The NES, Contra, and Cheating at Life

by languageformulatingbrain

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Video games in the late 70's and early 80's were not really a thing that was too impressive in terms of what could be experienced for most people who were born in the 1980s. Where video games really started to shine was after the crash of the market had thrown games into oblivion in peoples' mind, and then were resurrected by the Japanese game company Nintendo with its Nintendo Entertainment System. This was in 1984, or 1983 in Japan (where the system was called the Family Computer, or Famicom).

The NES was the stuff of legend among gamers ever after its inception; people who were there at the time would take people like me aside and explain how mind-blowing the game Super Mario Bros. was in peoples' minds. People would wax nostalgic for decades over the NES, remembering the usually-orange and gray light-gun pointed at the TV that was used for the game Duck Hunt, or the first major Japanese-style RPGs with Dragon Warrior and Final Fantasy, that all appeared in glorious 16 colors to challenge the player to enter the world of the game and complete the (usually challenging) quests.

Then there was the game Contra by Konami, which had the player playing as stereotypical, white, muscled action heroes with guns to shoot a bunch of people for some reason. It was a fun game, but wait a minute--didn't Ronald Reagan have something to do with Contras?

Yes, the Japanese had apparently had been reading news headlines and decided to name the American version of the game Contra, which strikes me as a strange thing. Surely someone feeling very paranoid from smoking too much crack cocaine would try to find connections between Konami and the Reagan administration, as if the people at Konami were trying to normalize his sale of weapons to Iran in order to fund rebels called "Contras" in Nicaragua.

The game is violent, at least by 8-bit standards. There's lots of shooting of people, who die in a relatively unrealistic manner. There's no blood, but what there are are mechanized enemies, fortresses and walls of metal with bullets that fly at the player and try to stop them from advancing further in the game.

It really seems that the game is rigged in favor of the enemy, as it's very difficult to complete the game without cheating. And most people usually cheated; no one had the patience to try to get through a level on three lives without throwing their Nintendo out of the window. However, there was a code to get ten times as many lives (thirty to be exact) by entering a code at the title screen.

That's the thing about fighting computers, something that humanity really unwittingly began to do in the 1980s. While the computer can be programmed to have the edge, a clever human can usually find a way to cheat. As we march toward computerized death (or maybe life, who knows?), it's helpful to know that computers can be reprogrammed to be on your side if you know how to exploit them.

Indeed, there was an unlicensed cheat device released by a company called Galoob called the Game Genie; it was gold, and there's one in my basement gathering dust. The Game Genie would actually modify the contents of a game's RAM as you played it and allow you to get infinite weapons, infinite lives, skip levels, become invincible, and do all manner of cheating. Does this ruin the game? Perhaps it does, but NES games being as hard as they were, most of the kids I knew had one.

Drugs like cocaine (which has not been mentioned exhaustively enough in this book, in my opinion), offer a way to cheat at happiness for a time. Surely many of the people who could afford cocaine were not happy people; this was to be expected. It may be better to cry in a Lamborghini that it is to cry in a Ford Pinto, but for the person who wants a quick cheat to get some happiness, cocaine was where it was at.

I even heard that the CIA might have been funding some Sandinista rebels in Nicaragua with black money obtained by helping drug smugglers to funnel cocaine into California. But usually, it seems that the CIA were on the side of the machines, in the sense of The Terminator. The CIA was an arm of the capitalist machine in the Cold War, and the Nintendo that we all knew and loved would keep us fighting machines all through our childhood. Was it our fate that we would grow up and have to fight for our survival against our own machines? Things look like they may turn out that way, but no one knows the future except true seers (if they exist, that is).

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