My Mom vs. TETRIS 2

The thing about this uncomfortably-staged advertisement is that, for me, it's pretty accurate - I mean, apart from the fact that the machine isn't even turned on or plugged in, or that both kids are engaged in a one-player scenario, or that the game cartridge is lying on the table in plain sight, or that no one seems to be actually looking at the screen. But yes, other than that, the idea of the entire nuclear family standing around in awe of the magic of Super Mario Bros. is an experience I remember well.

I received my first NES in 1989 for my 6th birthday - which made me a late bloomer by several years. And the next day, I made up for it; from the moment I woke until bedtime, I fought against Goombas and Koopa Troopas in a single-minded attempt to make it to World 1-4 (which I had believed was the final stage of the game). I didn't eat, I didn't bathe, I didn't even change out of my pajamas, and my parents and sister allowed this obsession to consume me, as they were just as enthralled as I.

This thing was no Pet Rock or Rubik's Cube. The home gaming console was parallel to the radio and the television in terms of immediate and indiscriminate popularity and longevity (people still play). No one was not impressed - even my parents who, both equally, had a paralyzing fear of advancing technology, both (briefly) took a shot at saving the Princess. 

Amongst the games I acquired in the coming months was Tetris, and no one in my household was safe from its addictive properties. At one point, for a short period, we'd have 'tournaments' of sorts in which we'd spend evenings taking turns with the controller, trying to obtain the highest score. I wasn't waterproof to this domestic bliss, but the real thrill for me was that my daily after school Nintendo time had now bled into what most call "Family Time." All this meant was that I didn't have to stop playing at some fixed cutoff mark and surrender the TV to Peter Jennings - my days were now evenly divided between scholastics and 'select' screens. Also, it's an indescribable thrill for a child when parents take a genuinely enthusiastic (and active) interest in whatever they're into. 

It's stuff like this that makes nostalgia inarguably valid and valuable. 

Eventually the novelty wore off and I'd moved onto Super Nintendo - which resided in my own bedroom until, once again, my interests shifted. But that original, 'vintage' Nintendo Entertainment System lived on in my mother's possession, through which she boldly graduated to Tetris 2

Not really being a gamer myself, I'm not aware of how it was received when it came out, or where it stands today in terms of any rankings. Basically it was Dr. Mario with Tetris blocks - and noticeably uglier than both of those games. Still, it had the same puzzle addiction in its blood, and video game sequels were just as exciting as movie sequels.

But like I said, I'd moved on - but Mom kept playing: after her bath, sitting on the edge of her bed with her cigarettes and Diet Coke on ice, every night for the rest of her life. Nowadays I hear of older folks getting into low-key online gaming, but my mother wasn't online - she was (like myself I suppose) a 'retro gamer.' She was never trying to beat a high score and she never boasted about any potential progress she'd made - it was just one of her habits; part of her routine. Over the years and decades, the cartridge, the controller, and even the system would predictably crap out - by which point it was easy to seek out generic replacements, until it was just a Frankenstein's monster of that original, magical birthday present.

The phrase "you can't take it with you" means that, when we die, we leave all material things behind. But who cares about that? What we do take with us is everything else: our accumulated knowledge, wisdom, and passions - and the people left behind are poorer in its absence. I'd love to know exactly why my mother was so drawn to Tetris 2 and what kept her coming back -- I'm sure if she had an answer it wouldn't have been entirely scintillating, and this may seem like trivial information to have... But I guess that's my point: the people in our lives know things that only they know, and if they don't volunteer this information, it's our job to seek it out. My mother would've turned 71 today, and she played Nintendo. This information isn't useful to you, but a moment ago you didn't know it. The internet has earned its reputation for showing us how ugly we can be, but (hopefully) we've only ever used it to share what we know & feel, and we've tried to be attentive whenever you've done the same. And when we leave, we're taking that with us.

- Paul



 Since this is the only actual "game" we've got going, we might as well dust it off just once for Game Month.

The last set all came from Horror movies, and was admittedly maybe too hard (but whose fault is that...?). This round has no specific theme, which should make it easier - or more challenging - we've clearly no idea. It's going to be up to you to determine which path is the least treacherous. But please, the whole point of this and everything else this month is 'fun, fun, fun' - we're all gonna have so much fuckin' fun we're gonna need plastic surgery to remove our goddamn smiles.

Good luck & praise Marty Moose.





EROTIQUE :: I still like to play games

 I don't sleep much. The school system (which bled into the workforce) dictated that I get up earlier than I'd like, and I have a legitimate fear that I'll miss something once my head hits the pillow at night.

As a child, my bedtime was the same as my parents': once the credits rolled on the last primetime show of the night, we hit the lights & went our separate ways. Thing of it is: once I discovered that Premium Channels like HBO, Cinemax, and Showtime spent the entire day saving all the breasts for after 11:45pm, I began to design my own schedule; Prevue Guide became my daily (or nightly) planner, and TV Guide became my calendar. My "secret stash" was live for the world to see, and it was consistent. So consistent, in fact, that once I was able to determine which movies and programs were my favorites, I was able to grab a blank tape and plan accordingly. And within some period of time, I'd employed half a dozen 6-hour Maxells and TDKs to hold an extensive library of Softcore Cinema - enough to start my own Adult station. And it was through this practice that I almost-unintentionally became an authority on low budget 90s smut.

