Reliable Source

Reliable Source: How Tetris Ruined Christmas ?89


I am curious, everyone has a list of favorite games, but I am more interested as to which games you don’t like.

What an odd coincidence, as I was sitting here alongside an abandoned desert highway somewhere in the Nevada I was remembering Christmas Eve in 1989 when Tetris probably kept me from becoming popular, getting on the baseball team, and making out with the loose girl at my school. But first let me tell you about how I wound up here in the desert..

If you’re a weekly reader of Reliable Source, then you know that last week I was in Los Angeles covering the Spike Video Game Awards. While I was there, I met some people, some of which I headbutted, others with whom I partied. All in all, it was a lot of fun – – so much fun, in fact, that when the party ended, we decided to head to Vegas to see Penn & Teller’s act and pretend that we’re in the new Fallout Vegas game.

It started innocently enough. I spent the first two hours of the drive playing Plants vs. Zombies, but once the battery started to fail it became readily apparent that we needed to break our pledge to avoid the presence of open containers in a moving vehicle.

It’s not that I don’t like beer, I just feel that a trip to the bathroom is time you could spend doing other things. The desert was not particularly interesting, however, so I began to feel that digging into our cooler was the only way to stay sane. Thirty minutes later, a flash game developer named Mark who had won a $12,000 contract to make a holiday game where Santa melts snowmen by peeing on them, was trying to recall the theme played during the moon level in Nintendo’s Duck Tales. Let’s just say his musical ability confirmed that the beer was an absolutely necessary distraction.

The alcohol caused two things to happen: First, we found it much easier to ignore Mark’s musical attempts, and second, it confirmed that I do indeed have a small bladder. We stopped about 300 miles outside of Vegas to alleviate the building pressure in my abdomen. Unfortunately for me, this is where my trip to Vegas ended. As for the others, who knows? Perhaps they are enjoying lapdances from surgically enhanced exotic dancers named Daisy and Henrietta. All I do know is that they drove off with my beer and games.

That is why I am spending Christmas in the desert, alone. I just hope that my Zune’s batteries last long enough to finish this article. Dammit, if I’d bought an iPhone instead, I’d have just called the police. My reluctance to buy Apple products means that I will probably die writing this column by using the Zune’s awkward keypad in hopes that it will be found at a later date like an extremely shallow last will and testament.

Not that dying alone on Christmas surprises me; the holiday has never been a great day for me. My history of crappy Christmases started in high school with a gift that should have been the pinnacle of my childhood, but actually turned out pretty awful.

Of course, the gift wasn’t solely to blame as many circumstances led up to the incident. There were some things at school that would ensure that you would be popular. You could be on the baseball team or make out with the inexplicably well-developed Stacy King. Not being particularly athletic or owning a car pretty much ensured that both of those were out of my reach. The only thing that ensured my popularity was owning the newest portable gaming system, the Nintendo Gameboy.


Apologies to any of my readers who don’t appreciate the importance that a portable game system held in the late ’80s. We are at a point in videogame history in which the Gameboy is little more than a piece of 8-bit nostalgia. At the time, however, the Gameboy was not just a portable game machine, it was the only portable game machine (with perhaps the exception of the Lynx which boasted a 30 second battery life and a $200 price tag.) Receiving a Gameboy on Christmas morning in 1989 would be like opening your present this year to find a personal teleportation device. Socially, the Gameboy could change your life, you would transform your status from “the pudgy nerd with a girl’s name” to hearing things like “Dude, you got a Gameboy? Let’s hang out, I know where my dad keeps they key to his liquor cabinet.”

Of course, convincing my parents that I needed a Gameboy wasn’t exactly easy. The handheld wasn’t cheap. In my family, getting electronics was even harder thanks to my dad thinking that Satan can enter your body if you sit too close to the television. Mercifully, my mother had a connection to a higher authority, namely Grandpa Cox. He had ultimate jurisdiction in my family, and that meant that I, his only male descendant, generally had his way when it came to gifts.

