Before I had ready, (practically) always-on connectivity to the sum of human knowledge, I spent a lot of time playing video games. And when I wasn’t playing video games, I was reading books about how to play video games. This is mostly due to the fact that we didn’t have a whole lot of money growing up and video games were (and in most cases still are) pretty expensive, while books are generally pretty cheap.
One of the books I spent a lot of time with was Compute!’s Guide to Nintendo Games. I mean, take a look at this thing:
How could anyone resist those bullet points?
- Keys to Nintendo Mastery? I love mastering things!
- Screen Shots for 45 games? They’re black and white, sure, but they’re better than nothing. I don’t have to imagine what the graphics are like
- Special Super Secrets Chapter!? I’m so there
What I really like about this book is the conversational tone that it takes with the game reviews. They’re broken down into graphics, sound, and the bog-standard categories, but when I’m reading this, I get the feeling that it’s just Mr. Schwartz talking to me about some new game he’s played, and not some cut-and-dried analytical review. It’s a style I tried to work in to the mini-reviews posted over at Closeoutwarrior.com.
Also worked into the book is a section dedicated to controllers (most of which I’ve never even seen in person), a tongue-in-cheek review of the Nintendo Cereal System, Super Secrets, and a Parent’s Guide to Nintendo Games (which we’ll get to in a minute).
Each of the game reviews has a few hints, tips, and strategies, but the Super Secrets section has tips, tricks, and strategies that are so useful, so amazing, and so informative, that they’re almost like cheating. And to disguise these tips so that you couldn’t just idly flip back to them in a moment of weakness. The Super Secrets were printed in reverse, so that you were supposed to find a mirror to hold the book up to to be able to read them. I, of course, made myself learn how to read reversed text instead. I think I made the right call, that’s a life skill that’s proven invaluable.
But the one of the sections that kind of didn’t hold a lot of meaning for me until many years later is the Parent’s Guide to Nintendo. I’m not a parent, but there are a lot of issues Mr. Schwartz brings up that seem relevant today when he’s talking about how video games can have an impact on kids, and he advocates that parents take an active role in monitoring what their children play. Check out this section of the Parent’s Guide called ‘A Call for Better Games’
There’s little reason we can’t expect more imaginative plot lines; ones that don’t stress violence or a kill-or-be-killed attitude. It’s easy to create another violent game: kill a lot of things, reward the player with power and hit points as he does, and work up to the final confrontation with the evil lord of the monsters. It’s difficult, on the other hand, to come up with an imaginative, nonviolent adventure that rewards problem-solving skills and is still fun to play.
The portrayal of women in games could also stand some work. Other than the heroine Athena and the Princess in Super Mario Bros. 2, women are usually depicted as kidnap victims. The only nonvictims that come to mind are the whip-wielding Lindas (Double Dragon) and Pretty Amy (Lee Trevino’s Fighting Golf). It’s nice to see some females in NES games, but I don’t think it’s necessary to make them gang members or add Pretty as part of their names.
I’d also like to see a greater potential for early education and more games written specifically for young children. The Nintendo is a good tool for developing eye/hand coordination and problem-solving skills. To be really useful for young children, however, games have to be created that require only elementary reading abilities, and simpler rules and controls. The Sesame Street games from Hi Tech Expressions are a good start toward this goal. More cartridges of this type will undoubtedly appear as additional manufacturers move to fill this market gap.
Keep in mind that the above was written in 1989. We’ve certainly come a long way since then, but we still have a long way to go. Games with female protagonists are still very rare and sell poorly, and (as of this writing) GameStop has 22 educational games available for the Wii (arguably the most kid-friendly platform) as opposed to over 100 shooters. If that’s all the progress that we’ve made in 24 years, maybe we do still have some work to do.