A Geeky History, part I

You sit there in your heartache…

My roommate is playing Guitar Hero.

To save you from your old ways…

He’s stuck on this song.

You sit there in your heartache…

The same guitar riff, with various missing notes as his fingers fumble the plastic instrument, has filled our apartment for the past half hour. Having been repeatedly booed offstage by the exceedingly critical pixilated audience, he’s moved into practice mode, playing the same bit of song over and over again. I can feel the frustration radiating from him; his breathing has become slow and measured in an effort to calm himself. I know the symptoms well.

My earliest memories are of sitting in the big burgundy armchair in my parent’s bedroom, watching my older brother sit a few feet from the television, engrossed in a game. I don’t recall in detail a single episode of Sesame Street, or what Barney’s friends were named, but vivid pictures of a blue hedgehog racing down a tunnel, intent for some reason on collecting golden rings, flood my mind. Being that he was three years older than I was, my brother was like a god to me. There was nothing better than being in his presence, although in hindsight I recall he hated having me there. But nonetheless I wanted him to catch all the rings. I must have been four years old at the time. As vivid as the color of the small mammal on the screen I remember him looking up at me from the floor, and telling me that I was never to speak to him again while he was playing his games.

I was not to be deterred, however. I continued to sneak into mom and dad’s room when he was playing. Later on, when he was older, he was granted the privilege of having a television in his own bedroom. He was not allowed cable, however; the express purpose of this TV was to play his games. Not having a set myself, my parents permitted me to creep into his room on Saturday mornings and watch him. As long as I was quiet, I was allowed to curl up in his top bunk and watch. In silence I would sit, waiting for him to remember I was there and throw me out for bringing “bad luck.” My mother eventually overrode this declaration of negative karma, and he grudgingly allowed me houseroom, provided I never made a sound. Together, or so I felt at the time, we worked our way through endless levels of Donkey Kong. Kaptain K. Rool was no match for a pony tailed chimpanzee, who would later become the subject of an essay I wrote, entitled “My Childhood Hero.” Felled, too, at the might of our corded sword, were endless incarnations of that dastardly Bowser, armies of zombies and the whole of the Umbrella Corporation, and Gannondorf eventually threw down his piece of the Triforce at our feet. My brother and I could conquer anything, vanquish any foe, and eventually, and after many, many wasted lives, would stand victorious atop a Mushroom Castle and claim our rescued princess – assuming, of course, that I stayed quiet.

Perhaps the element of chivalry is what appealed to me; these games always seemed to involve a knight in tarnished armor, having braved the many perils of Hyrul forest, consorted with M.C. Hammer’s monkey relatives to charter aircraft, and crawled through miles and miles of sewers, finally rescuing his damsel in distress. Perhaps I just wanted to be close to my brother, even if I had to do so without ever speaking to him. Later on, when I was granted the privilege of occupying the passenger seat of his sports car, this rule was reinstated. The list soon grew to include “No doing homework in the car” and “No applying makeup in the car,” but the standard of my silence needed not be codified; it was something we had come to expect out of me.

And sometimes you close your eyes and see the place where you used to live…

My brother was always somewhat of an enigma to me. As an older sibling, he was infinitely cooler than I was or could ever be, but I knew very little about him. Our hours spent together mean I can explain to you exactly who Kiddy Kong is, and the differences between Aladdin the movie and Aladdin the game, but even something as simple as my brother’s favorite color eludes me. I am not sure if even now the ban on my speech has been lifted. Last time we were alone together was for my grandfather’s funeral, and my silence then may have been construed as simple grief. I loved those times with him, those weekend mornings spent in the privileged company of the coolest person I knew, and me without having to change out of my pajamas. I sometimes wonder, though, what other things he did for fun.

My roommate is still playing Guitar Hero. My brother, I know, plays a real guitar, but I have never heard him strum a single chord. I suppose he must be particularly good at the video game rendition of what I can only assume to be his second-favorite hobby. I watch my roommate in silence. His breathing is no longer measured. He has conquered that particular riff; he stands victorious on top of a slanted mountain, having dodged all the rolling barrels. Silently, I think my brother could have mastered it much faster, especially had I been in the bunk bed above him, wordlessly cheering him on.

But he talks like a gentleman, like you imagined when you were young…


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