December 20th, 2005

Odd Man Out

I was cleaning up and organizing my apartment this past week when I was reminded of an odd game I had. The game itself isn’t really that odd (it’s International Track and Field for the PlayStation, one of those “tap the buttons alternately really quickly to make the onscreen Olympic athlete run really fast or swim or throw a javelin” games), but the size of the box is.

Back in 1995 when the Sega Saturn and the Sony PlayStation hit the market, they packed the games in cases similar to what DVDs come in now, only a bit thicker and maybe a little taller. After a while, Sony started putting their games in regular CD cases, a decision which I begrudgingly admit was wise. More games could be stored in less space, and a person could buy regular CD-holding apparatuses (oddly enough, that’s the correct word – “apparati” sounds correct, but isn’t) to hold their games. Sega followed suit when the Dreamcast hit (9/9/99, baby!), and that’s how things were.

When the newest systems hit (Sony PlayStation 2, Microsoft Xbox), the games came packaged in DVD cases. This makes even more sense, since both these systems could also play DVDs, and both companies wanted their systems to be in the living rooms of the world as part of the whole entertainment system, blurring the lines that define “video game consoles.” Systems now do more than just play games, and Microsoft isn’t hiding their intentions of making the console more of a media center with the ability to stream music, download updates and demos, and yadda yadda yadda. The Xbox 360, the newest entry in the console realm, lets you hook up your iPod or connect to your PC to play your choice of music while you’re playing your games. Crazy times.

But I am getting off my original topic.

So I found this aberration in my collection. A while back I had consolidated all my music CDs, PlayStation CDs, and Dreamcast CDs into one rack. This International Track & Field, in its crazyweird box, didn’t fit anywhere. It rested on the top layer of CDs, kind of in the middle, straddling the Bs and Cs of my collection. It’s bothered me for a while, but laziness is a powerful master, so there it sat. My organizing last week was the final straw, though, so I moved IT&F from its resting place to the compartment on the driver’s door of my van, which, coincidentally, is also where DVDs that need to be returned to the video store get placed.

IT&F rode around with me for a while, as the place I trade my games in is not on any of my regular routes, but last night it was time. I took it in the store and had to wait in line behind a lady and her son, who looked to be about 11 years old. He was trying to turn some old NES (that’s “original Nintendo” to us Americans) cartridges and wasn’t having much luck. If the store’s computer doesn’t recognize the game, they can’t give any money or credit for it. This kid had about 10 cartridges, and was only going to get a little over $5 for them. He seemed a little disappointed, and he and his mom were having one of those “Well, what do you want to do?” discussions when I noticed that one of the games he was getting rid of was Q*Bert.

It should be noted at this point that, while I do own an NES system, I do not have a power cord for it, so it is as if I don’t have one. It should also be noted that Q*Bert is still, after all these years and games, on my Best Games Of All Time list.

“I’ll give you $2 for the Q*Bert,” I said.

The kid and his mom exchanged “Is this guy crazy? And even if he is, is it okay to take money from him?” looks.

The cashier said, “I’m only giving you 85 cents for that one, so it’s a good deal.”

Done and done. The kid’s happy, the mom’s happy, I’m happy – everybody’s happy. They finish the rest of their deal with the cashier and then it’s my turn.

I hand the cashier my copy of IT&F and he says, “You always turn in the most unusual and interesting things.” Now, I’m there frequently enough that they recognize me, but I don’t really think this is a correct assessment of my trade-in history. Normally I’m turning in games that I’ve reviewed for DEN that I don’t want to keep, and they’re newer games and usually not that good, so that’s not too unusual, I don’t think. What I do think is that he’s surprised to see a 9-year-old game in a crazyweird box come in, and he had to dignify the occasion with some sort of response.

He takes the CD out of its case and examines the back of it and exclaims, “And it’s in perfect condition!” This, I’ll grant him, is a perfect assessment of my game-keeping history. If I’ve bought it new, it will look new when the time comes to turn it in. I take care of my stuff, as a general rule. My dad might disagree with me on the subject of cars, but for the most part, the pages of my books are unbent, my CDs are unscratched, and my cats don’t have patches of fur falling off them.

“Thanks,” I beam, quietly basking in another’s recognition of one of my few life accomplishments.

“But…” he continues, “Unfortunately, it’s not in the computer.”

Ah, well. I had figured the game was only going to be worth a dollar or so in credit, so this wasn’t too much of a disappointment. However, I was not going to return home with this game! It doesn’t fit!

I look around and notice the kid is still there with his mom, seeing what he could put his five dollars in store credit and two dollars from me towards.

“Hey,” I say in the non-creepiest voice I can muster. “Do you have a PlayStation?”

He looks at me somewhat sheepishly and says, “Just a PlayStation 1.” He’s embarrassed that he doesn’t have a PlayStation 2. It’s okay, kid. Neither do I.

“Merry Christmas,” I say, and hand him the game.

He and his mom both thank me, but I know it was mostly selfishness on my part, so I brush it off. Besides, once he’s ruined his hands trying to tap the buttons fast enough to win a gold medal and he has to find a job when he grows up that involves him pushing a button with his nose, well, he won’t be so thankful then.

At the same time, though, I feel a sort-of warm glow, based on encouraging a young gamer in the ways of gaming, like some old gunhand passing on a secret to the new upstart in the town, only it’s not one of his better secrets, just some old secret he might have told anyone, something along the lines of “Make sure to reload after you’re out of bullets.”

“Sorry, kid,” I think, “but you’ll have to pry my copy of PaRappa the Rapper out of my cold, dead hands.”

With that, I headed into the sunset.

4 Comments on “Odd Man Out”

  1. the obscure says:

    That's the spirit!

  2. kim says:

    First off, great story, but more importantly: YAY PARAPPA!

  3. HorizonPurple says:

    You're a unique personage Mup, and I mean that in a good way.

  4. Abe. says:

    I hope that kid takes care of the game :)

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