I got my first console, the Nintendo Entertainment System, when I was five years old. My parents bought it for me for Christmas, and it came bundled with the classic Mario Brothers / Duck Hunt dual cartridge. I’m not certain, but I don’t believe I had asked for an NES; I just had a forward-thinking mother who knew a good toy when she saw it. What she didn’t know was that the NES was haunted*.
(As an aside, I really have to thank my mother for consistently buying new consoles and games for my sister and I throughout our childhoods and teenage years. Without her support, I’m sure I never would have gotten so involved in gaming.)
My first few times playing Mario went smoothly; I quickly grasped the concept of using the controller to move the cartoon man on the screen, and probably spent a lot of time on level 1-1. My growing fondness for the system was shattered, however, the first time that I turned on the NES and for whatever reason, didn’t start playing right away. As the idle console began showing the recorded demo of Mario playing through the first level, I watched in confusion. I knew that I controlled Mario with the gray rectangle-thingy. So who was controlling him now? How could he move without any button-pushing from me? I must have asked my mother, and whatever response she provided did not fully put my mind at ease. I looked with suspicion on the NES, but managed to put that first creepy experience behind me.
I played Mario at least a few more times before accidentally seeing the demo again. The second time was the clincher. I watched, transfixed and with growing terror, as the ghost in the machine gleefully hopped around level 1-1, my level, on my game. How was this possible? The only explanation I could fathom was some kind of supernatural one. I don’t believe I worked out the exact details of the Nintendo ghost, but I didn’t need to. Even after turning off the NES and the tv, I couldn’t look at the console without feeling the fear. The Nintendo had to go.
I explained, somehow, to my mother that I wanted her to get rid of the NES. She didn’t understand exactly what the problem was, but offered to put the offending console away in the attic until I was ready to try it again. That solution was NOT acceptable. It needed to be OUT of the house. She told me she would take care of it, but when I went up to the attic later that day, my suspicions were confirmed; it was indeed tucked away, in its box, in a dark corner. I was enraged that my mother had lied to me, and after the ensuing tearful confrontation, she gave the NES away to a couple of friends with kids of their own. Kids who were not afraid of the NES.
I’ve pieced this story together from a combination of my own recollections and my mother’s. The strongest memory I have of this episode is an emotional one, a memory of the true and deep-seated unease, escalating to real fear of the NES. It’s hard to understand, as an adult, how I could have actually been terrorized by a game demo, but that is what happened.
It was three years later, at age 8, that I apparently decided I was over my fear and wanted a new Nintendo. My wonderful mother bought me one for my 9th birthday, this time bundled with Kirby’s Adventure (a favourite game to this day). My relationship with the second NES console was excellent from the start, and bloomed into a lifelong love affair with games.
But part of me still wonders what exactly was going on with that first console.
*Not actually haunted.