Vermilion Vicariously

Trent Fingland

My dad has never been much of a gamer. He has, however, always been into computers — playing around in DOS, pulling them apart in the garage (occasionally even putting them back together!), and even now he obsessively installs Linux on everything, just because. This techonphilia is directly to blame for my current state as a gamer. After all, game consoles are just computers in disguise, and I suspect that he provided my young self with hardware just to see how it worked.

There was one time, though, where our roles were reversed. I was still in kindergarten, and the game was Sword of Vermilion for the Sega Genesis. For whatever reason, my dad loved Sword of Vermilion. It was too hard for tiny Trent, so I was relegated to watching him play. Well, I would have been, had we ever had the chance to be in the same room at the same time. My dad worked the second shift, so by the time I was out of school he was gone to work, and by the time he returned I was tucked away in bed. The closest I could get to watching him was listening to him recount his adventures to me on the weekends.

Then my dad was struck by a great idea: he would record (on a VCR, like some kind of ancient Let's Play) himself playing Sword of Vermilion so I could watch him when I got home from school. I remember the tape he used was pink, with a yellow top. I'm not sure where he got a videotape like that, but it guaranteed that it was easy to find. Every day at school I would be giddy with the anticipation of seeing what was going to happen on the next episode of "Trent's Dad Plays SoV". My favorite part were the boss fights, because of how differently they looked and played from the rest of the game. They were also few and far between, so each one felt nothing short of momentous to my six year old self.

My dad never beat Sword of Vermilion. I remember him getting stuck on one of those epic boss fights — a little girl (or maybe it was an old man?) who turned into a dragon. That's not the end of the story though.

Years later, in a cardboard box filled with power cords and random electronic junk (every family has a box like that, I think), I found that tape again, a pink-and-yellow buried treasure. Upon seeing it all those old memories and emotions rushed back, and they were more keenly felt considering how rarely I had seen my dad pick up a controller in the years since. I freed it from the tangle of cords and rushed it to the nearest VCR. Suddenly I was six again, in awe at the sight of the sword of vermilion resting on its dark precipice, lightning cracking across the sky to signal the appearance of the game's title.

Then I was watching Mad Max. That's not a metaphor. A few minutes into what was — still is! — one of my most cherished childhood memories, Mad Max began to play. I felt sick, and that sickness only grew as I fast-forwarded, realizing that nothing but that opening sequence remained. Why would someone use THIS tape, of all tapes? There were other unmarked cassettes in that same box of crap, why did it have to be this one that was used? No one in my family even cares about Mad Max. I couldn't do anything but cry.

I never tried to find out how that had happened. I never even told anyone in my family that I had found the tape. It seemed pointless. I'm pretty sure I threw it away out of disgust.

The saying is that time heals all wounds, and in this case it turned out to be true. I remember that I had been upset after rediscovering the tape, but I don't feel upset thinking about it. I do, however, still feel familiar waves of nostalgia when I think about my dad making that tape in the first place. I doubt he knew at the time how much that would still mean to me now, at twenty-five, and that's kind of the best part. Mel Gibson can overwrite my VHS tapes, but he can never overwrite my freedom memories.

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