In my last post I mentioned that I 100%ed Super Mario 64. This is a heavily nostalgic game for me and countless others and while it hasn’t aged magnificently over the years it still remains a classic. It retains its charm and is still an enjoyable game to play if you can look past the shitty grafix from the late 90s. But I realized something upon completing the game that I didn’t realize before: Mario 64 is a really short game. Surely part of this is due to me having played it before, but I don’t think this has much to do with why it feels so short. It’s been so long since I played Mario 64 to completion I had almost forgotten where most of the stars were and had to “rediscover them” even if I had a vague hint of a memory where the star was. (I still remember the Turok master cheat code though: nthgthdgdcrtdtrk. Looks like something out of a Lovecraft story.) So while the game was easier than it was when I first played it, it wasn’t just a feat in repetition; I really had to discover the game all over again.
I found myself wondering how, as a kid, I was able to pour so much time into this game as I did. I was able to knock out all 120 stars within a week as an adult, and even if I had played the game before, I assume a new player could still beat the game quickly. It’s just not a long or complicated game. How did my childhood-self find this game so massive and consuming that I could literally play it for hours after school, day-after-day for months on end? Bowser had his ass kicked and I had all 120 stars, so what was I doing endlessly playing the game?
Outside of a few other minor things (being a bored kid, no internet, etc.), I assume it was because I dicked around in the game. I should explain that a bit more. This means that outside of the actual game-dictated challenges I would find other bullshit challenges to set for myself. It was total immersion in the world where you’re just playing around and having fun with the game itself. Grabbing the stars is what you’re supposed to do but dicking around is ignoring what you’re supposed to do to do random bullshit. Somehow kid-me excelled at this while adult-me is pretty terrible at it.
The first level, the iconic Bob-omb Battlefield, had a turtle whose shell you could ride like a skateboard. It was fun as hell to grab his shell and challenge yourself to do stupid shit with it: could you surf up to the top of the mountain without hitting anything and losing his shell? Could you use the shell to race Koopa the Quick? You could also grab the Wing Cap, jump into cannons, and fly around for the hell of it. Each level offered so much to do but only if you’re creative enough to play around with the game. This was even better if you had friends to play with. You could all take turns having races to the top of the Bob-omb mountain, or see who could get Baby Penguin to his mom is the fastest time possible (or who could drop him off the cliff in the most cruel/hilarious way). Your imagination was the only limit to the fun you could have in Mario 64 as well as any other game.
Something changed because now I don’t have the time or patience to fuck around in video games. I don’t know if it’s adulthood itself or aspects of adulthood like having a job and a tighter schedule that changed things, but I find myself being very “goal oriented” when I play video games. It does take all the fun out of them too. I view the game as just that: a game. Games are now just a big and sometimes complex puzzle: you figure out what you need to do to achieve a goal and you do that. Find key, go to the next room. Kill enemies, get to the end of the level. Find enough moons to fight Bowser. Etc. It’s basic problem solving now: discover problem, research the problem, conquer the problem. Complete the quest and beat the game. And then onto the next game. It’s depressing.
As I was writing this post, the word playing popped into my head. Dicking around in video games, as I’ve been explaining it, sounds a lot like playing. Kids will grab toys and play with them not for a purpose but just because. I even looked up the definition of the word play and guess what it is?
“Engage in activity for enjoyment and recreation rather than a serious or practical purpose.”
-The Damn Dictionary
So, fuck, it’s not that adult-me is overly goal-oriented or that kid-me was better at making up random shit to do, kid me was better at playing while adult me fucking sucks at it. Making this even worse is that when adult-me is “playing” video games, I’m probably not actually playing them. I’m always chasing a set of goals or in-game challenges and am not playing for the pure enjoyment or recreation of it. Or my personal enjoyment and recreation while playing a video game is in beating the game and not playing the game. Holy fuck, I didn’t think there’d be an epiphany in this post, but there it is. Kid-me played video games and adult-me beats video games.
