The other weekend I went snowboarding for the first time. I have been playing snowboarding games in one form or another since Cool Boarders 2 came out on the Playstation, and I thought it made sense that at some point I should try the real thing. Snowboarding games were not, I realized, much like real snowboarding. But like the football player who watches hours of film to both better understand the game and perfect his own technique, I thought that my hours spent virtual snowboarding might add up to something. The nervousness that usually accompanies anticipation of something new just wasn’t there. On the contrary, this just seemed like a natural extension of my gaming life.
The day started well enough, it was a chilly February morning when my friends came by to pick me up. A light traveler, I brought only the essentials with me: snow pants, ski jacket, DS, gloves, DS charger, hat, Bomberman DS, ipod, neck warmer. When we got in the van my friend had rented I was I was greeted by two girls and another guy. Once we were under way, the ski mountain being an hour away, the first thing I did was to take out my DS and see if anyone wanted to play Bomberman. I find group DS sessions are always a really great icebreaker, not to mention they make the time fly on road trips. However, when the three others responded with confused mumblings I knew I was in the presence of, what I like to call, a mixed group. So I exercised the fine art of playing while conversing. Not, I confess, the most difficult thing to do when The Bachelor is the topic of conversation.
When we arrived at the ski resort I got in the rental line and checked off the advanced skill level box on my rental form, thinking I might be entitled to some more impressive equipment – my board came with numbers melted into its surface anyway. Equipment rented, the three of us geared up and headed out towards the beginner hill chair lift. None of us had snowboarded before but I convinced them all that the bunny hill would be far too easy for us. I was sure I would take to snowboarding quickly, however chair lifts were another challenge altogether. Chair lifts are not a part of any snowboard game I’ve ever played, probably because it would be by far the most difficult part of the game. Imagine running from a Gears of War Berserker while attached to a snowboard and you might have a vague idea of the terror involved with getting on a chairlift. Getting off was nearly as disastrous. For some reason all chair lifts exit onto an exceedingly steep and narrow slope which, combined with everyone grabbing onto each other to keep their balance, usually results in a Katamari-esque rolling ball of ski poles, lost goggles and oddly twisted legs.
Eventually we all regained our composure and waddled over to one of the green circle hills. Finally, my time had come. I surveyed the scene: a battlefield of fallen skiers and snowboarders all ineptly bumbling down the mountain. I strapped in my other foot and hopped over to the edge of the hill. The hill was steep, almost vertical in fact. The two other people in my group took off their boards and walked down the hill to the bunny hill where the others were. I didn’t blame them, the bumps snowboarding games called mountains were nothing compared to this beast that somebody had mislabeled as a “beginner” hill.
Things went well the first few feet, and as I started to build speed I decided to lean into a carve and maybe drag my hand as I went along. I tipped forward onto my edge and I stuck out my hand to drag it on the snow only to find that very suddenly I was, in fact, dragging my face on the snow. While this was happening, I also realized that the snow wasn’t really snow so much as a bunch of painful ice pebbles. A kid passing above me on the lift was kind enough to yell out “Sucks to be you!” Stupid as it was, this was the sort of jeer that was missing from snowboarding games – an addition that could really bring a digital world to life.
The next three hours were alternate variations of me trying to carve one way or the other on this hill and falling on my face or butt depending on the direction I chose. Mostly what I remember though is the pain. My fluffy marshmallows of snow might exist out in Utah, but they remained elusive that day in upstate New York. By the afternoon, I had learned that turning on a snowboard is actually a complicated series of movements well beyond any combination of button presses I might have achieved in SSX.
Once, near the end of the day, I managed to get going straight and I could feel the wind on my face and see the slope flying by underneath me. This was a thrill at least as exciting as anything I had experienced in any snowboarding game and in that moment I realized snowboarding might one day be as entertaining and painless as the videogame counterpart. But a few seconds later I was past my initial infatuation with real snowboarding. Thrill and panic are two sides of the same coin and exciting speed soon turned into runaway freight train momentum. Butt or face were my braking choices and I wasn’t keen to act on either. Fortunately I didn’t have to decide, the patch of ice I hit chose the butt – my coccyx to be exact.
Since the trip I’ve been playing a lot of games in the company of an inflatable doughnut. I’m probably fine but coughing, laughing or shifting weight suddenly causes a lot of pain and some spasms. Was I surprised to find that doing something in real life is tougher than it looks on a videogame? A little. But on the other hand, without that ridiculously and dangerously misplaced confidence I might never have tried snowboarding. And even though absolutely nothing is worth the pain I’m now dealing with on a daily basis (without medication) I take solace in the fact that I now enjoy snowboarding games all the more. I can practically feel the wind on my face when I play Shawn White’s Snowboarding now. So thanks to real life experience, videogames are now just a little better than they used to be.
Tom Endo is a section editor who is waiting for snowboarding’s version of the game Skate.