Videogame Virgin: Donkey Kong and strange comforts

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(Editor’s note: In this bi-weekly feature, Pixelitis staffer Matt Brown shares his “down the rabbit hole” look into gaming history. Having admittedly missed what many consider “classics,” join him as he dives in head first. We ask that you just be gentle with him.)

Of all the games in 100 Computer Games to Play Before You Die, so far I haven’t come across too many that I had already played. And among that number, even fewer that I had any sort of emotional connection to, pleasant or otherwise.

So the original Donkey Kong is a pleasant addition to this series for me.

One of the earliest gaming experiences I can remember is the Christmas my mom got my dad his Game Boy. The original beige-grey brick was something I had never seen or even imagined before. And yet there it was, and there I was treating it like it was all mine. Of course I was at a stage in life where being “fun-sized” was cute, so it made sneaking off with the magical box all the easier.

In those early days, we had two games in my house. Or rather, we had two games in the giant carrying case that my mom had purchased to go along with the Game Boy. We had Tetris and Donkey Kong.

Now Tetris obviously is another title we all know and one that also has a special place in my heart but the main thing that distinguishes these two games in the memory vault of my mind is my skill at either of them on a given day. As I child, I beat Tetris many times. Sometimes in the time it would take for us to drive to a restaurant and wait to be seated, I’d have the game beaten before the free breadsticks came out. And yet on the other end of the spectrum stood Donkey Kong.

I was bloody awful at that game. I mean, I don’t think I ever beat the first friggin’ level. This was my childhood Braid. I just couldn’t do a damn thing about my ineptitude. Regardless of how much or how often I played, proficiency eluded me like hair eludes Bruce Willis.

I guess that’s an appropriate metaphor, because just as Willis now looks odd when he has hair, I feel weird getting past the first level. I revisited the game a bit and it felt…unnatural to succeed. It’s as if there’s a comfort in easy failure. The same sort of comfort that comes from Horde mode in Gears of War or playing Tiny Wings or Temple Run is present in this. Knowing that I will inevitably lose, I find enjoyment and comfort in the simple attempt. It brings to life all that, “it’s the journey, not the destination,” business.

And I have to say, it’s really nice. It’s pleasant and simple in the way that few things are for me at this age. To think that a game such as this gave rise to both Mario and Donkey Kong is both astounding and somehow logical. How could it not capture our imaginations? How could it not inspire us to want more? And in turn, how could we not play Super Mario Bros. or Donkey Kong Country? How could we not keep on playing?

It’s too simple, too nostalgic, too elegant in a way so few things are. It’s unavoidable. And I’m okay with that. I think I’ll be spending some time resucking at this game, and letting it be the clear, uncluttered comfort in my life for a time.

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Author: Matt Brown View all posts by