Today I am very pleased to welcome Eleanor Wood to the blog. Eleanor is the author of Gemini Rising which I have yet to have read but I hear it is absolutely brilliant. I’d love for you to give her a warm welcome to Queen of Contemporary!
They say you never forget how to ride a bike. It’s probably true, as long as you can ride one to begin with.
Some girls probably have muscle memory for playing hockey or riding a horse, or maybe even a dance routine from a long-forgotten music video.
Turns out, I have muscle memory for Super Mario Land. My boyfriend trawled eBay and bought me an original Nintendo Gameboy for my last birthday – you know the one: grey plastic, big and boxy, that little ‘da-ding’ when you switch it on that transports you straight back to 1991. Little did he know that this might not be The Best Idea Ever…
In 1991, I turned 10. For my birthday, I received a Gameboy. I had been pining after one for ages; I’d go round to my schoolfriend’s house and endure watching her play on hers for hours, awaiting my short-lived turn before ‘game over’ flashed up on the screen like a doomy metaphor in green pixels and she snatched it back. I never had the chance to practise enough to get good. Now I had one of my very own – plus Tetris and Super Mario Land.
So, I practised. It was all I did. I played and played and played, until I was dreaming in Tetris blocks and Mario mushrooms. When I went round to my friend’s house, now we would sit in silence for hours as we both played on our own Gameboys – I was so happy, both to have a console of my own and not to have to speak to her. I didn’t actually like her much.
That summer, we went to our house in France for the holidays. One night when I was in bed, my dad picked up the Gameboy. He started playing Tetris, and there he still was – bleary-eyed, hunched over and sore-thumbed – when I woke up in the morning. I spent the rest of the summer fighting with him for my beloved Gameboy, giving him tips and having competitions (I always beat him).
Luckily, he worked in Hong Kong at that time and bought another Gameboy for himself – he would come back home with new games (’32 in 1’, with Tennis and Dr Mario and only about half of the games on it in Chinese!), or a two-player connection cable. I know they tell the children not to blame themselves in a divorce, but I’m pretty sure that my Gameboy was to blame when my parents split up a year later. (Kidding.) (Kind of.) (Not really.)
Fast-forward 21 years and I open a Gameboy for my birthday once again. Bafflingly, I can’t for the life of me remember what happened to the original one.
The ‘da-ding’ sounds reassuringly as ‘Nintendo’ scrolls, slowly down the screen and my childhood flashes before my eyes. Super Mario Land begins – I jump on that mushroom, avoid the turtle-bomb, immediately remember the pipe that leads to a whole secret world and an extra life. My thumbs have a mind – or a memory – of their own. They don’t even need me. They remember every single move.
I complete the whole game in one go without losing a life, while my boyfriend watches and is slightly scared. Then I switch to Tetris and score 180 lines – not terrible, but I’m clearly rusty; at my peak, I only ever once broke 200, but would always score in the high 190s.
I’ve always had a problem with knowing when to stop. All over again, I find myself seeing Tetris blocks behind my eyelids when I try to go to sleep; sometimes – on the bus, or mid-conversation – my thumbs will move of their own accord to catch them.
A few weeks into My Obsession 0.2, I happen to watch the documentary film The King of Kong. If you have seen it, then you will know it is brilliant. If you haven’t, all you need to know is that it’s an action-packed and emotional human drama about, um, grown adults trying to break world records at 1980s computer games. Either way, you know what’s coming…
Maybe, I thought – just maybe, I could beat the world record at Tetris. Finally, all those wasted hours might mean something. So, I started investigating. Do you know what the world record for Tetris is? Do you? It’s 327 lines.
I remembered then why I forgot about my Gameboy the first time around. It became Just Too Easy. So, when I was 12, I got a Sega Megadrive and switched to Sonic and Tails. This time, I’ve put it down because it seems too hard – 327 lines of impossibility.
At both ends of the spectrum, I limit myself now. I let myself play occasionally; I try not to get carried away because otherwise I would never eat or sleep or get any books written – but sometimes, on a rainy Saturday afternoon, it’s fun to complete Super Mario Land just once more. When I go and visit my dad, he still has his Gameboy – Tetris loaded up, sitting by the loo. Neither of us has broken 200 lines again, but we’re both still trying. Secretly.