The Super Nintendo Project

aka "A 16-Bit Psychochronography"

A sequel to my unfinished first major blogging project The Nintendo Project, the Super Nintendo Project is a series of esoteric essays on selected Super Nintendo games. It is also a magical ritual to destroy Gamergate. 

A Pure and Awful Poetry of Fire (Kirby's Dream Land 3)

Moore, drawing from Bunyan, calls it Mansoul. Blake goes with Eternity, while the Aboriginal Australians call it the Dreamtime. Kabbalistically it’s Yesod. It is the world in which the implications of things are made real, their secret histories and imagined futures stretching into the horizon, ghosts and possibilities not haunting them so much as simply inhabiting them, the ordinary and everyday population of the vast and surreal psychic metropolis. When your children asked you where Mario goes when he’s out of lives, this is what you were afraid to tell them.

The peripatetic pink puffball before us may seem a strange psychopomp, but he’s got prior form, with his sole NES game also post-dating that console’s obsolescence. At least in his early days, this was simply what he did, the Nintendo character who appeared at the end of a console’s life to usher it into this glittering and sunken realm of lost nostalgia. And in a sense he’s the perfect guide to this shimmering realm; he is literally a consumer, eating the dream-creatures around him and taking on their essence and nature. This is, after all, how the mass culture of video games works. For years, it’s what we did ...

Swinging My Dick In My Hand (Super Mario RPG)

One final guest post from Anna Wiggins. Also, just FYI, we're currently $1 below the threshold for Class reviews on Patreon, so if you were enjoying those, you might want to toss me a buck.

It was always going to end like this. When life transforms into narrative, wyrd into orlog, endings become inevitable, foreshadowed in a way they never were at the time. This is the dread magic of stories. And tragedies, in particular, only ever end one way.

In the Spring of 1998, a fourteen year old trans girl, closeted even from herself, tried to end her life in a patch of woods in rural North Carolina. She had run out of hope, her every refuge invaded. No one came to save her, and she didn’t know how to save herself.

Super Mario RPG was released two years earlier, of course. She never even played it; in retrospect this is surprising. It was a Square-made RPG, manifestly her favorite software developer at this point. But it slipped past her radar, probably by being part of the Mario franchise. Playing it now, I think she probably wouldn’t have liked it. The combat system is turned-based, but with poorly ...

C-Beams Glitter (Mega Man X3, Rockman and Forte)

Hello again. Where are we now, January 1996? Best we start wrapping this up, I suppose.

In a sense I never left, of course. Let’s see. Summer of 1995 was the first year of CTY, the big nerd camp that was the defining social framework of late middle school/early high school for me. Place those three weeks between Civilization and Chrono Trigger. I was still playing video games, but favored the PC - I got a Playstation around the time of Final Fantasy VII, and would get a Nintendo 64 for Christmas at the end of 1996, in my first year of high school, but neither captivated me. I was starting to intellectually specialize - at CTY I’d taken what was basically a college-level intro comp course, and was beginning to think of myself as, if not “a writer,” at least “a guy who could write.” This coincided with the regression of my ability in math, previously my best subject, as the handwriting requirements of algebra and ADD-taxing nature of drilling a problem over and over again made the subject stop favoring me. Indeed, the best paper I wrote at CTY was a descriptive essay about how much I’d ...

And I'm Not Young; I'm Closer to Death Than Birth (Yoshi's Island)

There’s only one way to begin this.

In a sense of course that’s a lie - there’s a vast and multifaceted history of side-scrolling platformers to which Yoshi’s Island was the momentary apex, countless aspects of which could be used as ways into the game. But I mean it simply in the literal sense that unlike its nominal predecessor, Yoshi’s Island does not have any sort of forking path in its initial worldmap, offering a straightforward and unambiguous “first level,” and indeed a wholly linear level structure through the entire game.

This is the difference between it and Super Mario World in a microcosm. The earlier game is a demo of the Super Nintendo - an advertisement for its supposedly infinite potential, and opens accordingly with a choice so as to signify the breadth of what can happen. Yoshi’s Island, on the other hand, exists deep in the twilight of the Super Nintendo, and less than a year before Super Mario 64 transitions the Mario franchise away from the side-scrolling mechanic that had defined it for its first decade. It is not a game about showing off possibility, but rather a late masterpiece - a final demonstration of the form before it ...

