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A Summer Quest

By: onipar

A Summer Quest

By Anthony J. Rapino

            As a kid, there were four ways to play new console video games.  You could buy a game, play at your friend’s house, rent from the video store, or trade.  While the first was always the best option if you had the money (read: if your parents had the money), the second best option was, hands-down, the trade.

            Sure, you can absolutely make a case for playing games at your friend’s house.  That option certainly has its appeal.  For one, you get to play with other people and not feel like a total hermit.  For another thing, you get to try out the two-player setting.  But that’s where the benefits end, because what if the game only has one player?  And what if you want to play longer than your friend allows?  How about when you leave but still have that digital hankering?  Easy answer: trade!

            Even though my childhood summers consisted of an inordinate amount of outside time, which I cherished, there were ample opportunities to bask in the glow of my pixelated kingdom.  Those oppressively hot days, for instance, when the pavement seemed to melt beneath my feet.  I tried subduing the sun’s angry uppercuts with Italian Ice and slushies, but the relief was always temporary. 

            It was on a day like this, when the sweat streamed down my face and saturated my Bugle Boy shirt, that I decided my Nintendo was the only relief I’d find.  And yet, I’d played all of those games hundreds of times over.  Super Mario Bros, Rad Racer, Zelda: they held no immediate appeal that day. 

            I dug into the pockets of my jean shorts trying to find the dollar I knew I didn’t have.  There would be no video game rental.  My brother was out at his own friend’s house, and my best friend Yury had gone off to summer camp, so hanging out at his place was out of the question.  Yes, it was shaping up to be one of the worst summer days in human history. 

            Then I remembered: Jimmy.  He was an older kid that I’d met in the neighborhood.  We never really hung out, being he was a whole three years my senior--making him far too popular and impressive to play with the likes of me--but he had once let me borrow a copy of Metroid from him for a whole week.  And he didn’t even want a game in return! 

            I doubted he’d ever be so generous again, so I ran home, the heat suddenly not so bad. I still had that kid energy, the type we all take for granted until it’s gone forever.  I booked home in a flash and threw myself down at the pile of Nintendo games that perpetually littered the front of the TV set.  Super Mario 2, no.  Excite Bike, h*ll no.  I needed something newer.  I needed something trade-worthy.  Fester’s Quest?  Are you kidding?

            Wait, there!

            Mega Man 2.  It was new that summer, and while I loved it, I also hated it.  It was hard.  Harder than most other games I’d ever played, and as much as I liked to think of myself as an amazing gamer, I simply was not.  I didn’t have the stamina for a game like Mega Man, and so even after only a month, I’d completely given up.  In other words, it was the perfect game for a temporary trade.

            I grabbed it and ran back into the devil’s *sshole (Brooklyn in the summer), and headed straight for Jimmy’s apartment building.  I had no idea if he’d be home, or if he’d be willing to trade Nintendo games, or if he’d even remember me.  But I had to try.  It had become a mission of great importance.  It had become a life or death situation.   It had become my quest.

            The five-story brick apartment building loomed ahead, and I approached with a sense of nervous reverence.  This building could very well hold my salvation.  I made my way to the front door and scanned the buzzer panel for Jimmy’s last name.  Upon finding it, I pressed firmly, then waited. 

            A static-laden voice answered, “Yeah?”  In my mind, however, they had said, “Who goes there?”

            I replied, “Tony from down the block.”


            He didn’t remember.  He wasn’t going to allow entry.  The game was lost!

            Then, “Come on up.” Buzzzzzzzzz.

            Yes!  I pushed the front door and stampeded my way to the third floor apartment, where Jimmy stood at the threshold.  “Hey.”

            “Hey.”  I held out Mega Man 2.

            His eyes widened.  “No way!  You got it?”

            “Yeah, want to trade for a while?”

            And really, I didn’t even have to wait for an answer.  Of course he wanted to trade.  We entered his apartment and after wading through his own NES pile, I settled on Contra.  It wasn’t as new as Mega Man 2, but I had yet to play it, and I’d heard all kinds of great things.

            On my way out, Jimmy imparted me with one last bit of wisdom: “Up up, down down, left right left right, B, A, start.”  It was a cheat code.  The cheat code.  My first, and one I would never forget.

            I raced home that day, trying to outrun the sun which hadn’t budged from overhead, and I knew that my quest had been completed.  Upon returning home, my brother was there with a couple friends, and I unveiled the day’s loot.  We all piled in front of the TV and took turns playing Contra (and Spinjas when it wasn’t our turn). 

It was the 80's, it was summer, and we were happy.

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Looking for more from onipar?

onipar Posted on Aug 17, 2015 at 02:29 PM

Yeah, same here. Trading was my favorite, but something that only occurred a few times. Thanks so much too, I'm glad you enjoyed them!

Hoju Koolander Posted on Aug 16, 2015 at 03:41 PM

I have loved your whole series of childhood stories from Brooklyn. So relatable, yet the East Coast setting makes it feel more exotic. Cool older kids who were bored with their possessions were a great source for not only video games, but action figures, comics and more. Though when it came to Nintendo, I definitely did more playing at friends houses than trading, since my own collection was pretty sparse.

onipar Posted on Aug 12, 2015 at 05:43 PM

Yeah, in reality I'm pretty sure I rented much more often than I traded, but the trades always held a certain sacred place in my heart. :-)

Vaporman87 Posted on Aug 12, 2015 at 05:06 PM

I typically relied on renting for my fixes, unless I was certain that I wanted the game in my collection. I did some trades, but not often. Most of my friends didn't have the same console as me. My best friend Phil did, and I would trade with him from time to time.

We had several mom and pop rental shops in the area, and though they usually took their sweet time getting in the newest titles, they did have a decent selection for being in such a depressed area.

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