This entire post reflects back on the last post about 100%ing Nintendo games. In that post I argued that Nintendo is kinda badass by not giving you any real rewards for going above-and-beyond in your video gaming duties. They rely on your own self-motivation to accomplish all of the extra bullshit you need to 100% one of their games. They’re going to give you the shit to do but not reward you for it. This post is sort of the same thing: to properly play a video game you also need to go outside of what the game itself gives you for goals/accomplishments and find your own way towards fun. This is the essence of playing — doing something for your own enjoyment with zero practical reason to motivate you — and is a huge reason why I enjoyed video games and could pour hours into them as a kid. I was playing and not simply trying to chase goals. As adult gamers we might become overly “goal-oriented” and miss the whole reason for playing a game: to have fun! But to have fun you need to be creative and do something for the sake of doing it, just like 100% video games entails. So the next time I play a video game I’m going to try to sit back, relax, and actually enjoy the experience instead of checking off a list of items that the game wants me to do. Being an adult is kinda shitty in case you didn’t know that yet.
Yesterday the family and I went to Six Flags Great America, an amusement park in Gurnee Illinois. I’ve been there a handful of times throughout my life, but I can say for a fact that yesterday I did not have a good time. Amusement parks might be one of those things that sours with age (or maybe it’s my perpetually shitty mood) where most adults suffer through a near hell for the pleasure of their kids/family because that’s what it was: a near-hellish environment of starvation, sunburn, dehydration, walking, price-gouging, and perpetual line-standing. Sure the rides — when you actually found yourself on one –were fun enough but everything else you had to deal with outweighed any small amount of fun you found yourself having. And, oh God, the people. You can’t forget the people…
Tickets? Membership? Season Passes? Flash Pass? What?
With amusement parks the bullshit begins well before you arrive: purchasing tickets. It’s not so much purchasing the tickets that is bad, it’s trying to navigate through the maze of pricing options to find what is actually the cheapest. Take a look at their website for yourself. This is obviously done on purpose to confuse you into “the best deal” where you inevitably pay more than you probably should. They have tickets at the gate ($79.99), tickets you buy in advance for a specific day (Advance Purchase Ticket: “as low as $59.99”) and tickets where you can go on any day you want (Any Day Ticket: a lone “Buy Now” button with no price listed). There are season passes (Standard and Gold), and memberships (Gold Plus, Platinum, Diamond, Diamond Elite), and parking tickets/passes, and there is even a fucking food pass where you supposedly get a free meal each day you’re at the park. I’m sure the food pass also has tiers for some reason.
It’s not so much the options but finding what option is best for you with the confusing and convoluted marketing terms tossed at you. (For example prices given in “per month” terms, or the banners stating “BEST DEAL!!”/”BEST VALUE!!”, “prices as low as…”, etc. I’ve even seen something that stated “As low as $7.99 per month” which alternatively stated means “the cheapest version is $100 and lasts for a season.”) If you’re going for a single day, the single day ticket is the best, but this is cheaper if you preorder online! The season passes are only slightly more pricey (on purpose) to entice you into buying one of those. Making this even more confusing is the fact that a season pass actually makes sense if you go to the park more than once. It’s simply exhausting trying to figure out the cheapest way to do what you want to do as you’re continually being tempted by other offers. And the cheapest offers are somehow well-hidden on the website.
Expensive Everything Actually
An expected trait for any amusement park/theme park/carnival/movie theater/anything is that everything is expensive as fuck. Like everything: food, drinks, merchandise tickets, and anything else they can find to charge you for. This begins with the park entrance/parking fees and continues through everything else. A fucking order of nachos is over $10. A 20oz bottle of water is $5. Some of the stupid carny games and go-karts actually cost extra besides the park entrance fee! A drink with free refills (seasonal or daily because I guess there are multiple tiers of fucking drinks. “Pay a little extra for a better deal!”) costs like $15-25. Souvenirs and all the other shit you can buy naturally apply here, but I can’t give any prices. I didn’t buy anything because I knew it would be ridiculously expensive. Oh yeah, Dippin’ Dots (ice cream of the future since 1988) are only $10!!!
