And suddenly…CRACK! Pikachu summons a lightning bolt from the skies, sending Donkey Kong, already with 270 percent damage, to oblivion, bouncing off the screen into a results page, clapping-loop purgatory. My little brother lets out an “Ooooh!” in disbelief. My defeated friend slams his lime green controller to the ground, cracking the side and knocking over his soda. Everybody laughs, brags about the last round and quickly races to their favorite character for the next match as that familiar and iconic Super Smash Bros. theme fills my dark bedroom.
This is my memory, but it is one countless people from my generation share. A pure and true multiplayer experience, the kind that has somehow become harder and harder to find as the years have gone on.
For me, there is no better gaming system than the Nintendo 64 (N64). Today the graphics may be better, the machines sexier and the computers faster, but videogames have never been as exciting, fun or even important to me as they were from 1996 to 2001.
Some of this is certainly nostalgia for a simpler time, but I have to believe the primary reason is the N64 offered something unprecedented for its time: a four-player, single console gaming experience.
Think about it: You and three of your best friends, sitting in the same room, playing the same game against one another. This was more than promising; to a 10-year-old, this was revolutionary.
Mario Kart. Goldeneye. Mario Party. Star Fox. Bomberman. Gauntlet. Mario Tennis. These were more than just ways to kill time on a rainy day. These were genuine bonding experiences that, corny as it may sound, taught me how to play fair, win and lose with class, develop social skills and, of course, place a perfectly aimed bomb on an opponent’s Arwing. These games provided the soundtrack to my youth and, at least in some ways, helped shape the person I am today.
As the years have passed and technology has advanced at an astronomical rate, the idea of sharing a gaming experience face-to-face has become more and more archaic. It’s a point that’s been made a thousand times in a thousand stories, but as the Internet has grown larger, our lives have shrunk to the palm of our hands. As we’ve all become forever “connected” through social media, we’ve actually only grown further apart. We’ve traded the intimate and personal for the instant and anonymous. Family time now consists of a living room of strangers buried deep in their phones and tablets.
Gaming in general has often been a scapegoat for this type of antisocial behavior. Gamers are consistently depicted as hermits and psychos by the media, and anytime a controversy arises, people find a way to link it to games. This is always frustrating to me, because it’s the total opposite of the experience I had. Video games were a time of friendship and connecting. They were a social tool, not an impediment.
But the times have changed and so too have games. Massive online matches are now the norm, and kids and adults alike can now spend their days shouting obscenities into a headset or at a TV. I can’t speak for anyone, but if I’m going to curse at my opponent, I want him to be close enough to punch me in the arm for it.
This isn’t to say traditional multiplayer is dead. Games like Rock Band and systems like the Wii even encourage it. But it was long ago surrendered to the casual gamer. The most intense, in-person, multiplayer matchup you can expect these days is a Wii Fit workout.
The new Xbox and Playstation have been lighting up the web with the latest impressive technical specs and rumors about each system. This is exciting to many, but I personally will long for the days when me and my friends and family would sit in the same room with a handful of awkward controllers and share a wonderful time together. And hope that it will come again someday.
Until then, I’ll have to plug up my dusty old N64 and blow out my Pokémon Stadium cartridge.