Back in the late 80s/early 90s, video games were hard – I’m talking ‘virgin at a strip club’ hard. Nowadays, a Game Over screen is a rare site. At least it is for most modern games. Back in what I call the “Golden Era,” video games punished you for sucking and didn’t hold your hand the whole time. Back then, story wasn’t as important as racking up points. The games were a lot shorter too so developers had to balance that out with a higher difficulty. Some games were so difficult that the only way some gamers could see the ending was with the help of cheat codes or the infamous Game Genie. Even today, the most famous cheat code in existance is embedded in our pop culture history. The famed “Konami Code” was originally an accident that grew into a legend. There are still games out there that are just as relentless as classic games of the past (I’m looking at you, Dark Souls) but there are games like the Lego Franchise or 2008’s Prince of Persia reboot where it is impossible to die.
The first video game that I ever owned was Super Mario Bros for the Nintendo Entertainment System. I died so many times that I thought the game was unbeatable – until my friend beat it in 10 minutes… show off. After I learned the enemy patterns and found all the secrets, I actually enjoyed the game a lot more and stopped yelling at my TV as often. That is, until I played Contra. Dear Lord, was that game brutal. I yelled at my TV so much that I’m surprised my parents didn’t have me tested. I couldn’t even get past the first level without losing all three of my lives – until one day at school, a friend of mine told me of a secret code that gives you 30 lives. Up, Up, Down, Down, Left, Right, Left, Right, B, A, Start. That code was a life saver, literally. I was finally able to beat the game, albeit with two lives left (yes I was that bad).
“Up, Up, Down, Down, Left, Right, Left, Right, B, A, Start.”
I don’t think I could have beaten as many games as I did without the help of my trusty Game Genie: a cheat device to change the game’s code to give the player extra lives, infinite ammunition, etc. You would take the Game Genie and insert the game that you wished to “enhance” into it… almost like the video game equivelent to “docking.” Then you stick the two love birds in the NES console but it sticks out of the system while you play – almost like it’s sticking its tongue out at you – judging you… you filthy cheater. Once you input the codes and press the Start button you could breeze through the game without a care in the world, unless you input the wrong code and now your game looks like a glitchy mess. Many gamers look down on Game Genies and later the Game Shark, but if they don’t like it then they don’t have to use it. Ain’t nobody gonna tell me how to run my life! They can cash me outside… How ’bout dah?
Cheat codes have become a rarity these days because there is less need for them. Games aren’t as difficult as they used to be. I guess games have evolved from arcade-style point accumulators to interactive movies. I’m not saying that’s a bad thing, it just reminds me that I’m getting older. I still miss the 90s. That’s why I collect so many retro games; I want to relive my childhood when the music was nothing but ballads and house music, wrestling was still “real,” and the economy was kick-ass. I’m never going to stop playing new games because gaming is what I do – it’s in my blood. I identify as a gamer first and a gay man second. I’ll be a Gaymer for life.
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