The Opiate of The Classes

As school starts for another year, I’m caught raveling a couple of loose threads exposed in my gray matter by an offhand Facebook post. I was gazing lovingly at my newly-christened ‘iPad mini’* and thinking about how similar in form is is to my first ever serious self-bought gadget acquisition: a Nintendo Game And Watch.

image I had scrimped and saved lawnmowing money for 4 weeks to save up the $12 I spent at a Macarthur Square Pharmacy to buy ‘Fire’ – a simple little game of bouncing panicked residents from their burning building to a waiting ambulance.

Wouldn’t it be great to return to that simple gameplay for at least a little while? Today’s app ‘developers’ churning out sound boards and simple games of tic-tac-toe could learn a lot from the earliest mobile application developers – about gameplay, but importantly, about engagement.

They created situations and characters on tiny LCD screens which dragged 10 year olds away from the recess cricket pitch and under the Big Oak Tree for the first time. Nintendo – the inventor of Mario and Donkey Kong – understood early on that the game should be good, the hardware durable, but the kids will only keep playing if the characters are worth saving and revisiting. How many crowds of kids cheered on that little diver as he/she sprinted past the flailing arms of The Octopus? What is it about those cheesy little vignettes that inspires reverie today?

Unlike the Coleco Visions and the Ataris and the well-established arcades**, these games were portable (and school-suitcase-smuggleable). They could wake you up on the morning and keep you awake well past bedtime. There were no cartridges to purchase, no battery-draining backlights, and if things locked up, the ACL button was your friend. And they made cool little LCD explosions if you risked applying your thumb a little to hard to the screen. They established simple rules – 3 misses and you’re out. No saved progress, no cheat codes, no ‘unlocked achievements’, no multiplayer.

And yet, somehow, they consumed the attention and free-time of a generation.

As far as I can see, Nintendo has not allowed Game and Watch Simulators on the Apple iTunes Store. Presumably, the copyright police are (rightly) in Apple’s ear. You can find one or two ‘Game and Watch-type’ apps on there, but nothing worth spending time/money/bandwidth on.

However, there are some simulators available for Windows platforms – where developers don’t *necessarily* need to pass their wares through such a tight net. I found a couple of great sites, below, where developers have lovingly created some Games and Watches of yesteryear. See how many you remember!

imageFor mine, the standout games I can recall: Fire, Octopus, Donkey Kong and Donkey Kong Junior, Snoopy Tennis and Oil Panic.

Sure, they’d barely rate a mention alongside today’s FPS/RPG/WoW/MMORPGs, and are probably heavily filtered through a nostalgic lens, but, dammit, they’re honest, hardworking little buggers that deserve a second chance in the apps store – come on Nintendo! Turtle Bridge for iPhone! Make it happen!

Some great sites

If you have any other links or memories, please post in the comments.

P.S.: Circle of Life: I had to save up a similar amount of time to buy the latest Nintendo gadget: The Wii. And sure enough, in Super Smash Bros. Brawl – one of the retro Nintendo characters is – you guessed it – ‘Mr Game And Watch’ – all the way from the scene of The Fire. Spooky.

(* ‘iPad Mini’ is my new name for my ‘iPod Touch’.)

(Update – Feb 2013 – seems there’s a product called the iPad mini now. Guess we can substitute ‘iPad Micro‘.)

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One thought on “The Opiate of The Classes

  1. Hi David,

    I remember being one of those kids standing over the top of you watching you play your donkey kong at St Johns Primary School ! LOL .Hope all is well. Stumbled across your site via facebook.

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