Nintendo Entertainment System is fading away. It’s been going on for a couple of decades and it’s easy to overlook, as newer flashy consoles like PS3 and Wii/U vie for our attention with all manner of bells and whistles that the stalwart 8-bit pioneer could never have imagined. For gamers (and former gamers) of my generation, the NES-era games and hardware continue to have an iconic, nostalgic appeal, as evidenced by toys, apparel, tattoos, memes, and imagery all over the net. But what about the actual, physical, playable console? What place does it have in today’s gaming world?
We pay our respects by consuming commercial items churned out to appeal to our inner children, or sometimes through art (or photos). I’m not saying there’s anything wrong with all this, but it sometimes makes me wonder how many people are still blowing into cartridges and gently pressing in the old gray power button, clutching the wired, rectangular controllers that do not fit the contours of our hands, and grinding it out through games much more challenging (no saving!) than today’s offerings.
I have an NES, and it is hooked up and ready to go along with my other consoles. I rarely use it. The siren songs of modern RPGs, shooters, of MarioKart Wii and World of Goo, of dark beautiful stories and seemingly limitless character customization, of my hard-won save files waiting impatiently for my attention, win out over my old gray friend quite consistently. The NES somehow appears both dignified and forlorn on the shelf above the PS3. I feel guilt, happiness, nostalgia, contentment, the pain of adulthood, and a million other feelings when I contemplate it.
A couple of years ago, I asked my then-10-year-old nephew if he knew anything about “the original Nintendo.” He has a Wii, plays MarioParty and MarioKart, and knows the beloved characters. He doubtless recognizes from imagery the older, pixelated Mario. “You mean N64?” “No, before that. Two consoles earlier.” He shook his head.
On the occasions, usually with friends over, that I do fire up the NES for some Mario 3, 31-in-1, or Paperboy, it really does transport me. Your muscle memory might get rusty, but you never forget how to get the whistles in Mario 3 or the frantic pre-techno music from Wiley’s Castle in Megaman 3.
These things were a part of my childhood and probably yours too. Letting go is painless, and the awareness of that fact is agonizing. As I gaze, in this moment, at the NES console, I can almost see it get blurry around the edges as it fades into obscurity. The icons will endure, but the circuits-and-plastic original is bound for extinction.
(The photos in this post are of me, and taken by Nick Rudnicki)