Attract Mode 2: Minus World
Since the day it happened, I'd imagined killing him a thousand times.
Sometimes I'd punch and kick him until he cried and begged for mercy. Other times I'd blow him up or shoot him or do any number of things I'd seen in Robocop or Terminator.
Still, I was only a child and nowhere near capable of killing someone... much less doing it with an improvised explosive device made of household cleaners and 9-volt batteries as I'd imagined it.
That was the name given to my nightmares by the friendly men and women of Pleico, Inc. - Makers of fine games such as "Urchin 300" and "Vague Assault".
Plus, of course, "Skull & Crossbow"... I game I'd forever regret playing. I'd found it at the mall one day, and it seemed as if someone had put in a quarter and left. I took up the free game and... it got into my head.
When everything was said and done, someone... some THING... reached out of the game cabinet and took my friend away. The only reason I'd been spared that fate was because he had tried to horn in on what I was doing... took the controls from me...
Less than a year later, I was having trouble remembering his name. I would have chalked it all up to my imagination... or a dream... or anything that would let me believe it hadn't happened, but... Nicolas...
His parents searched for him. The Police searched for him. His disappearance kicked off a huge scandal for the mall and the arcade. Before long, the Dream Machine arcade was closed due to "unrelated circumstances" and I lost my only shot at figuring out what really happened.
It didn't help that I lied.
I didn't like because nobody would believe in Oad, the many-ribbed skeleton centipede from some netherworld. Though they wouldn't. No, I lied because I couldn't bring myself to admit I'd had any part whatsoever in the disappearance... (the death?)... of Nicolas.
His parents cornered me one day, when I was leaving school and making my way to the bus.
They backed me to one of the red brick walls and, frantic, demanded to know what happened to their son because "[I] must know something [I'm] not saying!"
I must've looked absolutely horrified, which I was, because one of the bus drivers actually left her vehicle and ran over to see what was going on. It took that driver and two other teachers to escort the couple away. Every step, they just kept shouting at me, screaming that they KNEW I saw who'd taken their boy.
They were right.
However, what disturbed me more than anything else was how I felt about it all. I dreaded being discovered... I was frightened that Oad would find me somehow, maybe slip out from under my bed... and I was enraged by my now hazy memories to the point of repeated mental butcherings of that skeletal freak.
Yet I was never sad about it. I never shed a tear for Nicolas. I hadn't cried once.
When my hamster got lost and we never found it... when Grandma passed away... when my parents fought and threatened to split up...
I didn't feel sad about anything, anymore.
After a while, Oad was replaced by other faces within my imaginary torture chamber. Anyone who annoyed or threatened me in any way. Sometimes it was even Nicolas himself, who had caused the entire problem in the first place.
By now, I'm wondering if you've considered the fact I openly mentioned Pleico, makers of the accursed, maybe just CURSED, game that had so afflicted my young life.
"Thank you purchasing for the Pleico™ 280 Game Megaconsole! Plug in this state-of-an-art gaming device directly into you television, for you it is to enjoy countless hours of fun! 280 games, 280 new adventure!"
"Game included on this, a console:"
- 21 Horse Fun Run Rally™
- A.G.E. of B.A.T.T.L.E.™
- Ark Control™
- Beach Comb™
- Fear Command™
- Urchin 300™
- Vague Assault™
- Zeeno Foe 84™
- AND PLENTY OF MORE!
I read the back of the box while my Mom was elsewhere in the drugstore. Both of my parents had kept a close eye on me ever since Nicolas was "kidnapped", but every once in a while I could slip away from my guards.
When she did catch up with me, I was studying the box art. It showed tons of different characters, animals, and creatures all surrounding this odd, green, hexagonal gaming console with a glowing white "P" on its surface.
"Ohh, no." she remarked the instant she saw it.
"I knooow," I replied, "I'm just looking."
To be honest, I wasn't really that into video games in light of what had occurred. I hadn't played any, hadn't thought about them, and didn't really care to. Still, something about this object in my hands just felt... safe.
