Getting Into Gaming: Donkey Kong
Imagine you had never learned to read in school. Then imagine, at the age of 30 you were suddenly introduced to all the greatest works in the literary world, taught to read them, and then left alone in a library. Which book would you choose first?
When I was young I was never really exposed to the gaming world. The most complicated games I owned were the JumpStart games, The Magic School Bus, and eventually, The Sims. That’s like saying the only TV show I’ve ever watched is Big Brother… far from stimulating and not likely to make me popular at parties. In my first year at varsity I started dating a long-time gamer. He wasn’t a hardcore gamer, but he was passionate and well versed in the ways of the controller! At first I couldn’t get my head around it, judged him for it even! I had no idea what treasures gaming had to offer! Games had become like movies. After a few months I would find myself watching him play, squealing and cheering, helping solve mysteries and shouting useful instructions like, “kill him! Kill him!” Naturally, it wasn’t long before I asked the big question: “Can I try?”
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I’ve managed to get a few conquests under my belt. Nothing fancy and definitely not enough to be impressive. Just enough to allow me to talk to gamers with some semblance of understanding and a vague whiff of experience. So this year, I set myself the nerdiest resolution I’ve ever thought of: to create a list of quintessential games of the past and present, of any and all genres, and play through them, as best I can, one by one. This has required me to do some digging into the history of gaming.
Video games as we know them today came into their own in the 1970s with the creation of arcades. Anyone who knows anything about gaming can tell you that. What’s less commonly known is that the first video game was patented way back in 1947, with the creation of the cathode ray tube amusement device. Not the catchiest trade name, but this simple little gizmo, with only a dial and big red button on its controller, is the reason we have games today. The first games were beyond basic. Turn the dial to move the dot until it’s over the airborne target on screen, then hit the red button to blow it to hell! However, from this basic concept came the precursors to Pong, Space Invaders, Asteroids!, and every FPS ever created!
Realistically, I don’t intend to dig up gaming consoles from the 1940s. Not only would it be damn near impossible, but it would be dull and boring and desperately, desperately dull! Also, they would make for the shortest column ever written: “I pushed the button, and it blew up. The end.” So I decided to start with one of the most famous old school games out there: Donkey Kong, the first jumping platformer ever made.
I’ve never been the biggest fan of platformers in general, but something about the retro graphics (the sound was on mute) and the utterly bizarre concept of a barrel-throwing gorilla, with an inexplicable hatred for you, gives Donkey Kong a charm of forgiveableness. The more research I did, the more entertaining the game became. Originally, the hero’s name was simply “Jump Man” and his girlfriend was imaginatively named “Lady”. As if that wasn’t amusing enough, the name Donkey Kong, is rumoured to have come from a bad Japanese translation of ‘stupid ape’, which can now be roughly translated back to mean ‘ass monkey’. Even if that isn’t true, it’s still a damn good insult for the bastard who’s throwing barrels at you!
I can’t deny I was glad there were only 4 levels. By the fourth I was running out of expletives and my laptop was bearing the brunt of my rage. I’m almost embarrassed to admit that it took me nearly an hour to reach level 4, after a multitude of failed attempts, but that damn fireball was being an utter troll! However, I think the flag-ship status of Donkey Kong is what makes it fun to play nowadays. If you played it as a child, it gives you a strong sense of nostalgia. For those playing it for the first time, you get the feeling you’re looking in on an important step in the history of gaming… like the moon landing, only more pixelated and with more gorillas. As I played through, my boyfriend watched me over my shoulder, witnessing my noobish deaths at the foot of ladders and my poorly-timed jumps, which ultimately resulted in death too. But I didn’t mind his jokes and him laughing at my rants because they made me realise that Donkey Kong is most fun in retrospect. It’s at that moment when a reference suddenly makes sense, or when you can legitimately laugh at a joke because you understand it, not because you read about it on the internet, that the significance of Donkey Kong becomes so obvious, even to a first-time player.