Last night, I decided to break out the old Super Nintendo that’s been buried in my closet for the last 20 years. I connected it to my oversize 70” flat screen television, which the game system was never designed for. Then, I took a slightly pixelated trip down memory lane, revisiting classics like Super Mario World, Super Mario Kart, Star Fox, Batman Returns, and Donkey Kong Country. It was with Donkey Kong that my night took a turn for the worst.
How many of you 16-bit old heads remember Mine Cart Carnage? It’s the Kong level where you ride a rickety mine cart across broken tracks through a cave, filled with obstacles barreling towards you. My 15-year-old self beat this level at least a thousand times — at least a hundred times with my eyes closed, just syncing the events of the level to the music that was playing. That of course is an exaggeration, but not as far from the truth as you would think. God bless repetition and muscle memory! But why couldn’t my 35-year-old self get past the first couple of obstacles?
I crashed into every damn thing and died more times than I care to remember. Was I really that out of practice? An even scarier notion… Was I really that old? I refused to give in to such a ridiculous notion. Therefore in 15-year-old spirit, I skirted all grown-up responsibilities and played this level repeatedly until 2:30 AM.
Fragile sleep cycle be damned!
After what nostalgically seemed like a thousand tries, I beat the level. But, only once. My palms were drenched with sweat, and my thumbs ached with a sharpness not felt since 1996. But my goal had been accomplished. My ego and self-esteem was restored, and I could feel the respect of my younger self, permeating the room. At approximately 2:45 AM, I flopped into bed. My last thought of the night was, “Really?”
Five hours later I woke up. You know, because of those pesky adult responsibilities? Immediately, that taunting word once again flew into my mind…
Really? Sure, gaming out like that was as equally fun as it was frustrating. But, was it really necessary to compete with my younger self? Was I trying to prove to myself that I wasn’t just some irrelevant old fart who can no longer tell the difference between NBA 2K and an actual game on tv? Or, was it just the classic traits of being obsessed with progress –with constantly pushing myself to be better… apparently at everything?
Don’t get me wrong. I’m not trying to paint myself as an overachiever. In fact, I’m trying to illustrate that I may have a mental condition. I don’t have a desire to compete with other people. Because we all have different callings, and follow different paths. However, I’m constantly challenging myself and sometimes it gets just a little annoying. I set goals for myself, and I work towards those goals no matter what. No matter how long it takes, no matter how uncomfortable it gets, no matter what that goal is: professional, personal, emotional, whatever. I work obsessively until I either accomplish those goals, or am forced to revise them in someway. Then, rinse and repeat.
It’s not as bad as it was when I was younger. In my older age, I’ve found some semblance of a work-life balance. When it’s time to chill, I chill. But when it’s on, it’s on! Except for moments like last night when the obsession creeps into my chill time, and leaves me feeling “some kinda way.” Perhaps I still have some growing to do. Or, maybe it’s supposed to be this way? It would make sense to view that entire gaming experience as a lesson. It was a reminder that not everything is going to fit neatly in the compartments I’ve created for myself. Life is messy. Yeah, that sounds good. Lets go with that.
I admit, it’s easier to rationalize my behavior by attaching a purposeful meaning to it. Perhaps it’s something we all do? Wow! That’s significant insight gained from just a gaming system. God bless you Super Nintendo. Thank you for once again showing me my true self. Something Candy Crush has yet to do.