The Christmas Present That Changed My Life


Do you remember what you got for Christmas when you were three years old? Did it play a critical role in shaping the person you are today? Do you still use it occasionally? My answer to all of these questions is yes.

When I was two years old I received a Michael Jordan basketball net for Christmas. I didn’t open any other gifts that morning. I just threw the foam ball into the net, picked it up, and tried throwing it in again. I did this all morning. My parent’s had to force me to look at my other gifts later. As you might know, I never grew up to be a professional basketball player. It was a different present that shaped the person I am now.

It came in a black box with bright red letters that nearly popped off the face of it. They read Super Nintendo. At least that’s what the box looks like on Google. I was only four, I can’t remember it that vividly! Looking back I’m astonished by the influence it had on me and the many lessons I’ve learned from playing it.

On my first day of Kindergarten I cried when my mom left me. I begged her to stay. She told me she would come back at recess. She lied! When I found out my teacher shared a love for a Super Nintendo game, Donkey Kong Country, everything turned out to be fine. I would talk about it with her whenever I got the chance.

As I got to be a few years older my best friend Kaleb and I started doing sleepovers. I distinctly remember one night where we stayed up until midnight waiting for my mom to come home from the city. She had picked up a new game that we were both eager to play; a fighting game called Killer Instinct. We only played a couple of rounds that night before going to bed. For months we would take turns in single player mode trying to defeat all the characters in the campaign. We came up with nicknames for different characters and laughed at the special finishing moves of others (Hint: one character in particular had a finishing move that was not appropriate for children our age). I could never press all the buttons fast enough to do it but Kaleb could.

The beginning of my friendship with my now girlfriend Chantel formed around the Super Nintendo. I first saw her at swimming lessons when I was ten. I immediately had a crush on her. I finally gathered the courage to talk to her the last day of that summer but then every summer after I was too shy to approach her again. Her brother and I did share the same group of friends and became close ourselves. One day everything changed when I was hanging with her brother at their cabin and she came storming in demanding help beating a level in Super Mario World. I stepped out of my comfort zone and helped her. We spent many days that summer creating the beginnings of our friendship playing Super Nintendo and listening to music our parent’s didn’t like.

It’s hard for me to imagine that these moments would have been possible if my family never purchased that Super Nintendo in the Christmas of ‘94. I can see now that there are many life lessons that I first learned from playing the Super Nintendo:

Ask for help when you need it
There were a particular set of levels in Donkey Kong Country that were impossible for me to beat; the cart levels. These levels were different from typical ones in that you no longer controlled the movement of your character. You were in a mine cart that was constantly moving and you were responsible for dodging obstacles. It was all about your reflexes which as a child I must not of had. I’d try over and over again to beat it but never could. Eventually I learned to ask my mom for help. If she was having trouble we’d take turns. Eventually we’d beat it.

Deal with frustration
Sometimes my mom wouldn’t help me. I’d have to keep losing on my own. The first way I learnt to deal with this frustration was by throwing the controller. Apparently this wasn’t acceptable behaviour. I went from being frustrated by the game to being frustrated that I couldn’t play it because I was sent to my room. I started to learn I had to remain calm when things went wrong. By being calm I could keep trying. I rarely beat the level when I was frustrated. I acted smarter when I was clear-headed and would overcome the difficult levels.

There is always room for improvement
If you beat all the levels in Donkey Kong Country 2 your file would say that you were only about 30-40% complete. To achieve a perfect score of 102% you had to find all the hidden coins and bonus barrels in every level. You’d have to be meticulous in your exploration to find them all. Sometimes even then it wouldn’t be enough. Sure I could spend endless hours trying to solve it but after a certain point there was a better way.

Find someone who has done what you trying to do and learn what they did
I’d reference Nintendo Power magazine and strategy guides. They showed me the layout of the level and where the secret items were. Then I just had to make my way to them. Sometimes the best path to excellence is finding someone who has accomplished what you’d like to do and learn the steps they took to get there.

People can take away what you have but they can’t take away who you become
One of the most frustrating experiences as a child was turning on the Super Nintendo with Donkey Kong Country 2 in it, going to select my saved game and seeing it was gone. My nearly completed game was now at 0%. Tears came to my eyes as I thought about all the time that was now wasted. Sadness was replaced by rage and I decided I would destroy my little brother for destroying my game. Or maybe I just tattled on him. It doesn’t matter my game was gone. I had to start over or move onto something else. I chose to start over. I played the levels faster than I had previously and I could remember where most of the hidden item were. After a few days I was already back to where I had been previously. I went on to earn that illustrious 102%.