Nintendo Campus Challenge

Retro video game collector and reviewer Pat “The NES Punk” Contri, in the above video, said that, “[The Nintendo World Championships are] a part of Nintendo and video game history. They’re a part of our culture. Those games represent the point where Nintendo dominated our society.” Many years after the devastating Video Game Crash of 1983, gaming was starting to take the world by storm again. And what company sat upon the throne of cartridges and ruled the world of video games? None other than Nintendo. Nintendo has always been one of my favorite developers and publishers; The Legend of Zelda: The Wind Waker is in my top three all-time favorite games. I grew up playing all sorts of games on my NES and SNES, and now I have begun to build up my own retro game collection. It’s safe to say that I’m a huge fan of the company.

Wouldn’t you trust this face? (Credit to ThePunkEffect)

Nintendo Wold Championships is considered a Holy Grail among game collectors. The cartridges used in the 1990 competition are some of the most rare and expensive NES games ever sold. However, looking on Wikipedia one day, I found an article discussing a lesser-known Nintendo competition, one not as recognized by the gaming community at large: the Nintendo Campus Challenge. Two competitions were held, one in 1991 and one in 1992, compelling gamers at universities across the country to compete and prove themselves to be the “college valedictorian of videogames.” The cartridges used in the Campus Challenge are even more rare than the much sought-after Nintendo World Championships cartridges; scarce amounts of the competition cartridges are known to exist, selling for tens of thousands of dollars online. The article itself was, unfortunately, rather bare and missing quite a lot of information, so I attempted to fill it in where I could.

In more recent years, gaming has taken the center-stage in the entertainment industry. The worldwide video game industry is worth nearly one-hundred billion dollars. Series like Call of Duty sell millions of copies within their first week of release. E-Sports competitions, like the League of Legends World Championship, are watched by tens of millions of people around the world. Gaming is increasing in its popularity, but every now and then, it’s nice to remind ourselves of the popularity it had in the past. People still remember the days when Nintendo was at the forefront of gaming innovation. when competitions like the Nintendo Campus Challenge still occurred.

Two of the only Nintendo Campus Challenge cartridges in existence. Left: NCC 1991 cartridge. Right: NCC 1992 cartridge.

Two of the only Nintendo Campus Challenge cartridges in existence. LEFT: NCC 1991 cartridge. RIGHT: NCC 1992 cartridge.

Entry Log 409-5b

The bell in the upper-left quadrant of the glass-and-steel door rings. I pass through the threshold. There are five life-forms inside the place of business. I identify one whom is standing up. Male, 39. All others are sitting and facing away from him. Conjecture: he must be the leader. Are they afraid of him? He wields a metal object in his hand, actively dismembering the hair on their head. Identifying: object appears to be a pair of scissors. Primary use: cutting. Human functions are quite foreign; no database entry on “hair cut.”

Greeting: “Salutations, human.”

The man with the cutting instruments does not turn to face towards my platform. “Jesus, what are you doing here? Thought I told you not to come back after last time. That girl nearly lost her scalp.”

Statement: “I still do not understand. If humans are okay with removing their hair, they must surely accept removal of more.”

His exhalation is distinctly audible. “Well, whatever business you have, make it quick. I’ve got two other customers waiting, and I don’t want you hurting any of them this time.”

Identifying customers: male, 34; female, 17; male, 60. They appear to have excess hair.

Query: “I am, how you would say, curious. How do you dispose of the hair?”

The scissor-man’s eyes turn approximately 346 degrees in their sockets. Analyzing expression: eyebrows raised, pupils contracted, lip curled downward. 95% match to perplexity. He turns his head towards me, away from his victim. “We’ve got a broom. Ricky sweeps it up and throws it in the dumpster. Can’t just leave it around, it’s dirty. Health Department would shut us down. You know the Health Department, right?”

Statement: “My database contains an entry on this Health Department. It is such a shame to dispose of such luscious hair. I do not understand why the government would mandate such an act.” I watch as the scissor-man removes the hair from the male, 34. The brown locks fall to the ground in wet mounds upon the linoleum tile. Searching database for reasons to dispose of hair; error, no entries found.