This technique works — especially for food — because of the park’s policy of not allowing “any outside food or drinks” into the park. I’m sure if you asked someone about this they’d give a very PR answer referring to “safety reasons” but the cynic in me believes this policy exists to price-gouge you as much as possible regarding food. Instead of toting in a few 2-liters of soda and peanut butter and jelly sammiches you’re forced to buy a $20 chicken sandwich with a $15 Coke. The truth is after 8 hours of walking around you simply don’t care about saving $40 because you’re fucking starving and about to die of dehydration.
Lines, Queues, and Other Forms of Waiting
When I think back to previous trips to amusement parks I only remember the walking and the rides. At the end of the day my fucking legs killed me but other than that I remember the rides. This was some hindsight bias or some glitch in my memory because most of my actual time at the park, besides walking, was waiting in a fucking line. As a kid I never recalled that experience much. For research purposes I totaled up my time in lines: 155 minutes. This is almost three hours. Making this even worse was that I rode five roller coasters. Estimating that each ride lasted one minute you get a ratio of 1:30; for each 30 minutes I waited I got to enjoy one minute on a coaster. Fuck.
This isn’t even that bad either! Some rides had wait times around 70-80 minutes. We only rode rides that had estimated wait times of 45 minutes or less. If I can say one positive thing about the park it is that the estimated wait times were actually pretty accurate and if anything they erred on the side of caution. Usually an estimated wait time of 45 minutes ended up being only a 35 minute wait. I do appreciate that although I’m sure there is an ulterior motive to the park making money or keeping people happy or something. While they’re not doing this for our benefit it is nice seeing accurate wait times.
But wait! There is a way to not wait in line! The park sells “Flash Passes” that allow you to skip the line almost entirely, but you know this huge benefit isn’t without a cost. Once again I don’t know the exact number but I would guess a Flash Pass is around $100 per person two people (I checked). Whether you want to spend another $100 on top of the initial $100 to get into the park/park your car is up to you. At the very least its another great example of Six Flags stealing your money as efficiently as possible. Think about it: they’re charging people to not wait in line. It’s genius really.
So I spent a total of three hours being on roller coasters and waiting in lines, but what was the rest of the time spent doing? We were there for about seven hours so there are still four unaccounted hours. What happened during those? Walking happened. Even if it wasn’t necessarily walking it was what I’d call “navigating the park.” Traveling to rides. Checking the map. Pissing. Finding a water fountain. Trying to navigate the crowds of people. Shit like that.
The park layout isn’t exactly intuitive either. There’s a handful of main paths that kinda meander around as the park isn’t meant to be a fucking efficient interstate highway for people. No, it’s meant to be laid out in a way that slows you down and gets you into shops, food stands, and whatever other places can steal your money. While a roller coaster may literally be close enough to hit one of its occupants with a rock you’d need to take a half mile path around the park to find the entrance to the ride. Considering the numbers above, I’d say about 45 minutes of walking is required, on average, to stand in line for 30 minutes, to ride a ride that is one minute long. That is brutal.
After about 6 hours there I started to get that old people feeling of needing to sit down on a fucking bench. At that point I didn’t give a shit about riding rides, eating food, or anything. My legs were dead and I just wanted to sit and “rest up for just a bit.” I almost didn’t want to make the near-mile trek to the car because it was so far away. But given that was my way to safety, freedom, and comfort I summoned the remainder of my energy to get it over with as quickly as possible.
