Music has the power to whisk you from the here-and-now to times past faster than the Doc’s DeLorean can get up to 88. A few seconds of song can be enough to transport you back to studying science in your teenage self’s bedroom (Planetshakers will forever be bound to electromagnetism for me), driving through the summer heat with windows down and beautiful girlfriend beside you (thanks, John Mayer), or suffering the total deflation of some missed opportunity, abject loss or thoughtless words. I can’t explain how the hidden power of the Potter portkey or Narnian wardrobe ended up in that mp3 you downloaded back when Napster was a thing, but somehow it wove itself into the fibres of your memory and there it will stay.
Sights, scents and tastes also seem to possess this magical teleportation potential. Shards of sunrise bouncing off the ocean in the cool of a New Year’s morning? That’ll make me 12 again. The sweet, ambiguous-but-allegedly-citrus blast from a lip gloss I haven’t come across since I still qualified for cheap movie tickets… Yep, that’ll do it too. Unfortunately no personal examples involving food spring to mind right now, but one could present itself to you at any point and in that revelationary moment you’ll think “Wow, that blog post was so insightful”. Then you should stop thinking and just eat the food.
As it incorporates the second most immersive entertainment medium – books still come first I’m afraid – the experience of losing yourself in a video game can surely be added to this list of spontaneous memory stimuli.
This realisation came about during the many bizarre hours I recently spent ensconced on the couch, playing Destiny while waiting for pain killers and ice cream to sooth the charred craters where my tonsils used to be. I can say with certainty that my appreciation for couches, games, pain killers and ice cream has never been higher than it is now. Eventually I experimented with writing instead of vanquishing aliens to help pass the time, but it turns out that pain and spasmodic sleep work together to decommission the old bridge between imagination and keyboard. To paraphrase Pokemon, it wasn’t very effective.
What this whole episode did achieve was to remind me of some other games that have been there in times of sickness rather than health; great games that dole out that distracting, low-demand occupation you crave when anything more is just asking too much. Should you ever find yourself in similar need, my advice is to avoid anything mentally taxing; Destiny is perfect, and back around the turn of the century so was this:
Of all the Nintendo cartridges on the family shelves, this one has some of the strongest memory ‘magic’. It harks back to the days of 64-bit consoles that now reside somewhere between Classic and Vintage on gaming’s historical spectrum, and will forever hold a well-earned place in my heart… or mind… or wherever it is that memories live.
Anyone that has suffered through it for themselves can attest to how miserable and frustrating a bout of pneumonia can be, even if it does extend your school holidays by an extra week or two as it once did for me. The silver lining of this enforced confinement was the chance to dig into Wave Race 64, a game that had hitherto missed out on the quality time it deserved thanks to other extreme sport titles (1080 Snowboarding, for those that know their Nintendo 64 back catalogue) gaining family popularity first. Eventually – probably after one too many days of Jerry Springer, Oprah and infomercials – Wave Race’s moment arrived and it turned out to be just what the doctor should have ordered. Even now, some 15 years on, a couple of vivid recollections live on from those tiresome, cough-ridden, jet skiing days:
- The intense hours of practice required to excel in Wave Race’s stunt mode WILL destroy your controller’s joystick, and
- Once you’ve mastered the backflip and replaced your dead controller you are an official jet ski legend.
It would be impossible to say how many brightly coloured N64 controllers lost their will to live after a few rounds of Wave Race, 1080 or Smash Bros., but for this period in particular their sacrifice was certainly not in vain. They gave their all so I could be free of boredom, and for that I will be forever grateful.
Clearly my genetic formula missed out on a few Constitution points back at the character build screen, as it was only a few years later that I was laid up in recovery following a Meningitis induced hospital stay. Thinking back on that time with reference to video game fun instead of mortality seems a little flippant, but oh well…
It’s a good thing that there was a bright side to this episode of illness and suffering, because in the time between hitting the PS2’s Power button and seeing this next title screen load I always find myself laid up in that little living room, circa 2006.
MX Unleashed was a longtime family favourite on the PS2, and provided the perfect gaming ‘comfort food’ when I was once again couch-bound and sore. Here was a motorbike game harnessing a spirit more in line with Vigilante 8 than Ride, and the many hours my brother and I invested in its addictive stunt mode were a blast.
There was something entrancing about flinging your bike off a ridiculously steep hill, attempting a combination triple-backflip and hoping for that 2% chance of a successful landing. Watching your rider tumbling over the treeline and into the distance moments later was just part of the excitement. MX Unleashed’s control scheme was pleasantly intuitive, and following in the fine footsteps of the Tony Hawk’s Pro Skater series the soundtrack rocked harder than the worst of your failed landings.
MX Unleashed was, and still is, one of those games that you find yourself striving to fully complete and not just through a sense of duty. The race mode is a real challenge, the stunt mode is a riotous laugh, and the whole package opens up so smoothly with new unlockable elements that it just… flows.
Not everything in the extreme sports genre makes for ‘check your brain at the door’ gaming, but boy have I been thankful for these two in my times of need. When you’re feeling like you’ve been hit by a truck, something fun, addictive and that doesn’t take itself too seriously might be the remedy you need.
If you’ve found other games or occupations that fit the bill in those rare periods of plentiful spare time but little mental or physical function I’d love to hear about it.
There is of course a flipside to this discussion as there are games that are forever linked to very positive moments in my life as well. My recollections of Donkey Kong Country 2 (SNES), Delta Force (PC), Pokemon Sapphire (GBA), and Lord Of The Rings: The Return Of The King (PS2, and reminisced upon here) are all brightened and entrenched by the joyful times they accompanied. Looking at my family’s Nintendo collection, I would venture as far as to say that in many cases the first developer icon would be enough to bring back the feelings associated with a time and place, and in most of those instances it would be enjoying this hobby with people I love. It doesn’t matter if these mental time capsules take the form of Nintendo cartridges, CDs or floppy disks; they form a powerful legacy able to be accessed and enjoyed regardless of the packaging.