Have you ever heard of the butterfly effect? The idea is that one little change can forever alter everything that comes after it. You may doubt it’s validity, but I’m here to tell you that’s exactly what happened one fateful Christmas when my mom was just trying to please her son.
I grew up on a small dairy farm in southeast Iowa. It was a plain, isolated existence, separated from people and the bustle of the big city. My daily chores on the farm always came first, quickly followed by a mad dash to the house to catch my favorite show. “Spider-Man and His Amazing Friends” was required viewing to me when I was young.
My family had an Atari 2600, but most of them quickly grew bored with it. Something about those simple graphics seemed to open my imagination in ways it didn’t for my siblings. Fast forward to Christmas, and video games were all the rage again thanks to the Nintendo Entertainment System (NES).
Video games enter the picture
Like most kids at the time, I had my eyes set on one for under the tree. My family would frequent the local department store, and I would always go down the video game aisle. The games were locked behind a clear glass case, and I would gaze longingly at them every time.
The NES was what I had my heart set on. It was making the rounds on the afternoon cartoon commercials, promoting its library of games. Games like Super Mario Bros. and The Legend of Zelda were all the kids were talking about on the playground.
School tales of secret levels and magical swords that shot blasts of energy were running rampant. I was head over heels in love. I told my mom how badly I wanted a NES for Christmas. My parents were very frugal, and my mom told me, “We will see what Santa brings you.” In my heart, that thing was as good as mine.
Waiting for Christmas
I sat and counted the days until Christmas when I would be huddle in front of the television, basking in that NES glow. Then, Christmas came, and I saw a big square box waiting with my name on it. I just knew what it was: my precious NES. Tearing open the wrapping paper, my eyes saw a SEGA Master System.
My mouth fell open! SEGA wasn’t what I had asked for. Mom quickly explained they were sold out of Nintendo systems, and she didn’t want to disappoint me. I had barely even looked at this thing. SEGA was being distributed by TONKA, who made metal toy dump trucks!
Well, it was better than nothing. I struggled to hide my disappointment from my mom. Still, I decided to hook it up and give it a go.
The Master System came with Hang-On and Astro Warrior. Also, because it was cheaper, my mom added in Pro Wrestling and Out Run. My first impression was, while it didn’t have the big-name games of Nintendo, this thing was kinda okay. Hang-On proved to be very challenging, but Astro Warrior was just plain fun. It was a space shooter that, after shooting enough blocks, you could get power-ups like lasers and companion ships. My brother and I took turns trying to beat the bosses. Soon after, my sister joined in, and it became a family affair.
I was familiar with Out Run from our local arcade, and everyone took turns driving that bright red Ferrari and watching the passengers fly through the air when we wrecked. Pro Wrestling was silly fun with characters that looked like popular wrestlers at the time.
A change in mood
My disappointment soon became an ember of pride. Maybe this wasn’t Nintendo, but that was okay, because it had its own brand of fun. In the coming months, I add a personal favorite Rastan, which featured a Conan-type character with a flaming sword. Rastan battled across a landscape filled with hordes of monsters. I was enthralled.
Beating Rastan became a daily habit. I memorized its every inch, mastering levels, laughing at bosses’ futile attempts to stop me. A friend at school heard me talking about it and wanted to come over and see it.
Nintendo didn’t have Rastan and he was jealous after hearing my long-winded yarns about its glory. Soon, others in school heard I had this “other” video game system and wanted to check it out too. My pride in having something different grew, and I quickly became a staunch SEGA guy.
Alis makes her triumphant arrival
I sang SEGA’s praises to everyone within earshot. Little did I know the best was yet to come. Video game magazines began to talk about a role-playing game with graphics that put everything on the NES to shame. There were multiple planets, space travel, three-dimensional dungeons, monsters, swords, magic, and even a flying cat! Phantasy Star had to be mine.
Pleading with my mom, she finally relented and ordered it from a mail order catalog. When it arrived, I tore open the package and Phantasy Star was finally mine. This game was everything I had heard about, and more. Phantasy Star blew my imagination wide open, and I spent hours exploring every nook and cranny. Friends came over, and were blown away as well.
The Master System had made me believe it was something special. I spent hours drawing dungeons on graph paper so I could find my way through them. I called the 1-800-USA-SEGA tip line when I became lost, so they could tell me where to go over the phone. My mind absorbed every part of this classic.
When Dark Falz, the final boss, fell, I was joyous. That little system that I had not wanted, had become part of who I was. Following the crowd wasn’t my thing any longer, I was the underdog. I would sing the praises of things other people didn’t appreciate like they should. SEGA made me a steadfast fan for life.
What really matters at Christmas
My mom passed away last year from cancer. I never told her how much that Master System meant to me. That little system defined who I am for the rest of my life. Coincidentally, it gave me a group to belong to: the die-hard SEGA group.
I’m not sure if parents realize what exactly they are giving a child when they give them a game system. If video games have given you a means to escape, a way to communicate, a group of friends, a lifelong hobby, or maybe even a career, take a second to tell your parents what that gift meant.
Take a second to imagine how different things could be if they hadn’t given you that system. One little system can change everything.