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July 17, 2011 / jwaxo

Nerf Arena Blast (Birthday Presents)

Because simulated violence needs to be simulated on computers.

When you think about it, birthdays are really, really bizarre things to celebrate, as has been pointed out by numerous stand-up comedians. I don’t need to say much more than what they’ve already said, but seriously: why is it, exactly, that we shower gifts on someone just for surviving another 12 months? Where did this bizarre tradition start? I’ve always been a big fan of the idea of a “hobbit birthday”, where, on your birthday, you give out gifts to all of your closest friends. It seems like a better, more logical idea: “hey, thanks for putting up with me for another year, here’s something special.”

I digress.

The problem of choosing a good gift is equally horrible. How much do you spend? What are they into? How do you get them something that’s thoughtful but not so expensive that they feel guilty? This is one of the burdens of being an adult. Not so much when you’re a kid.

It’s a similar problem for any gift-giving occasion, I suppose. But when you’re a kid your choices are much narrower. Example: back in the day, our parents would drive us to the mall, give each of us $20, and say we had to buy one gift for each other person in the family. Teaming up for a $10 gift was acceptable, going under budget discouraged, and having poorly-balanced gift prices frowned upon.

Everything under $5 stores were our playground.

By having such constraints, things were made easy. It was the same for birthdays: you’d have a friend’s birthday party coming up, your mom would drive you to a store or two and say “pick something out between $10 and $15 dollars”, you’d look for something you would enjoy, and, because all kids are essentially the same, they’d probably love it, too. It was easy.

Too easy, in fact.

The very fact that you would just the goodness of a gift based on how much you yourself would enjoy it was a double-edged sword. Suddenly, you’re in a store with more money than usual looking for a toy that you aren’t going to play with unless the birthday kid in question loved it and wanted you to come over to play with it all the time.

Alas, all of those board games that seemed so often, lost to time and space because the kid I gave them to didn’t care about them at all…

This birthday party in question was for a kid I knew from school. I knew that he liked computer games, Nerf guns, and jumping on his trampoline that was sure to kill him some day, if what my mom told me was true.

Not pictured: broken necks. This time.

The trip for a birthday present eventually brought my ever-driving mother and I to Big Lots, née Pic ‘N’ Save, née MacFrugal’s. After cruising through the toy aisles and avoiding that dreaded pink girl-toys aisle like the plague, I wandered to the hallowed bargain bin games shelf. There was the usual Barbie Horse Adventures and architecture software, but, between them, was a game I didn’t recognize. By now you should guess what it was: Nerf Arena Blast.

In retrospect, it’s almost embarrassing how much I fell in love with the game, which was essentially a reskinning of Unreal Tournament with Nerf guns, but I did. I can officially call it my first First Person Shooter, although we did have demos for Wolfenstein 3D and Quake saved on our computer more than once before the advent of Arena Blast. But this game… man.

The excitement of sprinting down corridors, dodging shots from your enemies, looking for a better gun so you could swing around a corner and blast someone in the face! The use of alternate-fire modes, choosing between faster rates of your shots or higher damage ones. The multiple game modes, where you either were trying to get the most points via damage, or gather up huge Nerf balls and put them through hoops with an especially big Nerf gun, or the super-long and intense tournament mode.

“But wait,” the astute reader is saying. “You bought this game for a friend for their birthday. Why did you play it?” And there’s the kicker. See, I wanted to make sure it was a good game. I wanted to make really sure. So I popped it out of the box and installed it on my computer.

Oh yeah. It was a good game. The Nerf darts stuck to the walls, the foam balls bounced down the corridors, the costumes and levels were colorful and fun! How could I resist?

I remember when the birthday at last approached and I, almost/definitely in tears, put the game back into its jewel case and wrapped the box up. I don’t think the kid appreciated the game at all. I appreciated my lesson, of course: never ever buy a gift for someone that you actually would want, yourself.

You just end up buying it twice.

Sidenote: I thought I was pretty clever when I told my dad that this game taught you about angles, and thus was educational. Once he watched it for two minutes, he determined I was either lying or stretching the truth a bit too much to avoid being grounded.

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