A Supposedly Fun Thing I'll Never Do Again

by Matt Bertz on Feb 25, 2010 at 12:00 PM

It all came down to a lack of preparation – at least that's what I tell myself now. The truth is much more damning.

In the snowy winter of 1988, my family was in the midst of our Friday ritual – pizzeria, movie store, and whatever shopping adventure my parents could fool us into joining with the promise of said pizza and movies. Normally the destination was a place we dreaded going to – Menards, Frank's Nursery, and Target were common, unappealing locations where my younger brother and I spent way too much time counting the black tiles on the otherwise white floor. After indulging in pepperoni pizza and Dr. Pepper, my parents revealed a surprise shopping destination any kid would gladly go to – Toys 'R' Us.  

My brother and I assumed this trip to Toys ‘R' Us was going to be no different than any other visit. On a typical sojourn, we would walk down each aisle, marveling at one cool toy after another, silently listing off the reasons in our heads we needed to have this in preparation of making a desperate plea to our parents. As the elder sibling, I normally opened the proceedings.

“Could we please get this?" I asked in the most convincing voice I could muster in reference to whatever product happened to be in front of me, hoping to strike an emotional chord that would overwhelm my parents into gladly awarding us the goods. But aisle after aisle, toy after toy, our stalwart guardians would rebuff our pleas with a calmness and self-assuredness normally only witnessed in bodhisattvas.1 Instead of succumbing to our self-interested overtures, our mother or father would B-line to whatever toy we were there to buy for whichever cousin's birthday happened to be coming up and leave us to wander the aisles imagining how much better our lives would surely be if only our parents let us indulge our every materialistic impulse.

But as we came up to the glass encasing that housed the Nintendo games, my father caught us off guard.

"Why don't you pick a game out, son?" he asked with a knowing smile as he prepared to bask in the flurry of excitement that was sure to explode from my brother and I.

Standing in front a the wall of 8-bit possibilities, I froze. How were we to whittle down the choice to one game? We already owned the heavy hitters like The Legend of Zelda, Super Mario Bros., and Metroid. My friends had many of the other immediately appealing titles like Castlevania, Rad Racer, and Ikari Warriors. Why buy them when I can get them in a trade after my friend gets bored?

In an era before game publications like Game Informer existed, the decision of which game to buy was often determined by world of mouth, gut instinct, and the game with the most appealing cover art. Directionless and short on recommendations from friends, my brother and I narrowed the titles down to a short list that included titles like Slalom, Spy Hunter, and Winter Games.

The emphasis on athletic competition wasn't a mistake – my brother and I were extremely active children and the world was in the midst of its love affair with the XV Winter Olympics in Calgary, Alberta. When it was too cold to slap the puck around on the driveway, we spent each night glued to the television watching the Italian playboy Alberto Tomba rack up gold medals in skiing, the Jamaican bobsled team valiantly race in the face of superior competition, and a young U.S. hockey club led by future New York Rangers great Brian Leetch struggle to recapture the magic of the 1980 team.

Under pressure to make our decision quickly before my parents headed to the checkout counter, we went with Winter Games mostly due to the fact that it seemed to include more than one event. Why choose Slalom when Winter Games has skiing plus other events as well?

In the car, I feverishly opened the packaging to read through the instruction manual. With my brother looking over my shoulder we poured through each page, analyzing the controls in anticipation of getting a head start on one another once we popped the game into our NES. Once the car pulled into the garage, we sped into the house, popped the cartridge into the console, and began what we hoped to be an amazing recreation of the most popular Winter Olympic events. What actually happened once we pressed the power button couldn't be farther from that ideal.

Please join me in a special episode of Replay as as Reiner, Dan, Tim, and I relive the horrors of the worst game I ever had the misfortune of owning.


After the trauma of wasting my parents' hard earned money on such a travesty, I vowed to never make a poor impulse purchasing decision again. So far so good.


1: I have no real meaning to convey in this footnote, but since this blog title references to the eponymous collection of non-fiction works by the late author David Foster Wallace, I wanted to honor him by employing his most eccentric stylistic convention.