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It’s amazing how a single moment can make you feel really young and really old at the same time.  Last week I was at my friend Maria’s house, and before I came over she had emailed me saying her 9-year-old daughter really wanted me to bring over my DS so we could play Phantom Hourglass together, so I did. Her little brother seemed amazed that a grownup had a DS at all, which made me feel all young and hip and stuff.

Then he asked me if I had Mario Kart. I told him I don’t have the DS version but that I have it for Nintendo 64. At this, his sister perked up and asked something that made me feel really old:

“What’s a Nintendo 64?”

After recovering from the shock, I explained it was a system that came out when I was about her age (I was actually about 11, I think). Her response? “Wooooow! That’s a long time ago!”

And you know, I can understand that, because it came out like, four years before she was even born. I’ve never thought stuff from four years before I was born is old at all, but I grew up listening to Motown and watching The Partridge Family in the 90s, so my perspective on time is a little weird.

But boy it made me feel old to hear that. The N64 wasn’t my first console, or even my second console, but my third. Fourth, if the Super Gameboy counts. My first console, an NES, was brought home by my dad when I was only three.  What made it so great was that it brought us all together. My parents’ marriage was already on the rocks, but they’d get together to beat up the Hammer Bros or play Duck Hunt. My mom loved to play Spy vs. Spy, which was a little beyond my abilities as a three-year-old, but I loved Super Mario and Q-Bert. Unfortunately the system got fried during a lightning storm and we couldn’t afford to replace it.

My second console, an SNES with the included Super Gameboy, came one Christmas when I was ten. As was typical at the time it included a leaflet advertising Nintendo Power, and I begged my mom to subscribe me. My mom is pretty awesome, so she did. And it was because of Nintendo Power that I knew, a year later, exactly when the N64 was coming out and what it could do and how fucking cool it was going to be.

I just had to try it out, and our local video store happened to have one for rent. You could rent the entire system with Super Mario 64, but you had to put down a ridiculous $100 deposit (which you’d get back as soon as the thing came back in one piece) in addition to the rental fee. My grandma’s head just about exploded when she heard that, but she did it anyway, even though $100 was an awful lot of money for my family. I swore up and down that I would be extra super careful with it and that she was the best grandma ever and NINTENDO SIXTY FOOOOUR OH MY GOD!!!!

And of course it blew me away. The idea of a game where you could go in any direction, where things didn’t chase you down every second and you could just wander around doing nothing if you felt like it, was revolutionary. You could fly like a bird, swim, go on giant twisty slides, and surf on lava in what appeared to be the very bowels of Hell. With so many similar games out now, it’s easy to forget how revolutionary Super Mario 64 was at the time, but it truly seemed like you had stepped through your TV and into a Carroll-esque wonderland.

Of course, once I had rented the thing, I had to own one. I begged my parents for it, and they were willing to oblige me, but there was a problem: every store everywhere was sold out of the damn things. Remember the infamous Tickle Me Elmo shenanigans in 1996, where people were going crazy and beating each other up to get the last ones? Yeah, that was the same year the N64 came out, and the madness with that was nearly as bad.

So they put it on reserve at Walmart and cautioned me that it might be a really really long time before we were able to get one. And then one day (and this was in 5th grade, a grade that I loathed, which makes this story that much more awesome) my parents picked me up early from school. They did this once in awhile to avoid the school traffic, so I wasn’t that surprised – at least not until I found out why.

“Walmart just called and they said they have a Nintendo 64 and we can go get it but they only have one and we have to go RIGHT NOW so we’re going right now hurry up let’s go!” is approximately what my mom said. I couldn’t believe my ears: not only had my grandma and my mom picked me up from school early to get a Nintendo, but my mom was as excited to buy it for me as I was to get it. She never once played the thing herself, she just knew how bad I wanted it and couldn’t wait for me to finally have it. My mom is cool.

So maybe the kids these days wouldn’t be that excited by an N64. They have DS’s and Wii’s with way better technology and just wouldn’t get why the games I loved so much as a kid were that impressive. And if I felt like it I could sit here and snot about how back in my day we appreciated every little leap in technology and thought it was exciting just to be able to jump on Goombas.

But I’m never going to do that. Because the fact that kids are still excited about Nintendo, still playing for hours just to beat that one level that is really hard, still asking people who come over to please play Zelda with them? That is really fucking cool, AND it makes me feel young, because Nintendo is bridging the generation gap. Rock on, Nintendo, rock on.

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