16-Bit Boy: On A Lovely Day Like This…
By Michael Sterrett
16-Bit Boy is a monthly column examining the joys and quirks of retro gaming. This time, Michael Sterrett looks back on his childhood, and wonders if his friends’ parents should really have kicked them off the consoles and out in the streets.
Being a kid is pretty fucking boring.
I can say in all honesty that I hated it. I longed for booze, 18-rated movies, three-day drug benders, harlots with rouge lipstick and guns tucked into their garters, subterranean speak-easies, and a host of other things that in my wild imagination seemed tantalisingly out of reach. I have a deep-seated suspicion of people who claim to have enjoyed their childhood. For them it seems that it was all birthday cakes, riding on their daddy’s shoulders and long summer days spent building tree houses with their bezzi-mates. When people tell me about these things, they may as well casually mention that they grew up on Mars. It’s so entirely alien to me.
It wasn’t all bad, though – and hell, it wasn’t like Angela’s Ashes or anything. I enjoyed Seinfeld, Chinese food and the music of Dean Martin. And I really loved videogames. Before consoles came out I would play Spy vs. Spy and pretty much anything at my local arcade. I sat through the ridiculous loading time on my sister’s Commodore 64 and pummeled my thumbs into a black, swollen mess on my first NES. Injuries aside, I was safely occupied, quiet, pleasant and subdued. Are these not perfect qualities for a child to have? After all, it allows everyone else to get on with the grim realities of adult life while you sit in your room not bothering anyone or constantly asking when dinner’s ready.
But through these restless, aimless days I was stalked ceaselessly by one diabolical foe: parents with good intentions. Jesus, it was unrelenting. Thankfully, my folks never tried to get me away from my beloved games, more than likely simply delighted that I wasn’t being bad or consuming huge multi-packs of supermarket own-brand crisps in a single sitting (something that seemed to particularly enrage my father). But without fail, any time I was at a school mate or relative’s house playing a game, at some point one of their parents – 97 per cent of the time the Ma – would walk into the room, turn the light off, open the curtains and say something along the lines of, “Switch that off, how can you be sat inside on a lovely day like this?” And then, for effect, the mother would usually put her hand on the burning hot console, shake her head and shoo us out the door.
So we would traipse out into the garden or the street and inevitably end up doing something pointlessly naughty like putting a brick through someone’s window, shoplifting or making crank calls to people with suitably ridiculous last names.
Don’t get me wrong, I don’t think it’s a good idea to let kids play games day and night without any outside contact or interaction. In fact, it’s probably a good thing that these annoying but well-meaning adults forced me out onto the streets now and again. I could easily have ended up as some kind of barely functioning husk looking like the living corpse from Se7en, sat upright in front of a flickering computer screen, wearing a decidedly ropey looking stained dressing gown.
I think what rankles with me to this day is the sense of injustice I felt. These parents were free to do as they pleased yet seemed compelled through a misguided sense of social responsibility to constrict my meagre pleasures. And underpinning the whole damn thing was this ingrained fear of computer games that sadly still exists amongst – let’s face it – a lion’s share of adults. The fact that I grew up in Northern Ireland during what was quite quaintly called ‘The Troubles’ made it even more absurd. I mean, a knee-capping or having your leg blown off by a car bomb is nothing compared to the perils of computer game addiction, right?
And let me at this point add a disclaimer. I am of sound mind and body. I do not ever want to have children. I would never knowingly inflict the petty indignities of life upon an innocent child. So if I ever accidentally have a baby then it is purely down to my overly potent sperm and an inability to turn my linguistic skills to my advantage and persuade my girlfriend to have an abortion. But, in the event of my life becoming a pile of crap, I can honestly say I would rule my child with the laissez faire attitude of a Victorian fop. Opium? Go for it, son! Facial tattoos? Beautiful! A new computer programme that plugs into your frontal lobe and allows you to experience life as Fred West? Well that sounds jolly, where are the consent papers?
Fucking up is what childhood is all about. There are no Victorian work houses left in which to lose a hand in some kind of threshing machinery, and the last time the majority of kids saw the inside of a chimney was most likely in a BBC3 time swap reality show called something like ‘Don’t Spare The Rod’. Fuck me, I learned more from Mario than the endless procession of fuckwits and malcontents masquerading as teachers at my local comprehensive.
So the next time you see a rosy cheeked urchin frolicking in the street, knocking a football around with jumpers for goalposts, do him a favour and point him in the direction of a PS3.