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June 22, 2011 / jwaxo

Vectorman (Absence Makes…)

Years later I would learn the definition of a vector and this all made less sense.

In our household there was one period of the year that was dreaded like no other. In most families it was probably something like “the first few weeks of school” or “the horrible annual vacation to visit relatives” or “that period in the Spring when you realized you had no extra holidays until the end of the school year.” In our family that period was Lent.

Lent, for the uninitiated, is a Christian tradition of the 46 days between Ash Wednesday and Easter Sunday. Traditionally, or at least as my little kid mind understood it, you gave up something for those 46 days as a sort of extended fast that didn’t reduce your food intake at all. Well, the exception to that, at least to my Roman Catholic family, was on several special days (Holy Thursday and the like) and on all Fridays during lent, where you didn’t eat meat and occasionally didn’t eat snacks. The actual pattern was a mystery to me at the time.

As the youngest in the family, I tended to get the most leniency. While my sister would give up TV, or my brother would give up skateboarding, I would be perfectly fine with giving up Hotwheels or something like that. Ice cream was another one I distinctly remember, because ice cream never looks sweeter than when you can’t have it. Actually, that’s really what this whole post is about: abstinence. It makes the heart grow fonder, you know? Not unlike absinthe.

Probably the single worst year for me was when I decided, yes, to give up video games. Don’t ask me what made me do it, although I have a good guess.

“I’m sure you can think of something better than sandals. Something… something better.”

It’s funny. I remember thinking, going into the month and a half of Lent, that it wouldn’t be so bad. After all, I had recently gotten so tired of playing the same games over-and-over. Heck, the most recent game we had bought for the Sega was Vectorman, a bizarre shooter/sidescroller that was really pretty hard.

There were a lot of appealing parts to Vectorman. First of all, he looked cool. His parts were all floating balls that interacted with each other magically, presumably nanomachines. He shot things with his upgradable gun. He could turn into a bunch of other machines using powerups, like a car or a drill. All of the levels were unique, neat to look at with prerendered 3D graphics, and tested your reaction speeds, accuracy, and ability to figure out where the heck you were supposed to go. There were also a ton of small hidden areas and destructible, optional walls, so it seemed every time I played I accidentally stumbled upon a different route through the levels.

Overall, there were 16 levels, and not a single way to save. This is what made it so impossible for nine-year-old me to beat. We bought it with our traditional $50 of Christmas money (always generously donated by the grandparents) and I was sick of trying to beat it by March.

So there were no games on Sega, nothing good on the PC. If I got bored I could get by with any million of other interesting things, or maybe play around with Klik ‘n’ Play. That didn’t count, obviously.

Needless to say, the wait for mid-April was the worst wait in the world.

Cold turkey is bad when it isn’t on a sandwich.

It wasn’t just the fact that I couldn’t play the game. It wasn’t even the fact that it seemed my siblings were now playing video games constantly, taunting me behind their bemused smiles. It was the fact that, now that I couldn’t play the game, I continually thought about it. I realized ways to get through stages just by picturing it in my head. I came to fully comprehend exactly what about Vectorman that made him so cool, the genius behind some of the levels, the possibility that this form could maybe be rushed to that area to unlock another hidden part of the stage.

In short, I came to understand something that most adults know about, but rarely act upon: that taking something away makes it even more desirable. Actually, it was something a bit more: that separating myself from the game meant that I came to appreciate it even more, made me reflect on it a heck of a lot, and, overall, made me really love to come back and sit back in front of the TV.

Bright and early on Easter morning, too. I got laughed at by my brother and sister, but I’ll have you know: I made it further in the game that morning than I ever had before.

A post about Lent in mid-June. Huh.

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4 Comments

Leave a Comment
  1. Sean / Jun 22 2011 8:45 PM

    Awesome post, as always!

    Also, it’s spelled “absence”.

    • jwaxo / Jun 22 2011 10:20 PM

      You’re spelled absence!

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