It’s 2017, and one of the promises I made this new year was to write on my blog more often. It’s more for me than you, because it’s helpful for me to put thoughts into writing and better understand myself, but maybe it’s entertaining for you to gawk at my weird mental processes.
I’ve been going to a therapist for three years now, and more often than not, I end up talking about the way I was—how my childhood shaped the way I operate today. It may not surprise you to find out that I was an introverted kid, to the point that I didn’t have close friendships, and I think I tried to fill that void with TV and books and video games. Often, I’d get more attached to fictional worlds than I was to real ones. I’m still this way to an extent, but until I began talking to my therapist, I’d forgotten how deeply I sunk into all this stuff back in the day.
While I was home for Christmas, I had to clean out boxes of childhood stuff, and this included a lot of drawings I made. Here’s the one that made me want to go back in time and tell seven-year-old me that it was going to be okay.
- The scale is all off. Why is the 1-up mushroom so much bigger than everything else?
- I’m fairly certain that’s Princess Toadstool at the bottom. Why she has a coin on her head and why she’s telling it to leave is beyond me. (I’ll ask my therapist about it.) But the fact that she’s in the foreground—or what would be the foreground, if I understood a damned thing about perspective—is probably telling of a bond that would last long into adulthood.
- I have no idea why there’s only one Mario brother, why he’s so much smaller than the rest of the characters and why he’s lacking a mustache. Maybe I didn’t like mustaches back then?
- To the right of Generic Hero Plumber, I appear to have drawn a potion from Super Mario Bros. 2 but have given it a face. Unsure why. Ditto on what would appear to be a hammer and a mushroom block below it.
- The question mark on the question mark box is backwards. What a fucking idiot I was.
- I have no idea what the mushroom-like thing in the top-left corner is supposed to be. Because it’s Mario, I’d assume it’s a mushroom, but I think I proved that I could more competently draw those elsewhere in this piece. Anyone?
- In the center of the piece, I seem to have drawn two Toads—a boy one on the right and girl one on the left, who has long hair and who seems to be taking off her mushroom hat in a vaguely seductive fashion. This is notable because my fanciful she-Toad preceded the introduction of ones in the games by years, though it may be that the Toads could maybe have been intended to be female in the first place.
- I *think* the small thing immediately below the maybe-mushroom in the top left corner is a female version of the pluckable, chuckable vegetables from Super Mario Bros. 2. And I *think* the thing immediately below it (her?) is a smiling version of the springboards from Super Mario Bros., with a face in the void between the top and bottom halves. Who can say for sure? Again, what an idiot I was.
“Happy Birthday Drew! From all of us from Nintendo’s Mario 1 and 2!”
I made myself a fucking birthday card—from fictional entities that I cared about enough that I felt like I deserved to hear from them on my special day. On one hand, it’s cute, but on another, it’s weird. I was lonely, and so I gathered together the stuff that was familiar, which included a lot of smiling produce but also a lot of other stuff from the games that didn’t come with faces but which I gave faces anyway, possibly to make it look like more friends were happy to see me. This makes me a little sad.
So yeah, that’s a weird thing to process. But just as Super Mario Bros. begat Super Mario Bros. 2, there’s a sequel to this little anecdote.
Late last year, I finally made good on something I’d wanted to do for years: I drove to an arcade machine refurbishment studio in Glendale and put money down on a custom build—a repurposed frame that the people there can fit with a new CPU, new monitor and new control panel and load up with old video games. I’d known about this place for years, but it took me until November to go in and order the thing. I’m very excited, because I’ll get to play games I loved for years in the format they were intended to be enjoyed, but I’d be lying if I didn’t say that one of the best reasons I was excited by this whole project was that I could design my own art for the machine’s control panel and above-the-screen marquee.
Without hesitation, I knew what I wanted, and I made it.
On the top, it’s Super Mario Bros. 2—and the game that preceded it that isn’t Super Mario Bros.—and it’s all made from the original sprites, modified just a tad, for aesthetic purposes and because it’s mine so whatever. Do note that in this version, I still made the princess front and center. In fact, she’s leading the charge. When the machine is turned on, this will light up, and I’m more excited for this than I can tell you.
On the bottom, it’s a mosaic of all the items from Super Mario Bros. 2 and Doki Doki Panic, most of which I realize are smiling produce. Old habits die hard, but no, I didn’t draw little pixelated smiles onto the items that didn’t have them in the first place, but I still made a whole wallpaper of grinning vegetables to look back at me when I finally get to play at this thing.
Nearly three decades later, I’m still seeking refuge in the stuff that felt safe when I was a kid. I feel like that’s an important connection to make. And believe me, I realize that a private arcade paradise won’t necessarily be the thing that gets me out into the world and interacting face-to-face in the way I didn’t get enough of as a kid. But hey—this machine has controls for a player one and a player two. I intend to make use of both in 2017.
Here’s to typing it all out.