There’s a very special method to operating something as ancient as my Nintendo 64. Uncoiling and laying out each of the cords; blowing out the power, output and controller cords, mostly just in case; running each wire to its proper location; dusting the entire console; removing the cartridge and blowing deeply into it to get rid of dust; opening the flaps on the console and blowing to dust them out; placing the cartridge evenly on its seat; slamming it down with the proper amount of force; pressing the power button.
The process is mystical. I remember every step though I forget where I learned it. My hands follow a prescribed method and my eyes are needed only to make sure I have the right cartridge. But what’s most powerful, creepy, and memorable is the end of the beginning.
Jet Force Gemini is my favorite game of all time and I’ve returned to it, to Goldwood and Eschebone, to the abandoned Space Station, and to the water ruin, to find it’s not the same game any more. I expected as much, but I didn’t expect that the difference would be neither my age and personal change, nor the outdated controls and graphics, nor even the loss of awe toward such a unique game. The true difference is in the way I can play it.
The game itself is a little difficult to describe. It’s one of the first 3rd-person shooters but it’s more like a puzzle-based exploration game with co-op. It’s also notable for strong art direction, atmosphere and environments, its brilliant if recycled music, high difficulty, unique and tricky controls as well as a few more less important aspects; story, for instance.
Four of these aspects combined to make it my game: the high difficulty, puzzle-based exploration, co-op, and the age of the game. The game is made for one player but these four factors made it a great shared experience for me. The camera only ever follows one character but a small robot, Floyd, can be controlled by a second player and used as a gun platform, easing the learning curve for weaker players. The difficulty ensures that the ‘better player’ simply becomes ‘the player,’ especially since it doesn’t much matter who ‘plays’. The puzzles are everywhere and subtle; it takes a watchful eye to spot opportunities and a little preparation to take advantage of them later on. Finally, the age of the game ensures that it came out when I was five.
At the time I couldn’t read, there was only the one console among the extended family, and it was so easy to play Jet Force Gemini together. My (much) older cousin lead the charge most of the time, and was occasionally there to help when I got stuck. I could shoot aliens and I could tell him if I spotted a tribal (you had to collect every single one to finish the game) or a capacity upgrade. It was a professional relationship and it was beautiful. It was fucking awesome when we found an entirely new world because I saw the path. I’m sure that Jet Force Gemini would be a great game for most any father and son to enjoy.
And I can never again have another playthrough like that. I now know all the puzzles and locations of important items and the game isn’t very hard any more. But more than that, I don’t have the right person to play with, which was what the game really meant to me.
My nephew is five and about to go to ‘real’ school. To explain the difference between us I use the word â€œgentleâ€. As a child I didn’t speak for years; I could talk, I just didn’t see much point in it. To this day I have serious trouble killing bugs (a fly’s alright â€“ annoying pricks) but I’ll be damned if I let someone squish a helpless spider. My nephew is none of this – kind of mean, even – but most importantly he’s not patient.
If he has difficulty with a game – or anything, really – he’ll give up. He’ll ask, if not whine, for me to beat a section for him. This I can understand, and I even appreciate a little; he is only learning after all. However, often enough he’ll just switch to something else because he feels a little frustrated. This is a horrible trait.
That is what happened when I played with him on the N64. He’s not used to the controls and refuses to learn properly (the controls are quite weird, in his defense). He hasn’t bothered to learn how the game really works. And he never even wanted to play through the first level on his own.
But he liked the game, I could tell. His eyes grew big when the arcane hardware quietly oozed life into the TV. He was interested in exploring though he never learned to do it right (as in, looking around a room). He called the tribals â€œtravellersâ€, a strangely fitting and endearing name. He offered tips and acted as a lookout when I played (often proving mostly ineffective and annoying).
I think the difference is in our environments. He has more than a hundred games at his fingertips (mostly demos, but still). I had maybe ten. If ever he finds an issue with the game he’s playing, it’s broken. If ever I found an issue, I broke through it. It’s hard to express, but I served my games.
If a game was too hard then it meant I wasn’t good enough. If I died, it was because I made a mistake. If I wasn’t enjoying myself, I simply needed to push further. There was always a lot that went into a new game – the ride to the store, the guilt of making my parents give away their money, the anticipation (I always read the manual going home), the effort and time invested; I always made the most of it. I didn’t understand that games could be… wrong. It also helped that I got some of the best games of the age.
I like my nephew. But it can be hard to like him, because his is exactly the sort of attitude I hate. Ignorant, arrogant, mean and impatient. But he’s a good kid, and he does enjoy video games (too much, too much). It’s sad, then, that what should be such a strong link between us is actually more like a division. I also worry that he’ll never want to read (a vital school pastime, since they don’t let GameBoys through).
I think this shows how gaming can be both good and bad. Within me it instilled certain skills and traits, became a great tool for motivation and competition, and formed a link with people who would otherwise be too different to hang out with. With him it’s already an addiction, it’s making him impatient and narrow-minded, and though we sit adjacent – he on the chair before the Xbox, I on the bed before the laptop – we are disconnected by all but his whining.
