“I love the Power Glove. It’s so bad.”
The Wizard is a movie I only vaguely remembered from my childhood, with good reason. It has a charming enough story at its core, but so much of it is so grating in 2018. There’s a “bad guy” (child bounty hunter?) subplot that doesn’t work, the weirdly precocious “manic pixie dream child” played by Jenny Lewis, and most of the adult actors feel dialed up way past 10. Plus, any film that treats a single video game like the coolest thing in the world is asking to be dated. The Wizard is, and that’s that.
December 15, 1989
Budget: $6 million
Opening Weekend: $2.1 million
Domestic Gross: $14.3 million
More evocative than watching the film was revisiting the games it features. Nintendo is one of those things I look back on with some confusion. I certainly spent a lot of my childhood playing video games. I must have enjoyed them. But looking back on them now, it’s hard to find too much nostalgia for all the hours upon hours I spent playing the same few games.
I suppose it’s not that different from most other childhood pursuits. But sports are good for the body (not that I spent much time on that, either). Other games have a more social component. Playing outside gets you acquainted with nature. Playing inside develops creativity. Reading makes you smarter. What do video games do?
I was a voracious reader ever since I could read, and spent a lot of my childhood writing and being otherwise creative. Not every child could or should spend their time the way I did, but I’ve always been grateful that I naturally gravitated toward activities that would help me later in life. Yes, this is a “get off my lawn” episode of the podcast for me — I don’t want to rail against video games, but they are hopefully a part of a balanced “diet” of literature, film, and other media for most young people. (Wishful thinking, I know.) I have a hard time accepting video games as art. The amount of “art” that can be derived from a video game, versus the amount of time it takes to play one, strikes me as way out of whack with any other artistic medium. I’m sure gamers have plenty of cogent counter-arguments to my position here, but I struggle to see any real value in video games, unless you consider mindless diversion valuable.
On the other hand, I am just old enough to remember Nintendo as the gateway into where we are now. Our phones and laptops — our “devices” — are, essentially, video games we play with real life. “Likes” and shares are the same as bopping those bricks with our digital heads, being rewarded by the chime of a digital coin that does nothing for us. I won’t pretend that most of what we use the internet and social media for (as adults) is as passive as a childhood spent playing video games. Maybe that’s why I like the idea of Steven Spielberg’s upcoming Ready Player One — in that world, playing the game isn’t pointless. It has real-world stakes. That’s probably what I’d need in order to really “get” it.
I do have some fondness for the original games I played, however. The Super Mario Brothers world has always been fun and engaging. If you are going to spend hours upon hours in a video game world, this is a good one. It’s full of imagination. The first Super Mario Bros. game is notable for its straightforward simplicity; Super Mario Bros. 3 still feels a little epic. I might have the most fondness for Super Mario Bros. 2, maybe because it has the trippiest game design, or maybe because it lets you pick your player so that at least something is different from game-to-game. Princess Peach is a banal damsel in distress in the first game, but she’s allowed to kick ass with Mario and Luigi in this one.
Still, I find that life itself has enough obstacles and “game overs” for me. How many times have I found myself back at the beginning of a level I thought I was about to beat? My princess is also always in some other fucking castle. I don’t need video games to simulate the anxiety attack known as rush hour in Los Angeles. I don’t need them to take up my time. For a middle class suburban boy in the 1990s, Nintendo was a great way to have a common language with other kids my age, especially since I wasn’t into sports. They were a passable pursuit back then, but I don’t feel the need to bring them with me into adulthood. Let’s just say I moved on to the next level.