You see, the only way to guarantee a glance at the strong sexual content was to experience the entire film from beginning to end. In doing so, one can't help but watch the movie and follow the plot (which typically had as much ample padding as its lead actresses). And the reason these stories usually seem so tedious is because, at their core, these are really solid and engrossing ideas -- at least within the parameters of the genre. Most of these movies were extensively sexy on a cerebral level... but when we're 13, we still jerk off manually, and a sparse script-to-screen depends a lot on the talents of the cast & crew.
And sometimes, it worked...

During this time (the mid 1990s), a lot of notable features made their way directly to video, and then retired to cable - where I anxiously awaited. Some may call them "punchlines" or engage in some snickering self-deprecation about "memory lane," but I've never been so bold as to mock or demonize any zone of artistic labor based solely on its subject matter, time period, or mode of distribution. A bad movie is an unmemorable movie, and personally, I remember very well the likes of Lap Dancing (1995), Masseuse (1996), Play Time (1995), To the Limit (1995), Scorned (1993), Desert Passion (1993), and, of course, I Like to Play Games (1995).

I don't know of any polls or statistics, but I've always felt that this was the most well-known one in the genre - the Sgt. Pepper of 'Skinemax,' the Coca-Cola of cable carnality. I think it's the lyrical, longwinded title -- even if you've never seen it, you don't forget a name like that. And if you have seen it, it's memorable for a mountain of reasons - and at the summit is Lisa Boyle.

This was the first thing I'd ever seen her in -- and then, within what seemed like a matter of months, her immediately-recognizable appearance kept appearing in the mainstream, particularly but intermittently on Married... With Children as Kelly's friend, Fawn (as in "Fawn, Fawn, let's get it on"). Granted, her most prominent character trait on that show was that she was attractive, but it also allowed her to be funny, which, by my standard, I'd consider it to be her best role. Her aggressively sensual face and trim physique were exploited to their full extent in Lost Highway (so she's got Lynch on her resume), but an even more substantial moment was her small part in The Nutty Professor: one of the highest-grossing movies of 1996, in which Eddie Murphy himself stands her up in front of a crowded restaurant to demonstrate what the perfect woman looks like. 

The world saw that, and a star should've been born. It was not to be...

But let's not gloss over I Like to Play Games: a leading role for Lisa in which she gets to play a femme fatale of sorts, which allows her to laugh maniacally and throw Kubrickian death-stares from time to time.

Actually, this is a good time to describe the plot:

Michael (Ken Steadman) becomes romantically entangled with new coworker Suzanne (Lisa Boyle). Suzanne is into roleplaying and spends every waking moment playing the part in whatever "game" she's created. It's the responsibility of her lover (currently Michael) to try & keep up and not break the rules. Initially, Michael loves his new adventurous lifestyle almost as much as he loves Suzanne, but as jealousy and possessiveness set in and the games spiral deeper into depravity, reality begins to crumble and everyone gets hurt. 

There are two things I wanna mention that I think are important (or important to me). One is that the climax and end credits of the movie are cut to a 90s karaoke version of "Live and Let Die," which, possibly inadvertently, elevates it from a tepid booby movie to an abstract arthouse picture. (You really have to see it to get what I'm talking about.) I also bring it up to offer my own sense of credence in a genre best known as "Porno Music" - a phrase that in and of itself is thought of as a joke to describe generic disco or smooth sax. But we (as in you & me) know better, and at least we'll have each other when we die on that hill. 

And the second thing I wanna talk about is Stanley Kubrick. (C'mon, you weren't expecting that.) If you've read enough film criticism that's focused on the man's career (and there's a lot), one theme you'll continually come across is the impression that his films - all of them - were direct commentaries (or even parodies) of their own respective genre: War, Science Fiction, Horror -- you get the idea. And ever since the first time I saw it, I've always upheld the notion that Eyes Wide Shut was Stanley doing Cinemax After Dark. Not just because it's a grownup movie with sex stuff -- Erotic Thriller is its own thing. But EWS is a lot more (and less) than that; all subliminal imagery and controversial interpretations aside, the whole film is blissfully simple and stupidly broad, with lush cinematography and long dialogue scenes. But all with a sense of humor.

There's no mistake: I can and will use this exact descriptive jargon verbatim to describe Games, as well as all the others.

These movies have a visceral, identifiable mood that's put in place with lighting, music, film (or video) stock, and pacing; the way a Slasher movie is a constellation of "kill scenes" connected by talky filler, and then we rate the whole movie based largely on the effectiveness of the kills. A movie like I Like to Play Games can and should be experienced by this same measure. Character development and exposition usually take place in the bland, overexposed daytime, but come nightfall, the whole vibe turns into a lava lamp of color & movement: scenes are lit by candles and fishtanks, the set design is made of silk and velvet, and the bass determines the rhythm of the action. These sequences are why the movie was made, they're the reason the audience watches, and they're the reason to talk about it a quarter century later.

