Monday, November 22, 2010

Hospitals and Horrible Games

When I was ten years old I underwent major reconstructive surgery on both of my feet. All gory details aside, it was a necessary operation that allowed me to continue to walk in a (somewhat) normal manner. Eighteen years later, I have two lasting impressions from my time in the hospital. The first is the bitchin' scars on my feet that I usually attribute to that time I rescued puppies and kittens from a burning building. The second is that "The Three Stooges" for the Nintendo Entertainment System was a terrible game.

My first day in the hospital after the surgery one of the nurses told me that they had video games available for the kids to play with. My mother signed me up on the waiting list, and I eagerly awaited my turn to play. It wasn't until the next day that a cart with a tv was finally wheeled into my room. I was disheartened to learn upon the carts arrival that my "turn" with the video games would only last for one hour, and the only games available were Ecco the Dolphin for the Sega Genesis and The Three Stooges for the NES. I immediately dismissed Ecco as a game "for girls" (a grievous mistake on my part). I opted to play The Three Stooges because I knew from watching the comedy shorts with my father that there would be some action involved.

The Three Stooges game was your classic NES shovelware title. The premise of the game was that you had to take various jobs to earn enough money to save an orphanage from closing. You completed these jobs through a series of poorly contrived mini-games like throwing pies, scooping crackers, or making it through sidescrolling obstacle courses.

I don't think that I could have completed this game with an hour of playtime under the best of conditions. A heavy amount of painkillers and lack of sleep meant that I spent most of my allotted game time fumbling around, losing the mini-games, and generally being frustrated at the poor controls. Then my hour was over, and the cart was wheeled out of the room.

I kept thinking about that Three Stooges game. What did I do right? What did I do wrong? What would be a better strategy for dodging pies? How would I avoid that stupid pole that had ridiculous hit detection? The next day the cart was wheeled into my room and I immediately went to work. By the end of that hour I had all but one mini-game mastered. Then the cart was gone and I was left with watching daytime tv or reading My Side of The Mountain for the nth time. Every day I looked forward to that hour with the cart. Even after I had beaten The Three Stooges I continued to play it. In hindsight, I have realized that playing the game provided a comfort zone for me. It was something that seemed normal in a situation that was anything but. Eventually I left the hospital, went back to my own NES and my own games, and never really thought about The Three Stooges again.

In 2007 I was on the Penny Arcade website during my morning coffee break. I had visited Penny Arcade in passing for years but had recently been reading the news posts as well as the comics. They mentioned a charity that they ran called Childs Play. This was the first time that I had heard of Childs Play, but as I read the description on the charity's website all of the memories from my own experiences as a kid came rushing back. The impact that video games had on my time in the hospital suddenly became so obvious. I immediately clicked the link to the amazon wishlist and bought a Nintendo DS with Mario Kart. It was satisfying, not only because I was helping a child who was in a tough situation, but also because I was hopefully saving some poor kid from the fate of playing a game as terrible as The Three Stooges for the NES.

(If you'd like two fun ways to donate this month, check out Desert Bus for Hope happening right now or buy yourself a ticket to the annual Child's Play Dinner Auction happening on December 7th.)

1 comment:

  1. Thank you so much for sharing this Jeff! It's a wonderful story demonstrating why Child's Play does such important work. <3