Before I begin, Before I begin, let me be the first to say that I am the biggest video game freak I know, or at least whom I know in real life. When I play a game, I am completely immersed, no matter how awful the graphics are or how I was feeling before I started playing. Thus, I can become very emotional when a game's plot takes an unexpected twist, and very irritable when I'm interrupted in the middle of a game. I think that this may be why I'm able to play games for hours at a time without showing great fatigue (or without noticing my fatigue).
I've played video games since my brother first got a Nintendo 64 for his birthday. I was about 3 at the time. Although we've since sold many of the awesome games that we used to play, and bought some back, I've never desired to play any of the other games for Nintendo 64, games that didn't already carry the nostalgic value stored in my brain's early childhood memory.
However, a couple of weeks ago I stumbled across a Nintendo 64 game that I had never played nor heard of in my entire life. I was on Ebay looking for a copy of Mario Kart 64 that wasn't fifteen dollars or more and just happened to see an item that wasn't remotely similar to anything I had typed into the search bar. “Doctor Hattenstein” was the name of the game, a 2D arcade platformer that was “the best game I have ever played” and in “perfect condition, non modded,” according to the seller's description. The picture displayed the cartridge lying on what appeared to be a wooden backdrop, and the front of the cartridge depicted a strange man who looked like a mad scientist, with the lab coat and everything. I was skeptical, considering why anyone would sell their favorite game on Ebay for eleven bucks, but I remembered that that was just what I had let my mom do a few years before I went to college. 'Everyone makes mistakes, I guess.'
I decided that a new gaming experience on the N64 was something I needed. (One can only beat Super Mario 64 with 120 stars so many times before needing a break) I bid on the item. Now, remember when I said that I immerse myself completely in games when I play them? As a general rule, I don't look up anything about a game before I play it. I don't want to accidentally see a spoiler or get a second opinion about a character's motives, something that I can't unsee. A recommendation from a friend, or in this case from a random guy on Ebay, is enough to get me hyped. Surprisingly, no one else bid on the item for the remaining two hours, forty-one minutes, and seven seconds of the auction. I had never heard of the game, so I assumed that it wasn't a very popular one. Score for me!
A week and a half later, the game came in the mail. I took it out of the packaging and examined the cartridge further. It was pretty clean, as if it had been used but never damaged or left to collect dust. I was happy with it. I put the game in on a Friday, after my last class of the day. I intended to play it until I was too tired to continue, then to sleep and play it Saturday until I beat it. I had my pizza and cold soda all set up in my dorm room. I was going to see this one to the end, and nothing was going to stop me.
The game loaded up and started pretty well, as far as I could tell. The title screen showed a more pixelated version of the mad scientist from the front of the cartridge and a smaller, plainer looking character, probably the protagonist. Now the scientist looked more like a pixelated version of Doctor Doofenshmirtz from Phineas and Ferb. His eyes were pretty small, and his back was hunched as much as the pixels would allow. His wicked smile creeped me out a little bit, but otherwise I was ready to see what this villain had up his sleeve. The protagonist was just a heap of pixels in various hues of blues, shaped like a humanoid. I guessed that this was all that the game's graphic capabilities could spare, but nonetheless I immersed myself and became this small hero.
The game had three save files, only one of which was empty. Once again, I had no desire to open the two existing files and spoil the game. I chose the empty file and began the game. The screen suddenly displayed me sitting down in a chair in what appeared to be a normal living room, surrounded by a woman in another chair and two children on the floor, whom I assumed to be my family. It was a calm, quaint scene until Doctor Hattenstein burst through a window on some kind of robotic tentacle arm, saying, “Now you will pay for all that you have done to me, Mr. Good!” I thought to myself, 'Why would they name the game after the villain? Why not just name the game “Mr. Good”?' I hit “A”, and the game gave me a choice of what to say back to him. 1. “Let's just talk about this.” 2. “You brought all of it upon yourself!” 3. “I'll kill you this time!” I went with the first choice. More robotic tentacles broke through the other windows in the room. One of them instantly smashed the children. Yes, that's right. The robotic tentacle squished the kids' organs into the floor. I almost threw up from hearing the sound it made. I had to break my immersion for just a second to check the game's rating. I had had no idea that it was rated M, but that wouldn't deter me. Another tentacle grabbed my wife and swiftly exited through the window. I was pretty mad at this point, yet I knew what was coming next. Doctor Hate, as I had just decided to call him, exclaimed, “If you ever want to see your precious wife again, you'll have to catch me first!” He exited through the window, and the game zoomed closer to me, shaking my fist at the window and then jumping through it.
The game played much like a typical platformer now. I could jump and shoot small energy balls from my hand, and I had to jump across the tops of buildings while shooting small, robotic enemies in order to advance and catch up to the flying octopus robot. The first level wasn't very difficult. I quickly made it to the end and had to fight the octopus robot. This also wasn't very difficult. I just had to jump over the tentacles as they swiped towards me and shoot at the octopus's head until it ran out of health. But then, … the octopus did one last thing as it was blowing up. My wife dropped to the ground unhurt, but the thing just had to swing down its tentacle and crush her! I fell to my knees and looked up to see that Doctor Hate was standing there on the ground, laughing maniacally despite his sudden lack of protection. I walked over to him and aimed my weapon at him. The game again gave me a choice. 1. “Spare him” 2. “Kill him” I was surprised at this option this early in the game, but I felt such grief that I decided to kill him, against my normal instincts. However, when I hit the button, the game showed a flashback of Doctor Hate. It was some stupid sob story about how his parents divorced when he was a young child and often neglected him after that. I skipped through the cutscene as fast as I could, hoping to get back to the part where I kill him. But the character said, “I can't do this.” Doctor Hate just laughed again and ran away, leaving me to sulk in my loneliness.