I've looked at it now with fresh eyes -- and by "fresh" I mean "aged." The dirty parts are obviously very tame to an adult, so it allows one to watch it a bit more objectively. The cheapness of the sets, the time-specific fashions, and the gratuitous compositions feel magnified when you're not just waiting to see a nipple, but that's really only when you stop to think about these things. I've seen plenty of softcore stuff that felt plotless or convoluted, but Games truly earns whatever weird recognition it has as a good "one of these movies." It was just the Made-for-TV version of a mainstream genre that had been going strong for roughly 10 years at that point: Fatal Attraction, Basic Instinct, Disclosure (and other Michael Douglas movies) all tackled this same theme -- sex as a dangerous endeavor, particularly for men. I'm sure film historians blame this trend on AIDS awareness (at one point, Suzanne asks Michael if he has a "safe" - apparently a slang for condom, and one I've never heard), but as a kid, I took this movie and all those other movies as parables on self control, and how not to be an asshole. 

- Paul

P.S. We don't like reposting videos, but I'm much better at expressing my feelings via that particular medium - much more than the preceding, meandering crap.


TRADING CARDS :: Nintendo Game Packs

 You need to understand: in 1989, any product that featured the likeness of Mario, Link, or any of their associates, was immediately more desirable and effective. Didn't matter if it was cough syrup, tax forms, or rectal thermometers - once they slapped that Nintendo logo on there, it became an officially licensed key that got you that much closer to their 8-bit fantasy world.

And these examples are not far off. The company released a handful of tangible "toys," but unlike, say, STAR WARS or Ghostbusters, Nintendo was the toy, so the merchandise they offered was both broad and weird. But, if you've been following this particular series, you know that anything and everything of cultural relevance wasn't entirely relevant until they got their own trading cards. And a cultural empire of this magnitude would predictably be handled by The Topps Company, in the form of Nintendo Game Packs.

Easily the most boring, clinical name ever bestowed upon anything having to do with video games or bubblegum cards. But at the same time, it also kinda works because there's never really been such a literal grouping of words applied to this medium. To reiterate, the gaming console was the real toy, so the marketing team and concept artists and everyone else involved in the inception of these cards clearly decided that static artwork on small squares of cardboard was an inadequate representation of the source material. In other words, trading cards belonged to our parents, but we were growing up in the techno future. Consequently (and this is the editorial part), these little brightly-colored masterpieces of 1980s pop culture were compromised and corrupted by little gray invasive scratch-off circles. Observe:

This should've been the most magnificent card series ever gifted to us by our corporate masters - but they went ahead and fucked it up and contaminated the otherwise-sexy concept of transferring the games' booklet artwork onto small, manageable canvases. What a waste. I don't even remember what the scratch-offs revealed - I didn't care. I was too distracted with melancholy and rage.

So, because of this, the cards were never really the draw. Par for the course, the series also included stickers, and it was anything but a "subset." Other card series (depending on the subject) would average out around a total of 11 stickers to amass. Power Packs offered 33 stickers(!) as part of their complete set... and those were the salt & ketchup on these undercooked fries, and they're what we're gonna look at.

Every one of these stickers depicted a "classic" image, but these are 4 that I can actually talk a bit about.

- Paul


Well, they did it. They've gone and put a box on a sticker - and I, for one, couldn't have been happier. I never miss an opportunity to point out that the Super Mario Bros. 2 cover art is one of my favorite creations in any medium; the blues & reds & pinks & greens all gelled together into some sorta soda/cereal/candy hybrid that resulted in love at first sight on a momentous evening at the video store.

This sticker, on the other hand, is a bit of an unfair downgrade to the original's luscious luster. Still though, the composition is in tact, and I can't get too bummed on the whole screen print Pop Art vibe.


Out of context, this is some pretty provocative stuff here - particularly the whip. And apart from the addition of color, this is exactly how she's depicted in the Double Dragon manual. Sadly, they're both confusingly inaccurate; the gameplay physicality of Linda was way cooler & more badass. She looked less like a Charlie's Angels iron-on and more like Lucinda Dickey in Breakin'.

To be honest, had they illustrated a more precise portrait, I think we'd be talking about a tattoo here.


I don't remember ever seeing dreamy-eyed Mario in any of the game manuals, but it sure worked well for the Nintendo Valentine's Day cards. Those were remarkable in & of themselves, and most of these stickers pay tribute to them in more ways than one.

But the sentiment in this one is just so innocent and precious; at the time, we had no way or cause to adorn tattoos or bumper stickers, so we'd peel & stick this to the cover of our Five Star so our classmates could know just how we felt.


They weren't entirely particular when it came time to decide which images they were going to repurpose. Frankly, without the context, these are some awkward stickers.

Incidentally, the coolest part isn't even the die cut portions: the repetitive "LINK" border is an effective piece of art that was probably discarded once the stickers were peeled & gone. Me, I would've extracted it in some way and used it for something -- probably as a template for a tattoo.

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