The scissor-man turns to the end of the cutroom. His vocal amplification increases to 14.3 decibels. “Ricky, sweep it up!” A male, 18, appears from the end of the cutroom, wielding a large implement in one appendage, with a flat plastic plate in the other. Identifying: large object is a broom; flat object is a dustpan. The scissor-man returns his attention to me. His exhalation is again distinctly audible. “Listen, tin man, if you like hair so much, go buy a wig and stop bothering me. There’s a place down on Plantation.”

Search terms inputted: one entry found. WIGGED OUT, 334 Plantation St. Specializing in both monofilament and natural hair wigs.

Query: “One is simply able to purchase a covering made of hair?”

“‘Course you can. Hell, I’m wearing one right now.” The scissor-man reaches with his hand and removes the hair-garment on top of his head, revealing a bald scalp.

Query: “But why would one wish to dispose of one’s own hair. Is it not for warmth?”

The scissor-man replaces his hair-garment to his scalp. “Look, buddy, if I wanted to stay warm, I’d put on a sweater. Hair ain’t about that, it’s about style.”

Missing connector found: style. Related terms: beauty, status. Other automatons are without such qualities.

Conjecture: “Perhaps with a hair-garment, I would be able to become a unique platform. Hair brings with it much ‘beauty and status.’ Without it, one is mundane.”

The scissor-man returns to dismembering the seated male. “I’m not sure about that. Look at Vin Diesel, he isn’t mundane.

Diesel: liquid fuel used to power machinery by compression of air mixture and injection of fuel. Not my machinery.

Statement: “Fuel is irrelevant in this conversation.”

Query: “WIGGED OUT is located 10.3 miles away. Is there not some business transaction that we could make and bypass the locomotive process?”

The scissor-man makes an abrupt cut and pauses. He rotates his head towards me. “How much cash do you got?”

My motivator core glows.

We Play: How YouTube is Creating an Interactive Community

Gaming has, quite obviously, evolved in recent years. Whereas in its earliest, arcade years, video games were about obtain the highest scores, games are now about “the experience.” Games try to incorporate you into their worlds, have you empathize with their characters, and positively change you as a person. Above all, though, games try to be fun or interesting, if not both. Regardless of the game’s goals, if you enjoy playing it, you’ll want to share it. In the past, you’d have to invite a friend over and either swap the controller every few turns or play a multiplayer game. Nowadays, modern consoles, like the Playstation 4, have “Share” functions that allow you to post a screenshot or video to the Internet. Video games are best when the experience of play, whether single-player or multiplayer, is shared. And this is best shown through the interactive community of YouTube.

I started using YouTube back in middle school, when a friend of mine videos that people had made of tracks in a game called Line Rider. I was shocked by the sheer skill that these people had in creating seemingly-impossible tracks. So, using YouTube, I began finding more Line Rider videos. And then more gaming videos. And then random videos. The Related Videos sidebar became a hypertext highway that I could access with my fingertips and a little thought power. I wanted to be a part of this experience. YouTube, and other content creation websites, allowed anyone to make an account and share their content with the world. So I made a channel, posted a couple of videos to it, and, after a few months where the majority of the views came from me refreshing the page, I closed it down.

Watching more popular channels like Smosh or the PBS Idea Channel, I realized how they could succeed in the over-saturated market of YouTube, where literally millions post videos every day. It’s because these channels engage with their own specific audiences in their own specific rhetorical styles. They aren’t trying to make everyone happy; they understand the audience to whom their videos are catered. These people, through years of practice (and sometimes failure), figured out the craftsmanship behind their field, and thus learned the psychological and marketing techniques that allow them to succeed. Anyone can post a video; these people are creating content. Content which anyone can interact with.

Credit to WikiHow.

Pick a random video on YouTube. Go ahead, I’ll wait; it’s not like this page is going anywhere anytime soon. Now, take a look at the entire page the video is located on. You’ll see comments, related videos, video responses; anyone who has a YouTube account can reply to a video (or say something completely different). The discourse community for the Internet has widened even further.

So how does this relate to gaming? Think about it: people can post videos sharing their gaming experiences! Whether in a game review or, now more commonly, Let’s Plays, anyone can share their experience with a game to the world and add their own viewpoints. Popular channels like Angry Video Game Nerd or PewDiePie thrive because they are enjoyable to watch (to some) and can, at times, offer insightful commentary. I certainly got into channels like these, my favorite being Game Grumps.