This is my own fault, but I didn’t want to eat food or buy any drinks while I was at the park. They’re just too damn expensive and I didn’t want to piss away $50 on a soda and nachos especially after pissing away $400 for everyone just to get into the park. No, I’d rather starve and deal with being miserable than to be price gouged some more. I already mentioned how much walking you must do and how you must stand out in the sun and with all of that physical activity you start to get hungry, tired, and feel all-around shitty.
A big loophole in the “no outside food or drink” policy is that they don’t say a damn thing about “drink containers.” Me being not that much of a dumbass I brought in a water bottle that I could fill up: you either hydrate or diedrate bro. So while I was hydrated I was still starving and getting baked by the fucking sun.
I am blessed with DNA that gives me -25 points to sun damage but for everyone else there? Fuck. There were handfuls of people that were both pasty white and seemingly not fond of sunscreen: they were basically walking lobsters by the end of the day. I don’t know what they were thinking but I’m sure they’re regretting it today. Even me with my classic farmers tan going on still garnered some mild sunburn around my neck and I can only feel bad for those pale lobster people and their burgeoning skin cancer.
All of this isn’t too bad on it’s own but mixed together you have a whole pot of shit that makes you feel awful. You can’t (or won’t) eat because the food is too pricey, you drink water when you can find a fountain, and you’re standing/walking in glaring sunlight all day in the middle of the summer. Luckily the humidity wasn’t an issue yesterday but consider that as well: heat, humidity, sunshine, constant walking, starvation, and you have a situation that I’d imagine is similar to survival after an airplane crash. But really, people need to bring sunscreen to amusement parks.
And holy fuck let’s not forget the people! People individually seem to be pretty cool, friendly, and “good” but in large groups (like you find in an amusement park) are fucking animals. There are no rules for walking or managing right-of-way so you get groups of people/kids/whoever just darting out in front of you, almost running into you, or randomly stopping in the middle of a path. Kids were bratty and cranky especially as the day became late. People didn’t seem to be outright rude, but they were like you’d expect them to be: animalistic.
There’s also a special kind of anxiety you get when you’re standing in line surrounded by and with strangers. Queues have this characteristic zigzagging motion to pack as many people into the smallest area as possible while remaining in a line. When you move forwards you get to see the people behind you and in front of you and it’s hard not to make awkward eye contact with them every time the line moves. Making this even worse is that fact that you see the same people over and over as you zig and zag towards the ride itself. I have a mild form of social anxiety where I’m scared of people but not dysfunctional and I found myself getting rather jittery over the whole ordeal. Sunglasses work great as you know that people can’t see you and you can act like you don’t see them either.
I suppose it isn’t that I didn’t have fun it’s that the amount of fun I had didn’t justify the massive cost to get into the park, the hassle of driving to the park, the amount of walking/line waiting required to obtain the fun, and the masses of people you must deal with. It’s like a 1% fun to 99% pain-in-the-ass/boring ratio which isn’t great. I think my age might have something to do with my lack of fun as well. As a kid/teenager you’re excited and eager to ride some scary-looking coasters while now I just know they’re not scary or dangerous; part of the fun is overcoming the danger and fear you have (real or perceived). Since this fear is mostly absent, they’re not something I feel the need to “conquer” or whatever and it’s hard to justify the line-waiting with that mindset.
Riding roller coasters is one of those things that would be really amazing to do if you didn’t have to deal with people. Given the opportunity to endlessly ride whatever coasters I want without the lines of people and the near hours waiting I’m sure I’d have a fun time. But then you’d probably have too much fun and the coasters would be boring! As much as I hate people and waiting in line I think this is part of the “amusement park” experience and I can’t help but think that a large portion of the people at Six Flags actually enjoy all the shit that I hated about the place. The same is true with county fairs and parades and people who like the 4th of July. Are there some people that like the large crowds, the expensive food (just splurge a bit and have fun!), and the hassle of it all? If there are, I certainly am not one of them and the thought of going to an amusement park anytime soon gives me an immense sense of dread. I’ll stay at home thank you. Amusement parks suck.