Anybody who grew up in the 90's remembers Nick Arcade. My memory was a little fuzzy, but I still remember the show being pretty much "the tops" in terms of high quality programming for young adolescent boys with OCD. I'd been collecting and organizing pictures of trains when my 63 year old mother Linda knocked on my bedroom door (I'm 32). "Zachary, something game in the mail for you. There's no time to waste!" She rasped. Strange. I immediately put on some Spiderman underoos and went into the living room to find two VHS tapes taped together. The words "RTS" were written in black marker all over the front of the tapes. The first was a promotional VHS for Banjo Kazooie narrated by Jon Lovitz. I was supposed to receive that in the mail over fifteen years ago! The second... was a little weirder. Now, I'm a huge fan of popular television programming, but even I knew that Nick Arcade hadn't aired on Nickelodean in years. It had been moved to that shitty GAS network no one watched. The cover was a picture of a skeleton smiling with the words "WELCOME TO DIE!" onscreen. My goodness, did I even want to watch this VHS? I turned the VHS over and found that the Mario support 800 number that Nintendo offered (It might still) on the back. I thought maybe my friends were playing a prank on me, but then I realized I didn't have any friends. I dropped the VHS when I saw the date printed on the slipcase: 2013. As far as I know, Universal Studios had shut down its entire Nickelodean segment, and Nick Arcade hadn't aired in over twenty years! What in God's name was going on?!
I turned the tape over and read the back. "Do you remember Nick Arcade? Well, this reunion special may surprise you! Fun and excitement, brought to you by blow pops, the pops you blow! SQUACK! SQUACK! Who will win when the evil blackboard the pirate attacks? Suck my dick!" My Parkeet, Mr. Tillywhistle, was parroting rather loudly. I realized the house was empty. Mother had gone out to purchase some fruit, and delicous pudding bubbled on the stove. It was lime pudding, my favorite lime pudding. I made myself a triple layer pudding parfait with parsnip trimmings and delicious twinkies as garnish and sat down. I put the tape in the VHS player, held my breath, and hit the "Play" button. I heard the sound of a horse neighing. A huge metal door appeared.
"BEHIND THIS DOOR IS THE VIDEO ZONE, A PLACE BETWEEN OUR WORLD AND THE REAL DIMENSION. WAITING TO CHALLENGE YOU BEHIND THE VIDEO DOOR IS THE EVIL Reltih (Spelled R-E-L-T-I-H) the Conqueror, OWNER OF THE VIDEO DOMAIN!" A random shot of a German man with a tiny mustache licking his lips was shown briefly. "THESE TWO TEAMS WILL COMPETE TO OWN THE VIDEO DOME ZONE IN THE VIDEO DROME ZONE IF THEY MANAGE TO DEFEAT THE EVIL-" All of a sudden my phone rang. I disconnected it, because I wanted to focus on this excellent program.
"AND NOW HERE'S YOUR HOST, THE HOST WITH THE MOST, EVEN THOUGH HE'S NOW A GHOST, PLEASE WELCOME PHILL MOOOORREE" The audience was completely silent except for one man who yelled "Fuck yeah suck my dick!" really loud. I was starting to think there was something wrong with this program. Indeed, Nick Arcade seemed to have been dismantled. The stands were empty. Host Phil Moore was older, more grizzled but still excited. He ran out and immediately punched the video door because the lights weren't working. The entire set was rusted and there were chains and broken glass everywhere.
He started to dance around in a yellow t-shirt. "Thank you frithahrhchahsaiowdjioj and welcome to NickBLEEPn's Nick Arcade-" Why was Nickelodean bleeped? Wasn't this their show. "It's time for the ten year reunion of this excellent program, welcome back the show's veterans Steve, Zachary, Linda, Sean and Potatoes!" All of the characters were well into their 30's. It was kind of depressing. None of them seemed very happy to be there, in fact Sean left immediately after they said his name. He fumbled around with the video door untiL I heard an altercation with him and security. Linda was pretty hot. Potatoes was the most strange character of all. He was bald, in a wheelchair, and couldn't talk. He slumped over to the side, drooling and typed "Hello Mr. Moore." which the computerized voice spit out. "IT'S NOT YOUR TURN TO TALK!" Phil yelled, dancing around excitedly.