Having met the Grumps before, I can say that they offered some of the most insightful and friendly comments I’ve heard from any celebrity. These people are not only genuinely entertaining on their own channel, but they’re super inclusive and always welcome discourse with the community. Whether discussing their favorite games, issues within the gaming industry, or something as random as their favorite cereals, the Grumps enjoy simply talking with their “lovelies,” regardless of the subject. Arin, Danny, Ross, Barry, and Suzy care about the community. And the inspiration they imparted onto me has led me to attempt another YouTube channel. The barrier for entry may be large, the market may be over-saturated with less-professional channels, and the chances of popularity may be slim, but that’s unimportant. What matters now is that my co-host and I are adding our own voice to the community. We’re using YouTube to its fullest extent: to reach out to a specific community and add our own voice to the discussion.

Me hanging out with Arin and Suzy of Game Grumps. What beautiful people.

The Hyperreality of Assassin’s Creed

A common element of gaming is immersion. Developers attempt to engage us in the experience of the game, bridging the gap between reality and the virtual experience. A game is considered successfully immersive if the game world becomes real in the mind’s eye of the player. Mass Effect brings us into an intragalactic adventure, while Grand Theft Auto V shows us around a fictionalized Los Angeles. The developers want us to be a part of the world they’ve crafted, so we feel agency in continuing to play and affect the events of the game. There is one game series, however, that bridges the gap between reality and virtuality in a far different way, one series which understands that it is a simulacrum of reality without attempting to create a new reality: Assassin’s Creed.

Simulacra, as defined by postmodern author Jean Baudrillard, are representations of reality. There is a disconnect between the reality and its representation, which then influences the way reality is perceived. Simulacra are not copies, but become true in their own way. They bridge the gap between reality and virtuality, creating a hyperreality, an indistinguishability between what is real and what is false.

First developed by Ubisoft in 2007, Assassin’s Creed puts the player in control of Desmond Miles, a man captured by the enigmatic Abstergo Industries and forced into a machine known as the Animus. The Animus scans the user’s DNA and allows the user to live the memories of their ancestors, genetically imprinted onto them. The user, and therefore the player, can explore the ancestor’s life and interact with a virtually-created version of the past. Whether in the Holy Land during the Third Crusade or in Paris in the midst of the French Revolution, we are integrated into a world that constantly reminds us of its construction. We watch the world literally load around the user, the buildings and people coded into existence, and then we are free to explore a recreation of the past. A constant display keeps us informed of the character’s health and location. Glitches can appear, hidden in the environment. We are transported into an incongruous virtual existence when performing a high-profile assassination. While most games attempt to fully integrate us into its reality, Assassin’s Creed reminds us that it is nothing more than a representation.

Most games struggle to hide their limitations in the gameplay. Invisible walls, invulnerable NPCs, and player death are explained away in some convoluted fashion, which invariably breaks the flow of the game and acts as a reminder that we are interacting within a virtual experience. Assassin’s Creed, on the other hand, takes steps to remind us that it is a virtual reality. Inaccessible areas cannot be loaded without sufficient data. Killing random civilians breaks the code of the Animus, as the user is not acting in the fashion of the ancestor. When the protagonist dies, the simulation has to be reloaded. Assassin’s Creed presents the medium’s limitations proudly, incorporating them directly into the world of the game. This brings the player into the world of the simulacrum more-so than hiding the limitations. It is this self-awareness which helps the virutality of Assassin’s Creed to thrive as a series.

How, then, does this affect how we interact with reality? When we explore Rome in 1503 during Assassin’s Creed Brotherhood, how do we experience modern-day Rome when we’ve already “explored” it? What about someone who has grown up living in Los Angeles, and explores their hometown in the form of Grand Theft Auto V‘s Los Santos? These simulacra of the locations give us new perspectives into the reality, allowing us to explore the settings in new and drastically different ways. Our reality, then, becomes a hyperreality of its own, in which our experience with the virtual has now been affected and changes the way we experience the world.

LEFT: A photograph of the Notre-Dame Cathedral in Paris, France. RIGHT: A recreation of the Notre-Dame Cathedral which will appear in Assassin’s Creed Unity (2014).