“I’m going to play Mega Man now.”
“Ok, I’ll be free in 15 min.”
I distinctly remember this conversation from my childhood. This conversation was normal in many ways, I was a Nintendo child through and through. I was born the same year that Nintendo was released. I remember seeing the “1984” date etched in the plastic console and thinking, “Yes, this was made for me.”
And Mega Man 2, well, it was just one of those games that stuck with you. It was one of the originators of the classic Capcom formula: play a level, face a boss, get the boss’s special powers after beating them. Of course Mega Man 2 wasn’t the original or the last Mega Man, but it was the one that hooked me as a kid, so it was assumed that anytime I said I was “playing Mega Man,” it was Mega Man 2. This was normal.
But there’s a lot about the exchange that isn’t normal. You might not guess it, but the response was from my mom. My mom would often play Nintendo games with me. We’d play Mega Man 2 together pretty often, and I remember spending hours playing together through the last level, Wily Castle. We’d take turns playing and strategize on which weapon was best against which boss. In fact the first time I ever saw the ending screen was with my mom at my side, as we beat the game together.
The “fifteen minutes” references in the quote is also significant. My mom was cleaning, and fifteen minutes was when she was offering to take a break to play the game. But fifteen minutes was also roughly the time it would take to defeat the first several bosses in the game, landing me somewhere around Quick Man’s level (my usual Mega Man 2 path was Metal Man, Flash Man, Wood Man, Bubble Man, Quick Man, Air Man, Heat Man, Crash Man). And that was no coincidence–Quick Man was the level when I needed my mom’s help.
Quick Man was a funny level. It mostly involved falling down fast enough that you wouldn’t get hit by laser beams that panned across the screen. The laser beams were one-hit kills, so if you even touched one, immediate death. This fate wasn’t uncommon in the Mega Man series, but instant death usually involved falling off the screen: this was the only obstacle that you had to actively dodge to avoid instant death. This was potentially the most frantic, stressful level of the game: you had to make multiple split-second decisions on where to direct your character to successfully navigate the laser maze. A wrong move, or even worse a bit of hesitation, was certain defeat.
SIDEBAR – You might wonder why I just didn’t beat Quick Man, get a save code, and then restart after that level. Well, although Mega Man 2 did have a save feature, the save didn’t account for extra lives you might have gained along the way: it always started you off with three. Wily Castle (the final level) contained multiple stages and really difficult bosses, and for my childhood self it just wasn’t beatable without a good 7 or 8 extra lives. I was typically able to accumulate 3-4 extra lives in the levels preceding Quick Man—if I used a saved code after Quick Man, I wouldn’t be able to enter Wily Castle with enough extra lives to defeat it. After my mom and I figured this out, we often would start from the beginning of the game and ignore save codes, to try to build up enough extra lives (and energy tanks) to survive through Wily Castle. This also meant that any unnecessary lives lost on multiple attempts to get through Quick Man’s laser stage was a huge liability: we needed to beat it on the first try. Sometimes my mom would help with Quick Man, and then come back when I got to Wily Castle so that we could play it through to a new section with a large number of lives.
Back to Quick Man’s stage. For some reason, I was incapable of consistently dodging these laser beams, meaning I’d typically lose several lives on this section of the game if I played through it, but my mom had little difficulty with it. So, even during a time when my mom and I weren’t playing together, I’d call her over to help with this one section of Quick Man’s level.
I emphasize “this one section” because immediately upon exiting the laser maze, you were dropped onto a screen that had two Sniper Armors, which was a type of enemy that my mom was terrible at defeating. And this was also the really dangerous part because unless you got past the two Sniper Armors without losing all of your health, you wouldn’t get to the boss and trigger the pre-boss save point. Which means you’d get taken to the prior save point and have to go through the lasers all over again.
This led to an interesting exchange between myself and my mom, where I would anxiously stand beside my mom as she went through the laser beams. I didn’t want to bother her, because I knew this section was stressful enough to go through without someone breathing down your neck. But I was waiting for the moment my mom crossed the final screen of the laser gauntlet, so I could frantically grab the controller and hit pause before she lost it all to the Sniper Armors. I would then take a breath, unpause, and defeat the Snipers to reach the save point.
I always remember this shift in mindset really clearly: one moment I was incapable of defeating this level and total reliant on my mom for help, and the following moment I needed to get the controller out of her hand as fast as possible before she messed everything up at the really “easy” part. I went from incapable to expert, and my mom (in my eyes) went from expert to incapable, all in an instant.
What was also interesting was the pervasiveness of this game. I was always fascinated by games that extended beyond the “console” or wherever the game was officially played, and entered into aspects of your life. The World Ends with You was one of the most interesting games in this respect. It had a complicated experience points system where your items gained different kinds of experience depending on whether your Nintendo DS was in Mingle Mode, shut off, or being used in the in game battling system. As you might imagine, different items needed different kinds of experience to grow in different ways. This meant that, as part of the game, I started to take in factors like how much battery life was left in my DS to be able to leave it in Mingle Mode, when I’d be able to play again, or what items I wanted to level up while it would be off for 1 hour vs. 1 day. Basically, picking up and putting down my DS became part of the “game” itself: I was strategizing not just how I played the game but when I played the game.
Mega Man 2 was pervasive for me in a different way. Because of this interaction with my mom around Quick Man’s level, whatever my mom was doing that day effectively became a part of the game. Fitting in when I started the game and how it might fit Quick Man and Wily Castle into my mom’s cleaning or work schedule became important concerns.
I remember sometimes spending 5-10 minutes with the game paused right before Quick Man’s laser gauntlet, waiting for my mom. For me, that waiting wasn’t annoying or frustrating, it was just a part of the game. My mom had to play Quick Man’s level. So that we could preserve our extra lives. So that we could get further in Wily Castle and maybe beat the game on this playthrough.
But that waiting also depended on what was going on that day, who might unexpectedly call right before my mom came over to play, what other plans my mom had in mind that day (because let’s face it, I was like 8 or 9 at the time and my only real plan for the day was playing Mega Man 2). To me, these weren’t outside annoyances that interrupted the game. These were a part of the game. Because of my inability to complete Quick Man’s laser maze and my mom’s ability to easily beat it, this game became pervasive. My mom’s daily calendar was a part of my Mega Man playing experience.
Mega Man 2 has a special hold over me, even to this day. But this particular exchange that happened between my mom and myself on Quick Man’s level is the reason I will use Quick Man as my online avatar whenever possible. It reminds me of the unique relationship my mom and I formed as we played together, and how games can stretch beyond the spaces where they are supposed to fit.