I spent many afternoons in front of the carved wooden box my parent's called a TV. The rounded screen always glared regardless of how much light shined in through the blinded windows. One such afternoon, I beat defeated my first boss in Tiny Toons Adventures. I was thrilled at my first victory. “Thrilled” meaning I jumped out of Indian-style and whooped until my mom yelled, “Ladies!” even though it was just me.
I beat the game a few months later. My parents had bought a couple more games since. I dug through the cardboard box filled with games waiting to be defeated by my awesomeness. That is when I found Mortal Kombat 3. The game’s box was black and in the center was a three outlined in red and again in white with a picture of a dragon in the curve. I liked dragons. I opened the box, removed the clunky plastic cartridge, and shoved it in the Sega. I had started down the road covered in congealing blood.
Mortal Kombat 3 is a fighting game that allows one to two players to revel in spraying blood of all colors, skeleton removal, and hellish landscapes. It is rated M, totally unacceptable for young audiences of the 1990s. My parents did not know that games were rated, and wouldn't know for a few more years. The living room was our main playroom, so they never ventured in there.
I was learning to kill. The game controller was easy for my small hands to cradle. The major buttons were the directional ones on the left-hand side and ABC on the right: A for low punch, B for block, and C low kick. These seven buttons were combined to make the character fight in the right direction or kick/punch high; I won't mention the difficulty of "finishing moves."
Janay (who is five years my senior) and I battled each other often. I don't remember which characters she favored. I would pick Kung Lao because his leather vest bared his chest and he did acrobatics while throwing his blade-edged hat around. I had a crush on him. Or I would pick Sindel, a sorceress-like woman who strangled people with her white hair or screamed the flesh from bones.
I remember how Janay and I would all but rip off our church clothes in our eagerness to fight. Now I see the irony: two Baptist girls dismissing all sermons and prayers of the morning in favor of violence. We were supposed to love everyone and everything, to treat them the way we want to be treated. I'm sure that my pastor would be appalled seeing me crouched on the ground, eagerly jamming the buttons to murder my opponent.
Janay and I were serious about killing each other’s characters, since mom and dad did not want their daughters roughhousing (which we did anyway). We would spend whole evenings on the unforgiving brown carpet screaming and shoving each other, whatever it took to get the upper hand. At some point, one of us would grin in the orange-y light, the grin that says “You’re screwed.” The other would turn to the screen and stare in horror as the game announcer's bass voice demanded the winner to “FINISH HIM.” It was a gravelly voice that wanted no mercy in its presence. We were expected to kill the almost-unconscious loser with one of the character's special moves. They died gruesomely. If the winner disobeyed Voice, the loser would fall backwards and expire but she felt Voice's oppressive presence as he shook his head in disgust. Mortal Kombat 3 was not for the forgiving.
Even today, I can hear him repeat that phrase or laugh mockingly at my mercy. I don’t actually hear it; it’s more of a feeling. I think of the song “Papercut” by Linkin Park but without the rabid paranoia. I guess “passive competitiveness” is what describes Voice best. No matter what game I play, whether it’s Words with Friends or The Witcher 2, or if it’s attempting to design the best project for a class, Voice does not like to be disappointed. My goal is to destroy the friend/enemy/classmate quickly, in style if possible. And it is my goal, but I am not a ruthless killing machine.
I’m not insane, as far as I can tell. Voice brought out a dormant trait of mine. Before I started gaming, I was a pitiful kid. If a boy looked at me oddly at church, I would burst into tears. If I did not know the answer to a question in kindergarten, tears spilled. Even if my mom began talking and it sounded like it was leading to punishment, I wailed in fear. I’m sure there are more causes unknown to me but they resulted in my meager willpower to be confident, independent, and successful.
Now, almost twenty years old, I still find myself holding back sporadic tears, but Voice cackles. On one such occasion last month, I was giving a presentation in my World of Work class on my career path. I want to become a character modeler, a person who designs characters for video games to movies and more. I am a product of the games I have played.
Compared to the other PowerPoints, I created a dynamite presentation, complete with picture examples and a video demonstrating what I would do. My four-inch high-heeled boots thudded with confidence I did not feel. When I got to the podium, my arches were splitting. My nose beaded with sweat and hair stuck to my neck. Tears threatened to fall as I stood in front of the horseshoe-shaped desks of classmates who could care less about what I wanted to do with my life. As soon as I stammered through the ordeal and returned to my seat, I swear Voice was dying from contempt. I knew for a fact that my slideshow topped everyone else’s, so why did I lose it when it mattered?
Know that I think about it, I have a defeatist’s attitude. That’s my diagnosis for why I was a wimpy kid. I was always sure I would fail before I ever started. When I defeated Tiny Toons Adventure, a spark of hope shined, causing me to continue gaming and meeting Voice in Mortal Kombat 3. My attitude also explains why I prefer single player to multiplayer. If I lose, it’s between me and the computer player. No one else need know.
Voice changed me and continues to be the creepy overseer in the back of my mind. It’s the typical demon and angel on the shoulder scenario, except their mashed into a grotesque being shouting ideas and opinions into my brain. Voice gives both good and evil answers to my situations. For example, it was not a good idea to give my best friend’s older brother a teddy bear stuffed beside a heart balloon in a decorative bag full of candy when I was in sixth grade. Apparently eighth grade boys don’t to get stuff from girls that have liked them since daycare. On the other hand, it was a good idea to apply to Queens University of Charlotte, despite being unsure it had my major. Thankfully, Virginia Commonwealth University rejected me and Queens confirmed that they had graphic design program.
For better or worse, Voice and I are stuck together. He may have influenced the way I think, but not my behavior. I, a murderer of pixels, only show mercy where it’s warranted. In recent games I have played (The Witcher and Infamous being prime examples), there are pivotal choices that change game play from then on, a lot like life. I do my best to make the appropriate decision in the heat of battle. I try to pick the lesser evil. It still comes with a cost, even if it is pixel people.
I won’t be a coldblooded killer, no matter what Voice wants. Instead, I use him as a coach using perverse psychology to egg me on to do my absolute best in my endeavors. I’m considering whether I should give body to Voice, actually draw him, and make him physical. I don’t think that will push me into the deep pool called insanity. At least I hope not. I can't swim. I don’t think he would complain. I’d be shaping my future toward being a character modeler. Getting into the game industry is very difficult. Becoming one of the few artists on a team is extremely competitive. He should be proud.