Making Memories

Making Memories by Alyce Caswell

My childhood can be measured in game consoles instead of years.
Sega Master System II. Nintendo 64. PlayStation.

It’s impossible to pin down the exact dates that mark the start and end of those three overlapping eras of my life. I don’t know when I first saw a console. Or when I first played one. But I do know that when I was shipped off to my grandparents’ house in the school holidays, a ritual that began in kindergarten, there was a Sega Master System II stored in a cupboard near the TV.

The main theme music of Alex Kidd in Miracle World became permanently seared into my brain. I reluctantly raced against my brother in F1, always losing – and always preferring to spectate while he shot the bad guys in Wanted with a Light Phaser. To my young eyes, he was an unbeatable pro. I fared a little better when we opted to play California Games, though I never did get the hang of the hacky sack event.

The annual New Year’s Eve party at a friend’s house was the highlight of our primary school years. It was the only time we found ourselves in the presence of a Nintendo 64.

While our parents yarned the night away, at least twenty of us kids would gather in front of the TV and eagerly await our turn with one of the four controllers available. Super Smash Bros. was popular when it appeared in the line-up, but the undisputed crowd favourite was GoldenEye 007. I’d never been very good at first-person shooters and actively avoided them. This game changed that. My weapon of choice: remote mines. I’d watch someone else’s corner of the screen, wait until they were in the firing line, then hit the A and B buttons simultaneously. Boom.

How I coveted that Nintendo 64. But when Mum managed to save up enough for a console, she bought us a PlayStation. Not the end of the world, as it turned out.
My brother and I spent weeks playing a demo disc, because we couldn’t yet afford to build a games library. This was our introduction to CTR: Crash Team Racing and Tony Hawk’s Pro Skater. Eventually we were able to use our pocket money to buy those games in full and duly flogged them.

Thanks to the PlayStation, my ability to finish my mounting high school homework took a massive hit. The main culprit was Star Wars Episode I: The Phantom Menace. If you’ve ever played this game, I already know what level you’re thinking about. Yes. Mos Espa. Unlimited RPG-esque fun. Of course I turned Qui-Gon Jinn into a killer and made the game impossible to finish. How many titles gave you that kind of freedom in 1999?

At some point in the 21st century, it was decided that we no longer needed the PlayStation or the games that went with it. Our once-a-year friend’s parents divorced and there were no more epic New Year’s Eve parties, no more Nintendo nights. Grandad passed away and Nanna didn’t give a second thought to getting rid of his Sega, much to everyone’s horror (I wasn’t the only cousin with a personal stake in this particular console). But would we have actually used it? We were graduating high school. Getting jobs. Starting families.
The consoles were gone. My memories didn’t vanish entirely, but they began to fade.

Many years later, my partner bought a PlayStation 4. I had no interest in using it. Even if I’d kept the discs, the games I’d loved in my childhood would never have played on this newfangled console. Backwards compatibility is a thing of the past.
But then the remasters appeared. Tony Hawk’s Pro Skater 1 + 2, Crash Team Racing Nitro-Fueled…the iconic games of my formative years were back and better than ever. And the timing couldn’t have been more perfect. Nostalgia became one of my greatest comforts during the seemingly endless lockdowns in the early stages of the pandemic.

But though I waited patiently, the PlayStation Store never offered a remaster or re-release of Star Wars Episode I: The Phantom Menace.
Finally, fed up with not being able to play the game that I’d been unable to forget even after two decades, I sourced a pre-owned PS1 and someone else’s copy of the disc. Both arrived inside a week. I started playing the game immediately – and managed to get Obi-Wan killed within three minutes. But what fun it was. Fortunately, my brief adventure had unlocked a core memory: cheat codes. I went straight to Mos Espa.

Once you start down the path of nostalgia, forever will it dominate your destiny.
I was able to fulfill my childhood dream of owning a Nintendo 64, courtesy of someone offloading theirs on the Internet. I’d tried the Wii version of GoldenEye 007 at some point and hated it, so locating a second-hand copy of the original N64 cartridge was a high priority. I succeeded and braved the single-player missions for the first time ever, shrieking and shooting wildly when pixelated gunmen fired upon me. I was a kid again. Except this time, I didn’t have to wait my turn. But nor did I have anyone to play with.

It was inevitable that I would seek out console that had started it all: the Sega Master System II. It wasn’t hard to find one online. But the RF output proved too weak for modern technology and I caught only flickers of my childhood on my flatscreen TV. I’d known that a light gun would never work on it, but I hadn’t thought that I would entirely lose the ability to revisit those hazy days spent in my grandparents’ house.

I despaired. But then I discovered that Retro Sales offered an AV mod for these old units. Off the Sega went, snugly packed inside bubble wrap and wistful dreams.

When it returned, so too did the memories – sharper than ever before.
I could suddenly smell Nanna cooking in the kitchen (we always seemed to be playing F1 right before dinnertime) and I could hear Grandad riling her up in that droll way of his. My pursuit of nostalgia had brought these precious moments back to me.

The Sega games seem rather basic now. That makes them perfect for your average three-year-old kid. I am sometimes teary-eyed when I watch my son play a game I first tackled in the early 1990s. He likes the Sega Master System II because the controller is easy for his little hands to grasp, unlike the ones that come with newer consoles.

My son definitely isn’t ready for GoldenEye 007 or The Phantom Menace. He’ll get there eventually. Heck, he managed to punch an enemy dead in Alex Kidd in Miracle World on his first go. He’s not so great at the racing games, but he knows how to get to the finish line (hold down the accelerator button and let the track steer for you!). I win all of the races, of course. But the real win is the time we’ve spent together.

I hope he’ll keep the consoles after I’m done with them. Perhaps, if he’s fuelled by the same nostalgia that drives me, he’ll use them to revisit these moments. Maybe he’ll even recreate them with his own children someday.
The consoles won’t last forever. Neither will the memories – but for now at least, we’ll keep on making them.


Making Memories by Alyce Caswell

Winner of the Video Game Nostalgia Competition July 2023

Nintendo 64 nostalgia

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