The EB Games off Veterans Parkway always smells like Subway. Meats, toasted veggies, and hints of Italian spices fills the air and leaves your stomach feeling empty, even if you just ate. Empty game boxes line the beige walls of the store, and rows of square gray cartridges fill a glass case surrounding the front counter. This is where they kept the Super Nintendo games. In the very back corner was a somewhat roughed-up cart, the orange face-sticker had started to peel. The end label read Earthbound, and it would be mine from that day forward.
The cashier flicked through the games in the case, the clack of hard plastic rang out in a rap of repetition. “I didn’t realize we had this one,” he said. “Thirty-five dollars, please.”
I pulled two crisp twenties from my pocket, money I had saved up for a few weeks. I slid the stiff bills across the countertop, or at least as far as my 3 foot 8 body could push them. The register rang, the game was placed in a crinkly plastic bag, and I went outside to wait for my mother to go home.
I had purchased my Super Nintendo the previous year, in the summer of 2001, it was one of the first consoles I had saved up for, and the one I enjoyed the most. I had bought it used, like most of the games I had for it, and the wear on the console had started to show. The gray box-shaped body had begun yellow, a chemical reaction that comes with the special type of plastic used for early Nintendo hardware. It had a few other dents and scratches, but it still powered on.
I slid Earthbound in through the thin dustcover and flicked the power switch on. The hum of the old TV in front of me changed to a ring, and the game displayed a screen of static that turned into an image of UFOs destroying a photorealistic city (or as realistic as the SNES could convey). Big red letters reading “EARTH BOUND: THE FIGHT AGAINST GIYGAS!” appeared in front of the image before the whole thing faded to white and the game’s title screen dropped down. The melodic jazz that plays on the title screen is burned into my mind. It’s a catchy title, it feels like something from an old 90’s late show, and the neon bubble letters of the title only solidify that feeling more.
I wasn’t prepared for what I was about to play. I purchased Earthbound long after it became a hit, but still a few years before the fan-following it had online would explode from a niche into a large cult. I didn’t know about things like rarity or collector’s value. I had no idea of the connections people had with this game, how odd it resonated with them, and how it would eventually resonate with me. A game was a game, something to be played, to be enjoyed. And something to have the battery die and fizzle out when its time had come, like an electronic grim reaper.
Earthbound is a rather eccentric game, built of bright backgrounds, odd characters, and psychedelic music and imagery. It’s the perfect amount of weird, crazy enough for 10-year-old me to stay interested in it, and just profound enough for 20-year-old me to pull symbolism and reasoning from it. Young Taylor can feel sad at the death of a bumblebee side-character, and older Taylor can feel sad and hesitant with all the imagery about growing up and moving on.
There are few experiences that I’ve had similar to those with my Super Nintendo. Earthbound might have been one of my earliest emotional kicks as a kid, but there were plenty of other games too. There’s something magical about playing an older game at 1 in the morning. The hum of the big gray CRT TV, the music from the game coming through the speakers wanted to be involved the process of game making. I wanted to give life to characters, worlds, or even just basic copy. This piece exists because of how games have impacted me. I wouldn’t say it’s a way of life, but video games, the art about them, and their application have shaped plenty of the choices in my life.