The second level began much like the first, except that I began surrounded by a group of friends at a bar. Doctor Hate broke in with a robotic mole. He blamed me for his troubles, I told him that I'd kill him this time, and he proceeded to kill all my friends except for my best friend. This time the level was underground, and it was a bit more difficult to beat. I didn't mind the challenge, but I was ready to be done with Doctor Hate. As the mole robot was dying, it slit the throat of my best friend. I was convinced that I could kill the doctor this time. He stood there cackling his brains out, and I pointed my weapon at his face. 1. “Spare him” 2. “Kill him” Yes, please kill him. Please. The game showed a flashback of the doctor as a somewhat older child. He was at a funeral for his grandmother and was sobbing quietly. This struck a chord in me personally, since my grandparents died when I was about his age. Nevertheless, I was still determined to end his life. I skipped back to the present and waited for the shot to end my misery. It never came. “I can't do this.” Doctor Hate escaped laughing as loud as ever. Although I was about ready to throw my controller through the wall at this point, I knew that there had to be an end to the game, some kind of closure. I continued.
The third level was in a retirement home. I was visiting with my aging parents when Doctor Hate broke down the wall on a robotic lion. I told him that he'd brought it all on himself, and he killed everyone but my mother. You get the picture. I chose to kill him. The flashback was of him as a teenager; his younger brother had just committed suicide … “I can't do this.” This is how it went for the next nine levels, with Doctor Hate's horrible life becoming more and more depressing after each successive flashback. He had lived through several tragedies, the murder of his wife, clinical depression, and finally having his son sue to divorce from him. As I kept going, the doctor's crooked smile and terrifying laugh began to resemble a despondent frown and a shrieking cry that made me almost feel bad for him. Almost. I opted to spare him once. Doctor Hate said, “Why?”, and a chat box came up with eight spaces. I could choose a letter or a space for each space. I said, “because,” but he just left. After twelve levels back to back, it was 2:00 am, and I was about ready to collapse. I decided to save the game and go to bed. Maybe the end of the game wasn't so far off, and I would beat it by the afternoon of the next day.
I had a variety of strange dreams that night, most of which I can't even begin to remember. One involved me watching and then participating in a televised political debate about same-sex marriage. In another, I was in a classroom listening to a professor express her views about philosophy. In one dream, I was an old man sharing my life story with a young man who looked as though he didn't care what I had to say. Finally, I was watching a Draw My Life video on Youtube. That was the last one before I woke up in the morning. I woke up thinking heavily about the things I had just witnessed. All the dreams had a similar feeling or aura around them. They all had something in common, but I couldn't quite place my finger on it. I figured that it had something to do with the game I had played the night before, so I started it up again.
The thirteenth level was no different than the first twelve, besides the small variations that I've already described. It was almost impossible to beat this level. There were dozens of enemies walking and jumping around, and I could hardly find enough room to jump from platform to platform. After about an hour or so of going through it and dying many times, I reached the end. Doctor Hate's robotic eagle lay at the end, holding my nephew. I literally had to jump on the rockets that it sent at me just to get high enough to shoot it, and it took what seemed like a hundred shots to kill it. I forced myself to ignore the nephew's death and focus on the message that the game had presented to me. There was something I wasn't seeing clearly enough, something that I had to fit into eight character spaces.
I started to feel something strange in the doctor's presence. I felt the same about him as I had about the dreams, or rather in the dreams. A political debate, a classroom lecture, a life story, and a Draw My Life video all had something in common. In all these scenarios, someone was trying to express who they were to someone else, and the other person wasn't really listening … I discovered something that I hadn't seen before. I opted to spare the doctor, and he asked me why. I told him, “I am you”. The whole scene disappeared. Mr. Good disappeared. The scene shifted to Doctor Hattenstein in what appeared to be a dark basement, pointing a small revolver to his own temple. He slowly put the gun down and went upstairs, where his son was waiting for him. “I'm sorry son. I'm sorry I didn't listen to you.” He went over and hugged his son as the screen faded to black. The credits started to roll.
I literally cried as I watched this. All of it was beginning to make sense to me, although it was very difficult to take in all at once. The doctor had made the whole thing up to hide from the tragedies that he had to deal with, and the real problem was that he wasn't willing to listen, to accept that other people had problems too and that he wasn't alone. It all was starting to lock into place when another realization hit me. 'I am you'. I've spent most of my life playing video games, but never has a game put my life into perspective as this one has. I've been hiding in the dark, immersing myself in fictional worlds such as this one to escape a feeling of loneliness which actually does not exist. I'm not alone! People like me go through troubles and heartache and tragedy just as I do! I'm not so different from everyone else; it's just the perspective I take that makes me feel that way. Like I previously stated, it has been very difficult for me to take it all in, but I know that I've been miserable like this for a very long time. I don't have to be. I need to renew myself with this perspective and take it to heart. I am Doctor Hate, but more importantly, so are you.