On Playing Video Games Wrong

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The title should probably be “playing video games incorrectly” but using wrong feels so right here, like what I’m about to describe offends the spirit of the games, which it sort of does. The idea for this article came about when I remembered playing Top Gun for the Nintendo Entertainment System as a child. Top Gun was a fairly unremarkable game. It was first person, with the player adopting the point of view of a fighter pilot in a cockpit. It consisted of dogfights with enemy planes, refueling sessions, and the thing that everybody remembers from the game, landing on the aircraft carrier after completing a mission. Top Gun was an exceptionally cruel game because the player didn’t actually clear the level until after the aircraft carrier scene. This meant that a player could do everything perfectly, take out all of the enemy planes, successfully refuel, and still die by miscalculating the approach speed and crashing into the ocean next to the landing target.


There was no easy fix to landing on the aircraft carrier, but I did quickly discover the key to getting through a level mostly unmolested. As soon as the player was able to take control of the plane I would immediately start gaining altitude until I reached the maximum possible altitude. I would then fly over all of the enemy planes in the level, only dropping down to lower altitude to refuel and to land at the end of the level. At maximum altitude the other planes couldn’t touch me for the most part; occasionally a guided missile would lock on my plane and I’d have to avoid it, but otherwise it was clear flying.

It wasn’t like discovering this hack permitted me to finish the game. There was still the business of landing on the flight deck, which never got any easier. Not only did I not beat Top Gun, I wonder now why I was even playing it. Sure, discovering the altitude hack made the game easier, but it also took away any fun that could potentially be wrung out of the game. I was avoiding the dogfights, avoiding shooting and dodging missiles, only to still have to participate in the the two most numbingly pedestrian aspects of the game, refueling and landing.

Pitching Like an Asshole in Nintendo Baseball Games

Video game AI acts in predictable ways. It does what it is programmed to do, and doesn’t do what it is programmed not to do. Humans, on the other hand, are fallible. Humans act in the moment on instinct, responding to what they perceive. All of this is to say that you can benefit from pitching like an asshole when playing a Nintendo baseball game against a human opponent, but it’ll do you no good when facing the computer.

Anybody reading this who has ever played a Nintendo baseball game before probably knows what I’m talking about when I say “pitching like an asshole” but I’ll make it clear now: pitching like an asshole means throwing pitches that appear to be strikes up until just before the ball reaches the plate, at which point the player pulls the ball off the plate to the left or right. The person controlling the batter thinks he or she is getting a strike and commits to swinging just as the ball veers out of the strike zone, resulting in a swing and a miss or at best weak contact.

I highlighted images above from two games where this technique ran rampant: RBI Baseball, a groundbreaking game for its depiction of real MLB players and my introduction to “haha, fooled you into swinging” pitching, and Baseball Stars, my favorite Nintendo game of all time. An interesting thing about Baseball Stars and an indication of how much games evolved in the few years between the releases of RBI Baseball and Baseball Stars was that the “veer out of the strike zone at the last minute” technique became less effective in Baseball Stars as your pitcher got tired. It would become more difficult to pull the ball outside, and the directional change became less abrupt.

There were few things a child could do while playing video games that would more reliably lead to a fight than pitching like an asshole. It immediately sucked all of the fun out of a game, and often prior to a game versus a friend you’d both agree to pitch normally. Otherwise you ended up with a boring, joyless pitching duel, the sort of thing old men claim to love watching on television while all of us cool dudes exalted in sky high dingers.

Game Genie

Why come up with your own methods of playing video games wrong when you can purchase an entire booklet of them? The Game Genie was a revelation for mediocre video game players, of which I was certainly one. Prior to the Game Genie and the Contra code, the only Nintendo game I ever legitimately beat was Super Mario Brothers 2. If you aren’t already aware or cannot tell from the image at the beginning of the article, the Game Genie was a device that attached to Nintendo cartridges. The player would then input one or more codes from the booklet that accompanied the device. These codes patched the program code of the game, leading to any number of effects, such as invincibility, infinite lives, and others. I of course had no idea how it worked at the time, and I’m only pretending to understand what I read on Wikipedia to add to this paragraph. The point is, it let you win.

The great thing about Game Genie was that it allowed me to reach points and explore levels in games that I’d never reached by playing the game legitimately. The problem was the same that I mentioned regarding Top Gun, above. It makes me question why I was playing the game. If the point is to feel a sense of accomplishment then I was doing it wrong. If the point is simply to win, then hooray for John. You inputted those codes correctly. Way to go, champ. When I started this article I wasn’t expecting to be questioning what the purpose of video games is by the end of it, but there you have it.

Did you have any tricks for playing video games in unintended manners? Let us know in the comments or on Twitter

If you’re looking for more info on Nintendo games you could play wrong check out the book below. Please note that as an Affiliate 80s Baby may receive a commission.


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