I've always had a particular respect for the original Donkey Kong, not that I find it to be particularly enthralling. If we're being honest, I've never actually played it. I just can't help but be impressed by a game that poses of the question, "What could motivate a man to do battle with a giant gorilla?" and succinctly answers "A woman."
Asking a girl out on a date? I couldn't conceive of anything more terrifying. Putting myself though physical inconvenience and misery? No problem.
I've always had a thing for that kind of romantic thinking. It's ironic, because for much of my life, romantic love was practically a non-presence. My parents divorced when I was nine, but even before that I can't recall any moments of real affection between them. There must have been something - my little sister didn't come from nowhere - but to this day I know more about why they split up than I do about why they ever got together.
In spite of (or perhaps even as a result of) this, I've always very much valued love and as I grew older, my desire to find affection beyond what friends and family could provide began to take center stage. When adolescence hit and the other boys, hormones a-raging, could think about nothing except finding a way to get underneath the clothes of the budding girls ... well, I was thinking about the same thing. My stratagems were more romantic, though.
Being the nerdy, scrawny, awkward, shy type however, I never met with much success. I had about a dozen unrequited crushes that I can recall, some of which went on for years. But they never progressed beyond that, even when the opportunity practically fell into my lap. I would open my mouth, air would pass through my lips, but the words would go unspoken.
Perhaps that's why videogames became such an attractive escape for me. Those that included romance presented it as something you didn't have to put yourself on the line for. In Final Fantasy VIII (my favorite game during my teenage years) the main character Squall spends the bulk of the game acting like a sullen brick of unfriendliness. Easily half of his dialogue is ellipses. In spite of this he makes friends, people like him and above all else, he gets the girl. Throughout most of the game he barely says a word to Rinoa that's not disparaging and yet she falls for him and after the credits they share a starlit smooch so romantic it would impress a Disney princess.
It's not that he doesn't do anything to win her affections; he goes through a lot to get her and at one point in the story essentially consigns himself to a guaranteed death in the hope of seeing her once more. Squall, like the protagonists of countless romantic comedies before him, substitutes genuine kindness and caring with grand gestures.
I used to eat that stuff up, in no small part because it's something I thought I could do. Asking a girl out on a date? I couldn't conceive of anything more terrifying. Putting myself though physical inconvenience and misery? As long as I didn't have to speak to a girl in a way that might imply I had feelings for them, no problem.