Tuesday, March 8, 2011

Raising the Platform (So High That I Can No Longer Reach It)

Yes, I admit it. My memory isn’t what it used to be. I’m in my mid-thirties and things that used to burn themselves into my memory just don’t have the clarity they used to.

I haven’t forgotten where I live, woken to tell my wife I don’t want to go to school today or done my business in the hallway closet because I could have sworn I was one door further down in the bathroom (though I’m sure those days are in my future), but there are definite lapses. The crisp, clean snap of memory retention is beginning to escape me.

My concern is not because I go up the stairs and come back down after having changed my pants when I went up there to get a pair of socks. It is not because I find myself holding a blank sheet of paper and have no idea what my intentions with it were. Likewise, it is not because I start to drive to the grocery store and upon thinking I’ve arrived find myself parked in front of McDonald’s. All of these things are par for the course. Their things I’ve always done.

I chalk such behavior up to my lack of concern. Something infinitely more important (like trying to remember the correct name of “Walrus Man” from Star Wars) than keeping my feet warm or buying food was on my mind at the time I embarked upon my journey. Thus, instead of remembering what it was I meant to do, I end up muttering to myself and my body takes over, performing actions it is used to performing. These actions are the result of a subconscious decision to use my mind for something else. They involve a choice.

The event that pushed me to the doorstep of resignation over my failing memory was my inability to retain something I was very much focusing on. I have come to notice that I no longer excel in a field that I used to dominate: Platform Games.

I first noticed my troubles while playing New Super Mario Brothers Wii with my sons. Suddenly and inexplicably, I wasn't the one leading the charge through the Mushroom Kingdom. My six-year-old was so far ahead of me, saying, "Hold on Daddy, I'll kill that guy for you," that I was nearly in tears both from pride in his proficiency and embarrassment at the lack of mine. I began whining that he was going too fast without me. In fact, had you an audio recording of our session, the fact that my voice has obviously passed through puberty would be the only thing indicating that what I was saying was coming from the adult in the room.

My recent trials with Mega Man 10 have also left me feeling withered and feeble. I can’t remember how many times I need to hit an enemy with my arm blaster. I can’t remember how high to jump so I can hit that flying thing at the same time as I advance to the next platform. I can’t remember the fighting patterns of the lesser bosses faced in the middle of levels, much less the patterns of the robot masters. I find myself needing to rely on game walkthroughs I find on the Internet before I even select which stage to begin with. That’s just sad. Sad and wrong.

This is what I’ve become. I am a shell of my former, barrel-jumping, bubble-popping, brick-busting, coin-collecting, whip-cracking, blaster-charging, Brinstar-massacring, level-leveling, boss-defeating, princess-saving self.

The only platform game I’ve managed to defeat recently is Limbo. While it’s an amazing game and challenging to say the least, I had to take my victory with a grain of salt seeing as each time you die you start just steps before the puzzle that caused your demise and you have unlimited lives. There’s also the fact that it took me a few weeks to beat while I was playing it every night.

I thought at one point that a return to my roots would jog something in my memory. Perhaps a synapse in my brain had gone unused for too long while I tended to diapers and read board books instead of playing video games and needed to be dusted off. So, I pulled out the old NES, blew on the cartridge and fired up Super Mario Brothers. This time I was determined not to use any online game guide.

Where the hell is that warp zone?

I thought you could jump through the mushroom top platforms from below!

Which pipe is the shortcut?

Aaarrrggghhh! I forgot you can’t go backwards! I missed the fire flower!

Where the hell is that second warp zone?

It was a disgrace. I was ashamed of myself. All traces of the once golden god of platform gaming that I was have vanished. I can barely remember now which button jumps and which one fires.

But perhaps this is because I have taken to playing so much more sophisticated games. The three-dimensional world of gaming has caused my senses to expand beyond the platform. Maybe instead of losing a step (or eight) I’ve really just adapted into a more evolved species of gamer.

That is what I am going to tell myself for now, at least. In the meantime, I ought to start studying the walkthroughs if I ever want to see the inside of Dr. Wily’s lair.

Oh! I just remembered! Ponda Baba!


  1. I had the opposite experience when someone sent me the original Super Mario Bros. for the Wii. I expected to have forgotten a lot of things, but it all came flooding back. It was freaky. Like muscle memory or something. I also may be preferentially purging other things to keep those memories in my brain. Most of that stuff from med school is probably superfluous, right? In life, you never know when you are going to have to puzzle your way through a dungeon.

  2. I think the fact that you were able to complete med school is a testament to the fact that you can cram a whole bunch of information in your brain, so the Super Mario layout was more like breathing, blinking or maintaining a heartbeat for you.

    I know that I wish I could remember the layout better because I'm at least a thousand times more likely to end up in a dungeon from which escape requires my defeat of a giant evil turtle than I am to perform surgery, much to the delight of anyone who may be even considering surgery in the near future.