(NOTE: This was a contribution to a feature that ran @NintendoLife about the 25th Anniversary of the NES. You should go read it.)
The first video game I ever saw was Kung-Fu for the NES. My older sister’s friend down the street had just gotten the system, so she kindly escorted me down to their house to check it out. I still remember that I was carrying a small Falkor stuffed animal, the giant scaled flying dog from my favorite movie at the time, The Never-Ending Story. It was 1986, and I was three years old.
The kid’s family was pretty well off, so they already had tons of games. When I walked into the house I saw a stack of gray cartridges on the carpet as tall as me. On their TV was this dude kicking snakes and ninjas, which immediately reminded me of my other favorite movie at the time, Karate Kid, and I thought to myself “Daniel-san.” I had to play this thing.
I don’t remember too much about actually playing the game, other than I died a lot. I think I mostly just stood there and made him kick so I could hear the voice sample over and over. Needless to say, the big kids soon took all the fun away.
Back at our house, I sat in front of our small black and white TV, one of the old ones that glows for minutes after you turn it off, leaving a small white dot in the center of the screen. I was probably watching He-Man, but I was still thinking of the NES. All those sounds and colors kept whizzing though my head, and I couldn’t wrap my mind around the concept of controlling something on the screen. Sure, I could watch He-Man on my TV, but I couldn’t be him. That’s what playing with my neighbors’ NES felt like: I was Daniel-san.
The following year we moved, and my sister and I began saving up money for our own system. Being six years older than me, she saved up most of the cash, but like a good annoying little brother, I played it the most. I played and played. So much, in fact, that I broke it, and I don’t mean flashing-blue-screen broke, I mean kicked and punched it with my chubby little hands broke. Those games were hard and could bolster up more frustration and aggravation in me than any schoolyard punk.
Needless to say, my sister wasn’t too happy about that, but she had sort of moved on by that point, having mastered Tetris to a level of expertise. Still, I remember my father taking it apart and fixing it somehow. I was astounded at the tiny world of circuits and wires that the dull gray box housed. We had to shove two games in it after that to get it to work, and a few months later it died for good.
I sacrificed getting a Christmas present that year so I could receive a new NES for my following February birthday. I still can’t believe my parents let me have another. I promised not to lay a hand on it, but never said anything about the controllers. Those things were durable.
The broken NES remained in our closet for months, until one day I received an issue of Nintendo Power. In it they had a diagram of the system’s innards, pointing out where all the magic comes from. I used the diagram and my broken NES to make a class science project for school, and titled it “Inside the Nintendo Brain.”
At the Science Fair, I didn’t win any trophies, but I did receive an “Honorable Mention” certificate. Mostly, though, I received scorn from my fellow classmates. They all thought I had torn a perfectly good NES asunder in the name of science. But who would do that? I had to explain that while, yes, I did break it, it was not for school or science—it was because I was trying to beat Double Dragon. I was trying to beat Kung-Fu. I was trying to be Daniel-san.