So another birthday is drawing to a close. This one was my 42nd.
It doesn’t even seem possible. When you’re a kid – even when you’re a teenager – being 30 can sound and seem impossibly old. And yet, here I am in my 40s, feeling scarcely any different to how I felt as a teenager in a lot of ways. I think the fitness and eating regime I’ve been setting myself in the past year has helped with that, but even when I was unfit – and overweight, frankly – I still didn’t really ‘feel’ my age.
I was thinking about how I could make a post about my birthday and yet still make it relevant to the gaming content that I usually write – and, sure enough, I have found a way to do so.
I’m going to tell you a story about my twelfth birthday, which was 30 years ago today.
At the time, I was the proud owner of a Sega Master System. In other posts here and on Twitter, I’ve spoken about how it was the very first console I could ever call my own; it was the model with Hang On built in and game card as well as cartridge compatibility. Countless hours were spent playing that console; they were glorious times. My family didn’t have much money, however – we were always broke and that meant that I could only have new games on very special occasions, which gave me two opportunities in any given year – at Christmas and then on my birthday. This also meant that I had to choose games wisely; it had to be something that I was really into – something that would keep me going for as long as possible for the six month period that I wouldn’t be able to get another.
It was a year or two before then that I’d really got into Double Dragon. Playing it either with a friend or a stranger at the arcade was a wonderful experience; I spent almost all of the whole week of holiday money I’d been given (the princely sum of £15) on my first day at a Pontins Holiday Camp in 1988, purely because I’d happened upon a Double Dragon machine and another kid had joined me – we ended up getting to the end and I paid for both of us to reach it, despite me having no clue who this other kid was. It was awesome.
So naturally, when I realised I could get Double Dragon for the Master System, I had to have it. Shortly after Christmas ’88, I got my request in early – I had to, so my mum could save up for it – and I looked forward to receiving my shiny new game in June ’89.
The thing was, a few months before my birthday, I sort-of accidentally discovered where my mum had hidden – and already wrapped up – my birthday presents. Typically, I’d get a ‘big’ one that cost £20-£25, and a couple of presents of lesser value too. It wasn’t hard to work out, when I discovered them, which one was the Master System cartridge – the size, shape and weight were very distinctive.
The temptation was too great for me. I simply couldn’t resist it – which I’m pretty ashamed to say now. I opened the present, very carefully. I took the Double Dragon cartridge out of the box, then – again, with great care – wrapped the box back up again. It was the perfect crime!
I spent a few days covertly playing Double Dragon on the Master System, careful to only do so when the coast was clear. I’d hide it between secret play sessions and retrieve it when I knew I could get away with playing it again.
The thing was, this routine didn’t last very long. I don’t know how well you know Double Dragon, dear reader…but it is not a long or complex game. Nor was it a particularly challenging one for someone who’d already had an awful lot of experience in playing the arcade version. So I happened to finish the game extremely quickly – all a few months in advance of my 12th birthday.
I was absolutely gutted, to say the least. Here was my ‘big’ present, something I’d looked forward to for the longest time, already completed and with little in the way of replay value, as far as I was concerned. I reversed my earlier procedure with the wrapped package and it went back in, where it was supposed to be.
I felt really guilty about it. I felt like I’d let myself down, too – my birthdays usually felt very special, given that I had so little in the way of gifts and treats on other occasions. I’d completely ruined it for myself.
I had to pretend to be excited when I received it; even had to feign playing as if I was playing for the first time. I felt really guilty that my mum had spent cash that she likely had difficulty in saving up on this gift that I’d already made use of, behind her back.
I suppose one good thing did come out of that: I certainly never did anything like it again. In fact, more than one good thing came out of doing that: I really did learn to appreciate my birthday and, even though I often did – and often still do – know what I may be getting on the day in the way of presents, it made me really appreciate the fact that people are willing to treat me and make me feel special.
Fast forward thirty years to today. I don’t think I’ve felt as special on an adult birthday as I have today. I woke up to numerous Twitter notifications about my birthday and they kept coming throughout the day – it’s been absolutely wonderful and has made me feel really special, in a way that’s very rare for me these days. So I wanted to take this opportunity to thank everyone who took the time to wish me a Happy Birthday; some of you I know well, some of you less so – but I appreciate all of you equally for helping to make my day a very special one indeed, even though it’s my (gulp!) 42nd birthday.
Thank you – and here’s to the next 42 years!
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