"Let's play the Face Off game Superman 64!" He announced. He called Zachary and Linda over. "Your goal is to fly through these rings. Let's put 60 seconds on the clock, and GO!" The characters went over to the game, where N64 classic Superman by Titus was playing on the screen. "There's no time to waste!" Superman announced. Neither of them got a ring, instead both characters just crashed into the floor. The game was notorious for having superb gameplay and excellent controls, so why couldn't they collect a single ring? "TIME'S UP!" he yelled. "Neither of you got a ring. Get out of here fuckers." I was surprised to hear the word "fuckers" on a children's program. He threw an NES copy of The Adventures of Bayou Billy at their heads, snickering.
"Why are we here?" Zachary yelled. "IT'S TIME TO LEAD MIKEY THROUGH HIS MYSTICAL JOURNEY OF THE (incoherent rambling)!" the host yelled. Potatoes had typed something into his voicebox. "I suspect there is something wrong with Mr. Moore I could use a hamburger". "Now lets learn a little about our guests. Potatoes I hear you like to eat potatoes is that true?" Potatoes began to type. "You know as goddamn well as I do that I am fed intravenously". All of a sudden the announcer woman started talking really loud, to the point that the sound on the tape crackled. "HOLD ONTO YOUR SOMBREROS AMIGOS, BECAUSE MIKEY IS GOING TO TRAVEL THROUGH NAZI GERMANY. BUT WATCH OUT, THE EVIL BLACKBOARD THE PIRATE IS LURKING ABOUT SO WATCH OUT YOU DON'T WANT HIM TO KICK YOU IN THE DICK."
Indeed, Mikey got put up on the board. I was really creeped out at the fact that Mikey was going through World War 2 scenarios including being physically shot at by nazis. There were plenty of highly graphic shots of World War 2 footage set to the Super Mario theme music. "It's your turn Steve, please select a direction to move Mikey!" Oh I remembered this. There was a board and you select a direction for the kid to move, then answered questions. "Steve left!" Linda yelled. "Linda it's not your turn to talk." The guy named Zachary yelled "Right" and steve moved to the right before a graphic picture of him getting eaten alive by pirahnas was shown. "PIX UP MIX UP" was the game. "Ok teams, we're going to play a video of something melting in reverse. The first one to guess what it is earns FIFTY POINTS!" They showed the image onscreen. It was hard to tell what it was. At first it looked like burning tomatoes, but there was clearly some sort of hair on it. Something white began to appear and then the image seemed to reconstruct itself more visibly. I saw eyes! Zachary grew wide eyed. "IT'S MY HEAD!" Zachary screamed. "IT'S MY FUCKING HEAD!" There was a ringing sound and Zachary got fifty points. "Let's tell 'em what they win if they win the game today!" the host abruptly cut off. "Winners will receive blow pops, the pops that blow!" Zachary looked really mad. "How did you do that?! How in God's name-" "Mayhap we are in the video game now, if this is a simulation" Potatoes began, drooling rather loudly. He sounded like Sean Connery after throat surgery. "Now come on, Potatoes, be good and I'll give you a gold coin." Potatoes was salivating heavily at the thought of a gold coin. I realized potatoes didn't have a computer, he was typing into some kind of crudely altered Commodore 64 grafted to his wheelchair.
