Game Boy: Nintendo 64 Moves In

I lost my lover to a machine.There's no denying it's a pretty incredible machine; I've whiled away several hours in its company myself, but for my boyfriend, it's become his whole world.His Super Mario World.Nintendo 64, to be exact.One of the top-selling gifts of the holiday season, Nintendo 64 is a new, ultra-high-tech video game system that even I have to admit blows every other Sega Saturn, Sony Playstation setup out of the water. It first came out in stores a few months ago, selling for close to $200 a system. The latest game, "Star Wars: Shadows of the Empire'' is sold out in nearly every electronics store in Sacramento.The first two games, Super Mario and Pilot Wings, sold for a special introductory price of $60. With those kind of prices, it was obvious what kind of big boys who love toys they were going after. And sure enough, my boyfriend was one of the first in line.For the next month, our weekends were spent in front of the TV, joystick in hand (to be fair, he did get two controllers, so I could play too). We explored the 3-D world of Super Mario, squealing with amazement at each triple jump the plucky little plumber executed, astounded by the incredible graphics in the water and snow levels.I wasn't the only one to be sucked in. A friend stopped in for a one-night visit and ended up staying the whole weekend. He was still planted in front of the game Monday morning when we left for work, and even now makes periodic return visits, heading straight for the television.Other friends came over specifically to see the game. Forget the small talk; hand over the controller, and how do you get to the rainbow level again? One co-worker brought over his 5-year-old son and ended up fighting with him over who got to play next. A standard afternoon on our block saw all the neighbors huddled in the darkened cave of our apartment (the screen stood out more with the lights off) screaming at every difficult move and waiting anxiously for their turn at the D-pad. The Game, as I'd begun to think of it, sent everyone who came into contact with it into a video-induced haze. Hours disappeared, as did all thought of friends, work and family.And then things got worse.Our obsession with Super Mario was nothing compared to the frenzy inspired by our next purchase, "Mortal Kombat.'' The fourth release from Nintendo 64 had been hyped for weeks before its store date. My boyfriend was literally counting the hours until it came out; I'll never forget the cry of anguish he let out when the release date was pushed back a week. He turned to a 40-ounce bottle of Old English for comfort that night, and as he fell into a drunken stupor, I swear I heard him murmur the words "Mortal Kombat.''But the week passed quickly and soon the promised day arrive -- again. We walked into the store just as the clerks were unpacking the first shipment of games. This time the price had gone up to $80 a cartridge, but never mind the bucks, we had the game.Supposedly, this blood-and-gore fest (you can actually select the blood level you want the game to feature) was even better than the arcade version. Like the early versions of "Mortal Kombat'' and the movie of the same name, a group of earthly and other worldly warriors congregate to fight to the death. I can't remember why, and to be honest, I don't think it mattered. What was important was who could kick the most ass.That turned out to be our upstairs neighbor, James -- much to his wife's dismay. James and my sweetheart spent hours duking it out, finding each warrior's weaknesses and strengths. I'd come home from work to find both of them stuck to their controllers, hands cramped from playing so long, but continuing the battle nonetheless. Any attempt to drag them from the game -- like James' wife frustrated effort to get him to see a Sunday matinee -- were met with stubborn resistance.Only after an hour of pleading did she manage to coerce him into the movie theater, and even then he left under duress, peering anxiously over his shoulder to see what the next game level looked like.It didn't help matters that other new games were as close as the nearest Blockbuster Video, where you could rent cartridges such as Wayne Gretzky's 3-D Hockey and a jet ski race game called Wave Rider. Even the boring Pilot Wings, which was graphically appealing but had less action, was getting a test run on the system.The madness had no end.A co-worker (the same one who wrested the control pad away from his very own child) showed up one morning at 7:30 a.m. so he could get some time in on The Game. Our neighbors would mutter secret codes at each other as they passed in the street:"Jax rules.''"Did you figure out babality yet?''It began to remind me of the Star Trek: The Next Generation episode where the crew became obsessed with some weird game that plugged directly into your eye sockets. The apparatus purportedly stimulated the player's pleasure center, making victory the mental equivalent of orgasm. Of course, it turned out that the whole thing was part of some strange mind-control effort by an alien who wanted to take over the Enterprise.Far-fetched? Not given my experience with The Game.A friend of mine, after seeing the Nintendo madness corrupt our entire block, was kind enough to direct me to an expert on game control. Kathleen Tyner, the founder for Strategies for Media Literacy, authored a piece titled "Taking Back the Citadel: Managing Nintendo Use at Home'' and while her techniques are geared toward children, they can easily apply to players of all ages.Among Tyner's suggestions: "Become conversant in Nintendo-ese'' (the old if-you-can't-beat-them, join-them defense); "Establish time limits''; and my favorite: "Look for signs that Nintendo is becoming a child's whole life, instead of a part of his/her life. When you notice that your child has not eaten or slept for days, a trip to the fusebox to manage a power outage is in order.''There is supposed to be a total of 20 Nintendo 64 games on the shelves by Christmas, and at the rate they are selling, you might want to be careful of a system entering a household near you. You may think this will never happen to you, but as I've discovered, Nintendo 64 is close to unstoppable.In the words of another animatronic effort to take over the world: Resistance is futile.

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