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September 21, 2011 / jwaxo

Operation Wolf (Maintenance)

The game that taught me another meaning of the word “magazine”.

My car broke down recently. And by “broke down” I mean “I was attempting to start it to take it to the shop to investigate that mysterious rattling noise when it wouldn’t start.” So I guess you could say it’s slowly been breaking down over the past year, since I got it. Over the past year:

  • The radiator died, revealing that the coolant that the car claimed was the only coolant it could use was, in fact, a scam
  • Two windows stopped working
    • The rear right one won’t roll up, and has to be held up with packing tape
    • The driver’s side one won’t roll down, and leaves me extremely hot.
  • The blinker refuses to stop ticking, at twice the normal speed. This is not indicative of a broken light, just a broken ticker. I’ve checked many times.
  • The whole rattling thing.
  • Finally, this inability to start

Now I have finally gotten it to a mechanic, luckily being charged nothing to have him look at it and say “Yeah, this thing is DOA. Not worth fixing, trust me. You know how to use Craig’s List?”

And all I can think about is blowing into Nintendo cartridges.

I kept good care of my car. Relatively. I put oil in it. I checked the radiator levels (especially after that last one). I stressed about my tire wear and checked them at stupid times in the night when it suddenly struck me that they might be worn. I vacuumed it a few times, even, in that one year we had alone.

This is not fun work!

Similarly, we took good care of our NES games. They all had those plastic sleeves. There was a specific box that we carefully slotted them into, which had a very specific spot next our brick fireplace. We would never jam them into the NES with anger or frustration, although the way the NES worked (carefully slot the game in, push gently down at an angle until it clicked, close the cover) could sometimes be messed up with the wrong angle or too much pressure. We were gentle with that thing.

But stuff still went wrong. You’d put the game in, slotted carefully, press down on that oh-so-satisfying button on the front of the NES and see only corrupted characters and error codes.

The first solution was always to take the game out and blow into the cartridge. I really have no idea why everyone did this. And I don’t mean in the “it doesn’t make sense” sort of way, because it totally makes sense: there’s an open port there on the end of the cartridge, of course dust could get in there. I just think it’s funny that virtually everyone in the world decided that would be the best course of action to take in this situation.

If blowing into the cartridge didn’t work, you’d blow into the game console itself. You’d crouch down in front of it, leaning at an absurd angle, lift up the gray plastic hinged cover and blow your heart out.

By this point you’d be lightheaded and probably pretty annoyed that the game wasn’t working, if it still wasn’t. There was only one course of action left.

While you were reaching for the rubbing alcohol and the box of Q-tips beside it, there would be only one thing in your mind: what if this didn’t work? What would you do?

Careful… careful…

Our most problematic game was Operation Wolf. It was rather old, picked up at a yard sale (but then, what wasn’t?) and was a technologically complex game. There was a constantly scrolling screen, enemies popping up all over it, quick actions required by the players to move their cross-hair all over and shoot as much as they could while conserving as much ammo as they could.

And every time we had to go to the rubbing alcohol, my heart froze and tears welled up in my eyes at the possibility. What if it didn’t work this time? What would I do?

I guess sometimes there are things that maintenance can’t even help. And while Wolf, and our other NES games, never stopped working despite the copious alcohol tenderly rubbed across its connections, it’s a fear that I keep to this day with anything that can break.

If only I had realized that it was just sucking down oil… or maybe taken it in to get it professionally changed. If only I had–

But seriously this was the most satisfying thing to press ever.

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