"Potatoes, it's your turn to move Mikey." Potatoes lay there, drooling. "Right." he typed. The familiar mikey moving music played as mikey marched to the right as a real photo of Adolph Hitler appeared. "VIDEO GAME CHALLENGE!" Popped up on the screen. The entire set rearranged instantly and five games were shown. Four were broken except one: Polybius. "Ok you incoherent vegetable it's time to play Polybius!" He held up a card, reading it. "Polybius was a game invented for consoles in the 1970's. After plenty of people had seizures and died, it was mysteriously removed from-" all of a sudden a man ran in from the right of the screen! It was hard to tell who it was, but he had a mustache and a German accent. He was holding an unplugged Nintendo Zapper. He pulled the trigger and a duck fell from the sky. It was disturbing, bleeding cold and dead, it fell to the ground, charred, as a snickering dog ran in and carried it away. "Hey Super Mario why don't you fuck off!" What's weird is that- nevermind. Potatoes sat there, in front of the Polybius screen, incapable of moving the joystick while the timer counted down. Phil More told him to hurry up while Potatoes just sat there. Oh. My. God. I screamed alloud and spilled my parfait as I saw a skeleton flashing onscreen. It gave me a seizure! I fell on the floor, having a horrific seizure before I lurched over to the phone and dialed 9-1-1. "9-1-1, what is the nature of your emergency?" "I have to inform you that a living tape is trying to kill me!" I screamed, clutching my palpitating heart. They hung up on me! Thankfully my parakeet was trained in CPR, but I ended up eating him. After mourning the death of Mr. Tillywhistle, I ventured to watch the tape again. I had yet another seizure. When the skeleton flashing stopped, Potatoes lay there, perhaps dead, unmoving. Phil More put a gold coin and some bananas on his forehead. He started singing the Donkey Kong 64 rap!
"He has no style
He has no grace!
This kong has a funny face!
He can inflate himself just like a balloon
Thermite in the twin towers proves that the government perpetrated the september 11th attacks in a false flag operation"
What the fuck did that mean? It didn't even rhyme!. Potatoes became conscious and shook the bananas off his face. And then, Hitler came out. And then, some other stuff happened. Finally, the show was over. I was irritated, agitated and quite a bit disheveled.
Steve’s head spontaneously exploded. And then the tape caught on fire, so I had no evidence to prove I had ever seen it. Just as well, considering the fire managed to envelop my entire dining room area, murdered my parrot and caused several local indigent tribesmen to melt marshmallows on the ashes of my hopes and dreams.
Every once in a while when I play a video game, I still think of that godforsakened VHS tape and I can’t finish the game. Worse yet, the game can’t even finish itself, being incapable of automated motions without external intervention through the form of joystick and button manipulation. But I don’t really play games for fun anymore. They’re just an escape from reality. One day you might be a pirate in the 1700s, the next you’re a world war 2 bomber. But more specifically, there are games where I ate your wife’s pussy out last night.
Late at night, they say you can still hear Phil Moore rapping at your window, even though he’s not dead. Some say his career is. I don’t know whose ghost that is. Not Phil Moore. If you close your eyes, you can still see Mr. Tillywhistle if you imagine a parrot. It’s the ghost of Mr. Tillywhistle. A permanent, parrot ghost locked in your mind for all eternity. Except instead of feeding him crackers, you feed him pieces of his mortal soul. I’ve been writing this story for over three years go fuck yourself. And maybe, just maybe, the world itself is some kind of video game, and we’re actually manipulating it with an external controller that we cannot see. And maybe that game is also being manipulated through a controller. Maybe Mikey is a metaphor for life. You move from square to square, trying to find your way to the treasure, but the game almost inevitably always ends before you’re able to reach it. And more often than not, you step on a bomb and someone plays a reverse video of your piggy bank being cracked open. Or maybe, just maybe, everyone is just as full of shit as you are, and any advice that has ever been given to you has been composed out of the same foundational lies that you tell yourself so you can get out of bed in the morning.
Now, go on. Play the game. Collect your gold coins in Super Mario Capitalist remix. Drive your car in leaky 1995 Honda Civic Motorsporz. Flip burgers in exciting Burger Time 64. Learn to climb a ladder with Knot Tying Professional 2016. But at the end of the day, it’s going to be 9pm and someone is going to pull the plug so you can get up and do boring homework. Also, my parrot is a ghost, it has claws, and its red eyes will glare at you when you go to bed tonight. Think about my parrot’s glowing red eyes and try to get a good night’s sleep. Because there are things out there that are much scarier than you’ll ever know, and to you those red eyes are still kind of shocking.