG or VirtualNES.

And yet, some of those old games are still good, because no matter how simplistic the graphics, or the storyline, or the world, what matters is how much passion was put into the project, and how much talent.  There have always been talented and passionate people to make video games.  The difference now is that they no longer have to fool the CPU.  They only have to fool the gamer into thinking the world they have created is real, and that the characters who inhabit it exist.

(Thanks to the always-reliable Wikipedia for information on the history of video games, particularly this link to the NES and its tight control of third-party companies, and this article on Zelda II: The Adventure of Link. Other information I took from articles I read in gaming magazines and my personal experiences).

Remembering 9/11

Times Square, busy as ever

Note: My diary entry that outlines the events of the week of September 11, 2001, is in a box in my parents’ attic on the other side of the U.S., so while the gist of what I remember is accurate, the actual order and execution of events may not be.

Ten years ago, I woke up, ready to work on some short stories on my quest to get paid for my literary pursuits, when my mom called me downstairs.  As I headed down to where the TV was, she told me that a plane had flown into the World Trade Center, and while I saw the repeated replays of the event (this would be the second plane to hit the towers), she had seen it live.

She had to head off to work, leaving me to watch as the first tower fell.  My dad called a few times, the last time to say that they were shutting the courts and he would be home soon.  In the interim, a plane hit the Pentagon, United Flight 93 crashed in Pennsylvania, and the second tower fell.

What I remember the most about that week was the fear: fear caused by the unknown.  Living where planes routinely flew overhead, it was eerie to hear the sky silent.  The first few days that planes started to fly again, we looked up every time we heard one flying overhead.

I had been planning on visiting some of my friends later in September, in Virginia, and while the events on 9/11 didn’t change that, I flew out only ten days after the attacks.  Had I booked an earlier flight, it’s possible that it would have been canceled. On the way back to Connecticut, I saw, outside the wing of the airplane, the most beautiful sunset I have ever seen.  Only years later, when I flew from Tokyo to Nagasaki, did I see a similarly beautiful sight: of Mt. Fuji, Tokyo Bay, boats, and clouds at various heights and distances from the plane.

I had graduated from college earlier that year, and so had decided to save all of my email messages from graduation on (the last email I saved is from the middle of February the following year).  Reading through those emails now, particularly the ones right before and right after the attacks, are fascinating in how most of them aren’t about the towers falling, or the Pentagon smoldering, but the logistics of putting together my trip.  In early September, i”m still ironing out details of my trip, while the ones immediately after September 11 are making sure everyone is okay and to assure them that I’m still coming.  Only directly, on September 12th, do I address the attacks and my feelings about them.  The same with my friends, with one friend mentioning how she saw smoke pouring out of the Pentagon on her way to work the following morning (September 12), how she saw people slowly driving by, and how she could smell the smoke through her car vents.  After September 12th, I mention checking airlines, buses, and metro lines to make sure they are still running, but I do not directly comment on the attacks.

For a couple days after the Twin Towers fell, I was paralyzed creatively, only wishing to watch Tom Brokaw every night as more and more information became available.  Then, on September 15th, I wrote a poem.  It would be on September 19th, however — two days before I left for Dulles International Airport — before I wrote any creative work dealing with the attacks.

The works in question were poems.  The second one seems trite now in some of its construction, but the first one — even without any tweaking — is still one of my stronger poems.  That Christmas, I framed a copy of it and sent it to my grandmother to help her deal with some difficult issues.  When she died a year later, it adorned the room where her wake was held.  It now sits in my parents’ room.

I have shared this poem before. I’m no longer happy with that version of the poem, however, so I thought I would share the original with you:

Time is a Jealous Mistress

Time is a jealous mistress
That always gets its way,
Whether it be tomorrow,
Or whether it be today.
It doesn’t give without receiving,
And it receives far more than it gives,
Yet as it passes, wounds will heal,
And Life will continue to live.

I used to get emails from national honor societies right after I graduated.  They always came with quotes.  I find it interesting that, right after the September 11th poems, this is the quote I wrote down from those emails:

“You can only protect your liberties in this world by protecting the other man’s freedom.  You can only be free if I am free.” -Clarence Darrow, lawyer (1857-1938)

The real tragedy of September 11th will be if our initial response to those attacks and other terrorist threats — increased spying on our citizens, black sites, torture, the creation of the Department of Homeland Security (if that name doesn’t make you shudder, you need to read more Orwell than I have), security theater at airports, increased suspicion of Muslims and “outsiders” — becomes the lasting legacy of that day.  If we allow fear to overthrow reason and common sense, and our rights and the rights of others along with them, then we have not protected other men’s freedom, and have lost our own.