It was like I had been burned in the past, but was ready to start exploring new relationships again.
Still, I knew I couldn't get it, so I put it back on the shelf and stepped away, still fixated on its glossy cover.
"You're such a good kid."
I didn't know how to reply to that.
Mom walked over to the shelf and looked at the box. As an adult, her eye immediately moved to the red price sticker I'd paid absolutely no attention to.
"Well..." she thought for a moment, then without another word she picked up the box and carefully placed it in the shopping cart.
"REALLY?" I nearly gasped.
"Yeah, we can call it an early Birthday present."
I knew full well by this point that "early birthday presents" didn't really detract from the shower of toys that would rain down upon me on the actual date.
When I got home, she'd regret the purchase. I couldn't be calmed by anything short of setting up the console as quickly as possible.
The directions seemed confusing, written in broken English and referencing specific cables and cords by technical names instead of "the large plug" or "the screwy-shaped thing."
She almost had it set up, and I was dancing in place, when there was a sudden loud "POP" and a flash of light.
"Are you okay?!" I rushed over to her, once again on edge.
"Yeah... yes..." she stammered, blinking repeatedly, "I got a shock. I'm okay, don't worry about it..."
I did worry.
But at no time did I feel sad about it.
Within minutes, the console had been started, and the television screen faded from black to a dark green. A chiming sound played, and the screen read: "PLEICO™, INC. - DREAM REAL.™"
I selected "Glee-Glee" completely at random and got playing. It was a side-scrolling shooter, where I guided some sort of space craft through a barrage of other oddly-shaped, tiny fighters.
When the level had started, the game name was written in bland block lettering, with the instructions just beneath.
"GUIDE YOU SHIP TO HOME. ALONG THE WAY, PRESS Z BUTTON TO FIRE! PRESS X BUTTON TO SHIELD!"
I should mention that the controller... just one, as it seemed there were no capabilities for two-player mode... was just a directional pad, a shared start/reset button, and two little dots marked X and Z.
The controls were clunky at best, and, at worst, completely unresponsive.
The sound didn't make very good use of the television speakers. Dull, slow buzzes and distorted chirps signaled everything from player damage to the destruction of enemy fighters.
I racked up many deaths and plenty of restarts on Glee-Glee, but for some reason I felt compelled to keep trying.
On what must've been my sixth to eighth restart, the controls were feeling a lot more responsive and easy-to-use. Either I'd worn in the factory new controller, or the game itself was reducing the difficulty for me.
I zipped back and forth, blowing up enemies and putting up my shield to avoid fire. I shot in rapid succession and picked up a series of power-ups that did nothing more than cause my bullets (a plain pixel) to move in different ways.
I was destroying the opposing team, blasting, blasting, blasting away when I took note of something strange. At some point, the enemy fighters, the tiny space ships, had been swapped out for what appeared to be large, fetus-like creatures...
I stopped firing when I realized that instead of attacking me, instead of firing and dodging, they were just... trying to get away from me...
At some point I'd stopped defending myself against and smoothly transitioned into peppering defenseless pre-birth beings with deadly fire.
I let the game run for a few minutes as I watched this spectacle. A space-fetus would drop onto the screen, then slowly float away from my ship. Though they were formed of the most basic pixel imagery, I could swear they looked scared.
The change was confusing and disquieting, so I stopped the game and decided to select another.
"FOLLOW AN UNDERWATER PASS. AVOID AN URCHIN! USE YOUR X BUTTON TO PLACE THE BOMBS. USE YOUR Z BUTTON TO SKIP A TURN."
The screen became a grid of 10 x 10 tiles. At the center was a little person, and all around him, placed randomly, were four round, spiny urchins. The urchins were easily twice the size of the player sprite, and had a single large, whirling eyeball ontop of their... bodies? Heads?
I moved the little man onto another tile, after which all the urchins moved one tile closer to him.
I quickly got the idea. Every time I moved, the urchins would try to get a little closer to me. It was reasonable to assume that if any of them TOUCHED me, I'd be dead.
Rather, the little guy would be dead.