The Automap is Not the Territory (Doom)

There are two other Philips in my family, and both are intimately linked with Doom. My uncle got the game for me - one of his periodic gestures towards doing end-runs around my parents’ rules on media consumption. (The same uncle who got my parents Soulblazer, notably, an amusing case of the opposite process.) He made sure to emphasize the chainsaw, which I appreciated, as it was self-evidently the game’s most brilliantly transgressive option. Come to think of it, he exposed me to Evil Dead 2 somewhere in the vicinity of this too. Heh.

My grandfather, on the other hand, died of Alzheimer’s while I was failing to beat the final boss of Doom 2 one day, my father coming into the computer room and putting a hand on my shoulder until I paused the game and just told me “it’s over,” and all I remember after that is not crying, and then a minute or so later hearing my four-year-old sister start to.

I came back to the game a few hours later, just before bed. I don’t know why I didn’t just quit out - some sort of private and symbolic gesture, I imagine. I died in seconds in ...

These Shadows Keep On Changing (Castlevania: Dracula X)

It’s more than slightly fitting that there should be a haunted Castlevania game. Like most hauntings, of course, Dracula X is ghastly. This was fairly obvious even at the time, when the game got lackluster reviews. Indeed, a new Castlevania game is the sort of thing that could plausibly have gotten me to buy a SNES game in 1995, and certainly could have been good for a rental, except that it appeared in all regards to be a step back from Castlevania IV. No multi-directional whipping, comparatively garish graphics, and in general an approach that looked like it was rejecting all the progress made in the series over the years. And that was beyond stuff like the seemingly pointless and meaningless title. I mean, Mega Man X was one thing, but this was just silly.

And truth be told, it’s a bad game. Most obviously, it’s stupidly difficult, and difficult in fundamentally mean-spirited ways. The most revealing example comes at the start of the second level, which combines a lengthy stretch of crumbling platforms with a chain of Mermen that jump up to attack you, which essentially means that any time you get hit it’s a fatal one. The section’s ...

Alt (Chrono Trigger)

It’s not about changing history; not really. One does change history, yes, but that is not the point, at least in the conventional sense. Normally we change history to alter present circumstances, after all. Here, however, we change history to alter the future, with the present remaining not fixed, but largely conceptualized as a somewhat indifferent midpoint between the two poles - strangely unimportant to the actual story being told.

On the other hand, the apocalypse is set in 1999, which is to say that it was our own impending eschaton - the end of the world we were thoroughly fixated upon by 1995. We’re less than a year out from Doctor Who’s ridiculously and pointlessly millennial American reboot. Bowie was about to launch on tour with Nine Inch Nails to promote Outside, the start (and sole piece) of his millennium-ending superproject. It’s the year that Seven hits, more murderous paranoia piling up in the cultural gutters. The greatest magician of the age is finishing up his diagnosis of the previous century’s grisly denouement, turning his attention to the task of birthing the new aeon. I go to CTY for the first time, the beginning of a genuine realization that yes ...

I Think It Would Be a Good Idea (Civilization)

In case you missed it, "The Blind All-Seeing Eye of Gamergate," a longform piece on topics closely related to The Super Nintendo Project, went up on Saturday.

At last, the false dichotomy between playing video games and saving western civilization stands revealed. But when we choose to do both at the same time, what exactly is the civilization that we are saving, and how might that shape our understanding of certain larger conceptual wars?

In bluntly materialist terms, which are after all the best way to approach civilization, it is another instance of a PC game getting a fundamentally middling SNES port, in the same vein as Populous and SimCity. There are no doubt those for whom this is “their” Civilization - the version of a monumental piece of video game history. This is the game that inspired Iain Banks to the phrase “outside context problem,” for fuck’s sake. Or, at least, it’s the crummy console version of the predecessor to that game. Certainly that’s where my history here intersects - somewhere past 1996 with a lot of Civ2, in a phase of video gaming otherwise defined by Diablo and Quake. High school, notably, where the Super Nintendo was late elementary ...

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