Inconsolable Embarrassment

Embarrassment and regret, two closely related and often intertwined emotions, present a common theme associated with my videogame game console ownership. It started with the SEGA MegaDrive (SEGA Genesis to our North American readers) – a great game system. However I only ever owned three or four games for the console, and I was quite often quite bad at them and it was forever a source of frustration.

It was horribly embarrassing to a young self that I couldn’t even beat the first level of Jurassic Park if I played as Doctor Grant. Similarly with Sonic 3, having to rely on a friend who was leagues better at the game than me to even see beyond the second zone (the horrible underwater one where Sonic had to breathe bubbles of water) brought with it a real sense of inferiority and lack of skill.

Towards the end of primary school the PS1 came out. The blame for my fanatically covetous desire to own said console can largely be pinned on an extremely cool afterschool carer in his early 20’s who owned a Playstation and talked about it rapturously. This carer, who I think might have been called Geoff, was about the only person at the entire after-school centre who was nice to me, and so I, in my idolising of him, equally idolised his majestic class 1 laser device.

Back then I received a weekly allowance from my parents of about $2 a week. I still remember the absolute instant I realised I would have enough money to buy it that week. We were in the middle of renovations and I tallied up the sums on the top of a cardboard box full of stuff – somehow I’d managed to save up the $200 and so down I went to ‘The Games Wizards’ and bought my first Playstation, receiving along with it a Games Wizard Gold Card. I felt like such an adult, and I carried that card around in my wallet for years – long past the point where the store moved and was bought out by a rival chain.

Along with my first Playstation came a choice of one free game from a selection of largely B-Grade titles. My newly-impressed upon sense of maturity (I blame the Gold Card) made me look at the hordes of violent games and decide instead on the abominable title Hardcore 4×4, simply because I didn’t want my mum to be upset with my choice. I remember distinctly the feeling of wanting to be responsible in this decision.

Naturally given its dreadfulness, I took it home and the novelty of it carried the game for a long, long way further than its merits warranted. But eventually I realised that the game I had chosen was, frankly, a very bad choice. There were demo’s that came with the Playstation that were more fun than the game. I was embarrassed at this realisation, and ended up regretting it for quite some time. The lengthy process of saving up for a new game began.

Some time before I had saved up my $60, however, I recall my mum taking pity on me and my inability to enjoy my new console for longer than endurance allowed. I think the manically repetitive strains of the American sport-commentator style voiceover (“Hardcore!”), began to grate on her own nerves and so she took me to buy a new game.

We travelled back to The Games Wizards and they’d moved locations since I bought my Playstation – upscaled to larger premises, on the back of my hedonistic outlay of $200 no doubt. I perused their PS1 game selection and looked for titles familiar from playing a few demo discs that I’d picked up. My mum found up a game with a stark white cover. The title in capitals and cyan-green lettering was Final Fantasy VII. I looked at the back – it seemed lame and the main character in the pictures was evidently someone called ‘Mr Skull’ (Videogame marketing has come a long way). Clearly this was not going to be a serious game that embodied the entire potential inherent in this burgeoning medium. Instead I bought MediEvil, which I was also no good at, ending up replaying the first few levels I over and over. However it wasn’t till later that I really regretted this decision.

Weeks passed and time conspired to get me to one of my (rather few) friend’s houses for a sleepover. Morgan had an older brother, and the two of them shared a Playstation (when his brother wasn’t playing it he was playing Leisure Suit Larry on PC). On this particular sleepover Morgan showed Final Fantasy VII, telling me that it was unequivocally the greatest and most amazing game on the PS1. Even though the entire duration of my sleepover was spent watching Morgan play (yes, we were that kind of friends) I lapped it up, and tended to agree with his earlier assessment. I began to regret not getting the game when my mum offered to buy it for me.

For my penance I spent literally months juggling the desire to rent the game from the video store and sink a weekend into it and the desire to save my $2 a week to buy it outright. It didn’t help that renting the game cost more than a weeks worth of pocket money, setting me back at least two weeks each time. It wasn’t helped by the fact that I was also forever and ever becoming stuck on a certain screen in the Midgar slums.

This was how I spent countless hours with it – replaying the fantastic opening sequence until I reached the point where I got stuck and either kept running into random battles until I died or gave up. I asked Morgan for help – where was I meant to go on this particular screen? – but he was no help and found my inability to progress gleefully amusing in a schadenfreudian way. I was relatively unperturbed, mollified somewhat by how much enjoyment I got out of the opening section of the game, however a growing frustration and embarrassment at my inability to progress was developing. This was pre-internet days and I was completely alone in my helplessness.

Towards the end of my second or third rental of the game, I was once again engaged in the fruitless running around and around on the impassable screen, having by now sunk an easy 20 cumulative hours into FFVII. Somehow and quite magically, I fluked upon the path, realising that an object I had ignorantly been walking back and forth over this whole time was actually a ramp up and over, leading to the next screen. It was like the heavens opened, yet I was chagrined for having been stopped for so long by such an obvious and insignificant thing.

After that, my experience with Final Fantasy VII, and the following VIII were so overwhelmingly positive – informing so much of my early teenage years that it’s difficult to overstate their importance – that it gave me a fierce attachment to the Sony platform such that when I heard the PlayStation 2 was one the way I begged my parents for it with serious desperation. The release pricetag for the PS2 in Australia, however, was not a cent less than $800. I asked for it to be my combined Christmas and birthday present (being a January birth, I could do this) and they reluctantly agreed – on one condition. I was to devote myself to an hour of study every night during the school term. I thought about it, and agreed.

That PS2, which I still have to this day, was an amazing piece of hardware in it’s time, this goes without saying. However like any piece of console it needed equally as good games. This, then, was to be the Achilles heel of my PS2 experience – I never owned enough good, solid, time consuming games for it, and the minimal amount of use that the console saw was near-scandalous given its expense. I was furthermore shouldered with the burden of an hour of study every night (which, thankfully, my parents soon failed to enforce – yet it was a threat that hung over me, ever present for at least a year). Embarrassment and regret for my poor decisions and general naivety set in once more. For years afterward I couldn’t look at my PS2 as it gathered layer after layer of dust, without regretting my insistence on getting it at launch.

Next time: I talk about all the great experiences I’ve had with PC’s and Macintosh computers over the years and why I curiously can’t seem to regret anything to do with a computer.