The final sentence in my bio at the end of But Our Princess reads thusly:
He asserts he is the only person in the history of the world to have beaten Super Mario Bros.–with an actual Nintendo and television–on a pontoon boat.
In “Research, 1991”, I wrote about how my friend Rob and I spent a fair amount of time growing up in front of computer and TV screens. It’s surprising, how, in certain ways, fifteen years later little had changed.
This is my photographic proof to back up my bio. I have no idea why I thought it would be compelling to play old-school video games in an environment inhospitable if not downright opposed to them. But Rob was more than willing to make it happen. I provided the Nintendo and wiring; he had an old TV, and hooked up an inverter to the battery of his pontoon boat. In more more than five minutes, there was Mario, blasting through brickscapes.
The photo was taken at 1:34 a.m. on July 6, 2006. We’re in the middle of Mead Lake, a smallish, manmade lake in central Wisconsin. I’m wearing my “writing hat”: we decided this would be just the endeavor to embark upon following a week-long retreat with our writing group. In the upper left, you can see the Nintendo and make out that Mario is past Bowser and is about to send him to the fiery moat below. Here’s the picture I took:
Video games are an anomaly in the long history of games, as they’re predominantly a single-player phenomenon. As such, our memories tend to be of what happened on the screen, rather than who may have been playing with us. Transplanting the Nintendo from its usual habitat reminds us that games are about play, and playing is usually more fun when it’s with someone else. Having known Super Mario Bros. for about twenty-five years, it’s hard for me to wring much new from it, especially when the game can beaten in under ten minutes. But there, on the pontoon boat, beneath the stars, with dew gathering on the vinyl seats, it felt like I was playing it–genuinely playing–for the first time since 1986.
Video game nostalgia is often written off as geeky and fanboyish. But it can propel us to new memories, too. Sure, I’m nostalgiac for twelve-year-old me, playing the Nintendo until I quit in a digital fog, blinking at harsh real light. But now I’m nostalgiac for that particular night: the easy release of good beer while my best friend and I did something ridiculous after midnight, in the middle of a lake, warm Wisconsin July.
Rob played, too, but fell just short (world 8-3, I believe). Sure, we’re on a pontoon boat, but the below still seems like an iconic photo of anyone playing a video game, in any place, at any time. Video games beget timelessness this way, and it can be seductive, nearly hypnotizing. It’s wise to put down the controller every once in a while and attend to the real time and place they decorate.