I pressed the Z button to place a bomb, figuring I could somehow trick the urchins onto it. Unfortunately, I'd mixed them up in my head, and the Z button was to "skip a turn". The urchins drew closer and I hadn't even moved.
Using the correct button, I dropped a bomb... a cartoon, spherical bomb with fuse... and moved on to the next tile. Above me and to the right, two urchins moved onto the same tile creating a single urchin with two eyes.
The eyes didn't rotate anymore, and instead fixed straight forward, out of the screen and onto me.
By moving cleverly and placing bombs in much the same manner, I eventually guided all of the urchins, even the unpleasant two-eyed urchin, to their destruction. Each time one touched a bomb, it would burst in the most pleasing multi-colored explosion. It was a dazzling flash that immediately drew my attention and made me want to see it again and again, over and over.
It was about three levels in, when I was surrounded by mounting numbers of urchins, that I finally slipped up.
Seeing no way out of a corner I'd painted myself into, I quickly tapped the X button and skipped enough turns for the urchins to close in and end the round.
As soon as the first urchin touched the player sprite, a sudden, ear-splitting shriek emanated from the speakers. I physically jumped at the unexpected scream and quickly turned the volume down.
I watched in impotent dread as the urchin knocked me down, undulated over me, and began spinning its eyeball even more wildly than before. It bobbed up and down, all the while making the sound of teeth grinding bone.
When it was finished, the urchin moved off the tile, leaving nothing behind but a trail of dark red blood that marred the playing field as it slowly made its way across the screen.
At this point, I was ready to select another game... and I'd already realized that this system might actually never get played with again after today.
My thumb was over the start/reset button, a split second away from plunging down upon it when the screen stopped me cold.
"NICOLAS 2 OF 3."
The grid reappeared, still smeared with blood. The urchins had been randomly placed again, and there was my sprite at the center of the screen.
"What..." I whispered, completely focusing on the little man.
I put the controller down and crawled, on hands and knees, to the screen.
"Nicolas?" I didn't even know what I was looking for, or what the game had meant. For all I knew, the main character just HAPPENED to have the name, like Mario or Samus.
The sprite moved.
It was a slight, almost unnoticeable movement... just a tilt of the head as the little man looked at the closest urchin and then looked away again. If I hadn't been two inches from the screen, I doubt I would have seen it.
I grabbed the controller and immediately hit start/reset to end this horrible game. After that, I'd turn it off and... and what? Break it.
As soon as I ended the game, the urchins all made a unanimous, sweeping movement toward the player... toward... Nicolas? Before the reached him, as the second ear-splitting shriek ripped through me regardless of the volume setting, the screen faded to dark red.
The letters appeared in white, in the same bland game text...
I ran from the room, all the way to the back yard where my Mother was working on her herb garden.
"What? Is something wrong?"
I ran into her arms, nearly knocking her over.
Her face immediately turned from concern to shock.
"What, dear? What? Did you remember something?"
I just held on tight and didn't say a word. My mind raced... could I say what had really happened? Could I show her the game, make it say "NICOLAS", and convince her? What about all the blame I'd get for lying all this time?
As I searched my thoughts in this matter of seconds, I realized something was missing.
I didn't feel guilty anymore, I didn't care about lying or continuing to lie. I didn't feel guilty for what happened to Nicolas, and I didn't necessarily care if he ever came back.
In the absence of this emotion, I couldn't put my finger on why I'd even run to my Mom in the first place. It was like I'd suddenly been relieved of a heavy burden and no longer had any fear of repercussions.
"Nevermind," I finally replied, "Everything is okay."
Calmly, and in a way I'm sure must've confused my Mother, I strolled back into the house, to the console, and sat down in front of it.
I looked through the menu again and decided to play something new.
"ZEENO FOE 84"
"NOTHING MAKES SENSE IN MINUS WORLD."
A familiar skull-face flashed on the screen only briefly, and within moments all I could feel was an blinding sense of rage.
I grinned cruelly at the little man on the screen.
"Now we can play again! ... And again... And again!"