A few weeks back I started to chronicle the path that led yours truly to the throne of awesome on which I sit; and since you can’t fit this much nerdiness on one plate we are taking a second trip back to the geek buffet to fill up once more. If you haven’t brushed up on The Mighty Jerd 101 make sure you take care of that first, then you can take a gander at some of the geeky goodness that influenced me in my middle school years!
The Genius of Steve Jackson
After moving to a new neighborhood when I was 10, I lost the group of people I played Dungeons & Dragons with; yet the allure of swords and sorcery remained. As I developed a new circle of friends I was introduced to a gaming system called “The Fantasy Trip“, a RPG/Boardgame hybrid which was published by Metagaming Concepts. It first consisted of a microgame called Melee, and was followed up by Wizard and Into the Labyrinth. They were simple, flexible, inexpensive and highly addictive games that you could jump right into and play without much setup and they.were.awesome! I still, to this day, think it was one of the most brilliant systems designed and it was my first introduction to the fantastic mind of Steve Jackson.
A couple of years later, I came across another Steve Jackson gem by the name of “Car Wars“. Another hybrid style game, more akin to a tabletop wargame than a RPG, which allowed you to design a vehicle filled with Deathrace 2000 style weaponry and then do battle with your friends for auto-supremacy; and battle we did! Since every one of of us playing was convinced that “Mad Max 2: The Road Warrior” was in the running for greatest movie ever made, every Saturday afternoon we were rolling dice and moving our cars over the cardboard track while quoting post-apocalyptic lines at each other. I think it was the materials for this game, showing a glimmer of the twisted humor that is now the staple of Steve Jackson Games (SJG), that hooked me into SJG for life!
My First PC Game
Well, my second I guess… the first being “Oregon Trail” at school, where I learned that no matter what the hell you did you would die of dysentery. Despite being eternally angry at that pioneering P.O.S. when my best friend got a copy of a game called “Wizardry” for his Apple II I was all over it like a fat kid on a piece of pie. We spent an unhealthy amount of time playing the first installment, Proving Grounds of the Mad Overlord, over the course of a few months. One of us at the keyboard, the other tracking our progress on a pad of graph-paper and cursing when we got to the portion of the game where it was pitch black darkness. It was a very hard and unforgiving game, with graphics that would make any pre-teen today weep; but I cannot count how many times we played through it! We did the same thing over the next few years as each sequel was released. Religiously importing our characters from one game into the next, trying to maintain some sort of continuity for the adventure we had played through in our heads together.
This was where my love of computer based RPGs comes from, and it was the catalyst that opened wide the sinkhole where countless hours of my life disappeared.
Dropping Mad Quarters
When the ASCII graphics goodness of Wizardry just wasn’t enough to hold my attention I would hop on my bicycle, with a few hours to kill and a pocketful of quarters weighing me down, and ride to the Columbia Mall. You see Columbia Mall housed, what was then, the greatest shrine to geekdom available at the time; an arcade. A giant room of beeps, bells, whistles and blinking lights overflowing with children and adults alike all dropping quarter after quarter into giant freestanding console games. Just thinking about it makes me sad for my children, because they will never know the pure joy that a real arcade brought to the face of everyone who entered it. This was before the first Nintendo came out, when only a handful of people were rocking Ataris or Commodore 64… this was the only place where you could go to play video games! Not only was it the only place you could go, it was the only place you could even hear about what was new. There were no real magazines about gaming, and the internet was in its infant DARPA stages, so every trip to the arcade was an adventure in discovery as games came and went!
If I could add up the amount of money I poured into those machines it would probably make me cry. I spent hours upon hours moving joysticks and pushing buttons trying to master my favorite games… destroying invading insectoid spaceships, trying to obtain the coveted ”double-ship” in Galaga, trying to time the Mas Oyama inspired punching of a charging bull in Karate Champ, jumping barrels left and right in Donkey Kong (which to this days I don’t understand… I owned Donkey Kong at home on the Atari! Why was I paying to play it in the arcade?!?) and yelling at my friends for getting us killed while playing level after level of Gauntlet (Thyra the Valkyrie ftw!). Those were the days!
Just thinking about it brings a smile to my inner child’s face. While I wouldn’t give up my X-box or PC for the life of me, there is something about the experience of going to the arcade with a group of friends that I sorely miss. What about you? Do you have any childhood geek nostalgia you want to share with the class?
Check back later and I will continue to babble on about board games, Tolkein, Nintendo and Batman. In the meantime, drop a comment and let me know what you nerded out on as a kid! Also, you can always reach me on Facebook or Twitter and make sure to Sign up for our free newsletter!