The weeks leading up to Christmas were filled with hints and suggestions to my mother who then relayed the request to Grandpa. When my dad brought in the packages, I already sensed the life-changing present. My father, not one for ceremony, tossed them under the tree with all the grace of a man throwing a particularly smelly sock in the laundry hamper. I saw the gifts land on the floor and knew my dream present was amongst them.

My obsession with the gift grew exponentially with each day leading up to Christmas. On the first day, I shook the box to guess at its contents. On the second, I attempted mechanical empathy to see if I could communicate telepathically with whatever was inside. The third day was Christmas Eve, and my anticipation had convinced me to do a bad thing: attempt a stealth operation with epic proportions, most of which I had borrowed from (at least in spirit) the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles movie. My plan was to creep into the living room, open one side of the wrapping paper to see if it was really a Gameboy, then replace the wrapping paper, sneak back and pretend to sleep until dad officially declared it Jesus’ birthday.

Late that night, I slipped ever-so-quietly out of my room and craftily hid behind the tree out of sight of anyone who got up to go to the bathroom. In retrospect, a true ninja of would have probably returned to his room with his booty to perform the unwrapping there. But not being a true ninja master, I had yet to learn the lesson of the creeping mantis. I took the utmost care to preserve the gift-wrapping and make as little noise as I could. This was important; our mobile home carried every sound like an amplifier.



My plan would probably have worked if I hadn’t rolled so poorly on my Wisdom check. As soon as I opened the wrapping, I noticed that the box too could also be opened without much effort. I couldn’t resist the temptation and I resolved to free the Gameboy from its cardboard tomb and play for just a few minutes before returning to my bed.

We all know that even the best laid plans sometimes fail due to unforeseen circumstances. Nintendo, in their infinite wisdom, had set the volume on all new Gameboys to maximum by default, a fact I was unaware of when I turned the thing. The resulting “ding” was so loud that my father instantly shot out of bed as if he had just heard that the Red Army had landed in Chicago and were marching towards our tiny Midwestern town. More than anything dad feared communism forcing our family to share the 30-foot mobile home with six other families, the commie pigs!

I didn’t have time to switch the Gameboy off, instead I figured that sitting on it might muffle the sound. At least it might give me enough time to come up with an explanation. My father quickly ran into the living room with the hunting rifle to see his son peeking out from behind the Christmas tree, surrounded by discarded wrapping paper with the theme to Tetris playing out of his butt. I stammered, trying to craft the perfect lie to explain the situation. “I was um,” the words failed me, “getting a… getting water and tripped over the…” I looked down “Extension cord! I landed on the present and it opened by itself, and I um… it just turned on!” Dad regarded me as if he was still determining whether to shoot me or not. Instead, he put down the gun and started digging around in the kitchen drawer. Was he looking for a skillet to bash me to pieces? I was actually relieved when he produced a black plastic trash bag.

Without a word, Dad gathered up all of the gifts around the tree and tossed them in the bag. Throwing it over his shoulder, he stormed out of the house like a skinny Saint Nicholas in reverse, while Soviet Tetris music from the Gameboy accompanied his march out the door. I could hear the music playing until it was eventually drowned out by the roar of our rusty Chevy Caprice (dubbed “The Submarine” around town for its bright yellow paint and faded wooden paneling.)

Dad came back hours later with no presents, locked his door and never said a word to any of us about what had happened. Nothing at school changed. No one paid any attention to me and I never got on the baseball team or made out with Stacy King, though maybe that was for the best. I heard she gave Jon Greeseman a case of crotch-itch and he had to go to a doctor.

I know Christmas stories are supposed to be uplifting, but it’s a little hard to be positive when you are spending Christmas talking to a cactus that bears an uncanny resemblance to one of the prawns from District 9. I wonder how many buzzards I would have to lash together to make a glider capable of flying to a nearby town. My best guess is six; those bastards are pretty big.

Does anyone know what peyote looks like? I might as well die happy.

Marion Cox found himself in the desert, but didn’t really think much of who he found.


About the author