I won’t let it end like this. I’ll make sure that as he grows up, as we become a little more alike, that I’ll show him good things. When his coddling mother finally lets him out the door I’ll take him for long hikes and I’ll show him Advance Wars. I’ll read to him, and lord help him if he doesn’t listen. When I leave in a few years (I’m postponing embarkation because of the cost of college) I’ll make sure to keep in contact with him, and give him a few nudges here and there. And he, just like me, will inherit ‘the collection’; the pile of used games that we’ve compiled (though I’m keeping the books – he can pry Steinbeck from my cold, dead hands). He’s acquired a habit and I’m going to make sure that he gets the most out of it. I want him to say, like me, that he looks back and sees that video games helped him become a good person.
I constantly play King Crimson, Muse, Sanders, Clannad, and Portugal. The Man on the laptop. (That’s one sentence. ‘Portugal. The Man’ is one phrase. They needed a reason to capitalize ‘The’.) These musicians, and the games that my nephew and I share, are bound to prove the same as my dad’s Hendrix, Floyd, Skynyrd and King, in that they’ll rub off on the next generation.
9 responses to “Jet Force Gemini: Retrospective”
Haha. It's still as cheesy as the moment I wrote it. I'll try and veer away from silly things like this in the future, but I figured this would be a great intro post. Which I still think it is.
So, is the ultimate message a positive one?
I am becoming a curmudgeon in my old age (some would argue that I was always a grump it is just that I am now old enough to be classed as one) and think that kids just don't get it.
But when I talk about it, I am thinking of the BBC Micro computer… I am getting old. Nice retrospective all the same!
I can't really say it's positive, but is instead hopeful… maybe.
All I can really say about video games (in relation to the young) is that it's a bit of a dungeon. Lots of rewards, lots of dangers. I think that games can have a lot of different good impacts on someone, instilling a good work/reward ethic for instance, or preserving a sense of curiosity. It can also destroy social life and attention spans.
I'm not entirely sure I can guide my nephew through a good videohood (see the new meme; it started here), since he seems predisposed to pickup the bad traits while I was born to digest the good. So, at looking at it from here, I'm not sure if video games even have an impact on kids, or if children simply absorb traits based on their personalities, and simply force there way into good or bad mentalities.
Still, it probably helps to have someone like me who knows video games and how to play 'properly.' He's already starting to pick up on a 'code of play' from me, even though it's in a primitive state that hates campers and pilots that let the passengers fly the chopper. This is the root of him -someday- shouting that the duty of the strong is to protect the weak, and stuff like that.
Well, my old commment got deleted.
It's hopeful I'd say, but not really positive.
Video games can clearly have a lot of good and bad effects. Installing a good work/reward ethic, or preserving a sense of curiosity. It can also destroy attention spans and social lives.
It helps that I'm the one playing with him though. He's already developed a rudimentary 'code of gaming,' which revolves around saying nasty things at campers and pilots that let the passengers fly. This -hopefully- will be the basis for him shouting that the duty of the strong is to protect the weak, and stuff like that.
I have a post that I should write that is partly a response to this side part of your review. I know it has been discussed a few times already but the reason I want to write it is mainly because I disagree with the one point about this being a generational gap – that when we were kids we were able to focus for longer.
I have found myself, as I get older, not really wanting to spend as much time entrenched in games that I don't enjoy (although many might argue that I spend a lot of time playing games that I shouldn't enjoy). With more disposable income and less time I simply won't stay with RPGs as long as I would have. Likewise this extends to music and books (but not films or television where I will watch the worst shit imaginable and delight), length of an album or book used to be very important to me moreso than quality. That has changed as I have found more meaningful experiences in Slaughterhouse 5 than, say, Lord of the Rings.
Did I say it was a generational gap? Well, I don't know about that.
Well, I can definitely say that my generation has a very short span of attention. Anytime I take about a minute to explain something, they're gone. I just can't say that that's because we're young or if it's because we're different.
Counter to that, there is the thread running through our society of trying to 'fix' introverts. It worked for me, but it's definitely a corrosive mentality.
There seems to be a lot of comparisons between you and your nephew and him being different as a result of how times have changed so I took it as that. If that is not what you meant then fair enough but you might have to be a little clearer in your ambiguity on whether it is a generational or personality gap.
I think it has more to do with exposure (which you did explore) than to do with age and personality. With so much more content so readily available, I think it is impossible to not be more picky.
It is a nice introduction. Certainly better than mine: I planned to have my first post to be something incidental like a tour of my Minecraft world, but ended up piggybacking on Spann's Arkham City piece.
That's also half my articles to date. I'll… I'll go away now and write something.
Yes, yes, you should! ;)
I like this piece and so I was pleased to publish it here. I also feel it serves well as an intro post.