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Up, Up, Down, Down, Left, Right, Left, Right, Ennui, Complacency, Select, Start July 10, 2006

Posted by doctorolove in Pop Culture Rants.

Look at it.

Bask in its’ simplicity and the flood of memories it brings back to your wired-in psyche.

Now, for those of you who don’t know what that is, it is the Konami code. This seemingly random jumble of symbols is widely accepted as the first video game cheat in the history of the home console. Left in as a programming glitch, it overtook the Konami video game library in the Nintendo Entertainment System. Every game suddenly became beatable with this power-up. In some games, it was unlimited lives. In others, it was unstoppable weapons. In others, it was a cute message or a silly sound effect, but nobody played those type of games for very long anyway (Looking at you…Blades of Steel!)

Now why am I presenting this tiny bit of nostalgia for you to see today. Am I sick of living in the now? Am I still railing against my hatred of all things retro? Do I wish to take us, collectively, to a simpler time when all that made us happy was our NES, a grilled cheese sandwich and the occasional boob shot on scrambled cable? No. I am here to blame that mash of directional arrows and buttons for the stigma my generation has been branded with.

Hillary Clinton says we don’t work. Mass media dumbs down their coverage and packages it with pretty graphics and catchy slogans. Even our government feels it must advertise danger with a pretty collection of colors and fancy synonyms for danger. Our generation has turned into a long line of slackers and idlers. And, maybe, just maybe, this code has something to do with it.

Almost every kid had an NES. And if you didn’t have one of your own, you quickly became friends with that kid down the street who, even though his house always smelled like bouillon cubes and moth balls, got one for Christmas. For a good four years (roughly 1986-1989), the machine replaced almost every single previous form of entertainment we kids had at our disposal. So then, by that rationale, one would say it was the machine. It was the pretty lights and the cool characters. It was the bonding ritual we all created of just exactly how many times you had to blow into the cartridge and at what mathematical angle it had to be placed in the machine. But think back to your early days with the NES and you’ll see, it was the code that sucked our free time away.

When the NES came out, the games were simple retreads of coin-operated arcade games. Small monkeys without opposable thumbs were able to complete level after level. Now, the idea of simple objectives and quickly played games were not going to rake in the bucks for the video game industry. So game creators invented more complex programming, with bigger levels and harder objectives. No longer was it a well timed button mash or quick right directional push completing our storyline. You had several moves, several enemies and a boatload of computer generated landscape to explore. This was all well and good, but, back then we were kids. Unless our parents were saturating us with Ritalin, we couldn’t focus our attention on something for more than twenty minutes without some sort of payoff. The new games were difficult. We’d play them for a day or two before we reached a level or character who we just couldn’t defeat. We’d throw our controllers across the room and take out a few Star Wars men we had lovingly arranged to create the Endor battle sequence (Okay, that was just me.) Regardless, we’d become frustrated so quickly that we would give up and head off to something else that would hold our attention for more than a few grueling agonizing minutes.

Kids would get together at school and gossip about their video game prowess. Nobody ever beat a game, except for that weird kid in your science class that always seemed to wreck the curve on pop quizzes. Often, afterschool video game parties would become so frustrating that spontaneous games of football or driveway hockey would suddenly break out. The video game industry was worried. Just how can we get these kids back inside and on their couches and create a generation of unhealthy young adult with amazing reflexes and carpal tunnel syndrome?

There has never been an actual smoking gun document that released the code to the masses, but once it was out there, it spread like wildfire. It soon replaced “Who’s the best Kickball Player” and “the smelly bouillon mothball kid’s ugly backpack” as the topics of choice. Up Up Down Down Left Right Left Right B A. Everybody knew it immediately. The day we found out, we rushed home like greedy hamsters hording away the final wood chip and gnawing it with all the gusto of a final meal.

And it worked. Contra cartridges across the country were suddenly receiving workouts akin to John Goodman bending down to pick up his keys. All the levels we had heard about and dreamed of were opened to us. The enemies we tried so hard to vanquish now fell like rain. And what once drove us to fits of spastic rage now became replaced with longer sessions of gameplay. And just when you ran out of your excess power or seemingly immortal status, just punch up the code again and suddenly you’re back at the top of the mountain, looking down at your minions.

No longer would the impossible prevent you from frustration. Games became defeated quickly, sending you directly to your parents for an allowance advance so you could get the next story and vanquish that with just as much gusto. And where you once became irritated and actually did something constructive was now replaced with more and more hours of doing nothing that bettered yourself. Though bragging to your friends at recess that you beat Gradius was pretty fricken cool.

And so here we are, almost twenty years later. The young adults of the NES age are now hitting their thirties. Video games still hold their clutches around us and cheats still flood the Internet. While not as simple as the Konami code (hold square, press down three times, spin the controller in a clockwise motion, press x and sing Ave Maria) they still make every angry moment of frustration, a passive trip down memory lane.

What did the code do to us? Not only did we waste our childhood years of wonder, we still are looking for every sort of quick fix. Instead of taking our time and confronting problems, we believe deep inside that there is some magic fix we can enter into our collective unconsciousness that will magically grant us a few more years of ozone or unlimited fuel resources. We turned the greatest superpower in the world into a growing generation of people who think a deux ex machina is right around the corner. We still get frustrated at our problems and toss them across the room, but we’ve forgotten how to move on to something else that will make them better. Konami, not the NES itself, can bask in the glory that it successfully made its’ money and we fell into their trap.

I’m one to talk, I know, but I’m merely railing at the system, not trying to fix it. I mean, hell I’ve been pressing select start over and over for about twenty years and I’m still flat broke. Though I did get the spread gun, unlimited armor and 99 lives in the mail yesterday, so I’ve got that going for me.



1. babyboglet - July 11, 2006

I agree with everything you said. My kids generation are even more in search of a quick fix to life than we ever were (I am 40). It seems in the Uk like noone wants to do the dirty jobs anymore, everyone just wants fame and money. Not that we didn’t want that when we were kids, but the difference is that we wanted to be a great rockstar or a writer and now kids just want to be famous for fames sake – no talent involved. I did my fair share of dirty jobs when I was young and I believe it was good for me – kind of humbling.

Sometimes I think they should bring back national service but not for the army to make kids do a bit of hard work, gardening, farm work, cleaning loos, whatever. Only joking of course but it’s an idea…

2. doctorolove - July 11, 2006

Well put, boglet. I did receive my share of hard work. and fame for fame’s sake is my main problem with pop culture. I guess andy Warhol’s fifteen minutes was correct…too bad he never lived to see modern reality TV society!!

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