Two words: Virtual Boy. Comedy writer Mike Drucker tells us the lessons he learned from a terrible childhood purchase.
The Virtual Boy. I bought one day one. Let’s talk about it.
I’ve loved Nintendo since I was three years old, when my family bought a Nintendo Entertainment System with the combination Super Mario Bros. and Duck Hunt game. I remember, because I was certain I’d enjoy Duck Hunt more than Super Mario Bros. I mean, come on – the choice between playing a game with the guy who looked like my Chicago police officer uncle or the game where you get to shoot ducks.
I was three. And I was right.
No, I was totally wrong. Mario was better. And honestly, screw that dog. You think you’re better than me, dog? Because I’m three and can’t aim a gun? Rather than laughing, how about you encourage me to pick up a book and learn about ducks? I could’ve been something had that dog not laughed at my failures. You ruined me, dog.
For the rest of my childhood (read: life), I would spend my money on video games. Birthday money, Christmas money, allowance – video games. I’d run to Toys ‘R Us (RIP, guys. RIP) and pick up that little paper slip for a game and buy the crap out of some titles. Sometimes they were good, sometimes I could hear that dog laughing at me in the distance.
“It had the word “virtual” in the name, so it had to be good”
At the same time, I was also fascinated by early 1990s virtual reality. Because, when you’re a fat lonely kid whose only escape from the bitterness of reality is video games, fake reality seems like a pretty with it deal.
Also, movies like “The Lawnmower Man” were pretty good at the whole “lying about virtual reality” thing. They made it seem good. And also, you could have sex in it, which I felt was something I would want to try someday (and still hoping to!).
Around this time, Nintendo announced the Virtual Boy. It had the word “virtual” in the name, so it had to be good. After years with the Super Nintendo, I was ready for the next evolution in gaming: Red graphics on black graphics and that’s it.
“A new world. Of disappointment”
That spring and summer, I did what every kid does when they need extra money: Took up a paper route and mowed lawns! No, that’s a lie. I made my parents go into my meager college fund (I mean, I really did spend as much of the money I received as possible) and give me that money.
With the couple dozen bucks I had accrued over time, along with a massive amount of regrettable trade-ins and shady back alley game sales to friends, I was able to get enough money for a Virtual Boy.
The day it came out, I rushed home, ripped open the box, and filled the controller with the eight-dozen batteries required to power it, and entered a new world. Of disappointment.
It’s not that the games weren’t good – I was eleven, and any game is pretty much fine when you’re eleven. It’s that I had spent literally all the money I had on a gamble that I wouldn’t have to be me anymore, and I was still me! Still the same kid. Also the Virtual Boy left a little imprint on your face that made the you that you were even worse.
“Also the best video game investment I’ve ever made”
The Virtual Boy was possibly the worst video game investment I’ve ever made. It cost a lot of money for a kid, didn’t last long on shelves, and didn’t fulfill the dream that – to be honest, it never even promised to fulfill.
And yet, at the same time, it was also the best video game investment I’ve ever made. It was the first time in my short life that I was able to purchase something through sheer force of will. Unlike most other games and systems I’d owned up to that point, it wasn’t seasonal. I didn’t get the Virtual Boy for Christmas or my birthday.
Yeah, yeah, yeah, most of the money that went into it came from gifts – but the rest I actually got together on my own.
That giant red plastic monster sucked up everything I owned. It also was the realization of every little nerd’s dream that, “When I’m older I’m going to buy whatever I want with my own money!”
Important to note: It’s probably not a great idea to buy whatever you want with your own money. It’s not really the best financial decision. Especially if what you want is an English Lit grad school degree. Trust me from experience, that costs, like, two thousand Virtual Boys.
I’m not justifying the purchase. To be quite clear, nothing justifies an 11-year-old kid throwing away all his money on a video game system.
Virtual Boy to (more) responsible man
It took me years to develop anything regarding human adult habits with money. At the same time, the power it gave me to control my video game destiny was incredible. This wasn’t a Super Nintendo for the family in the family room. This was my damn Virtual Boy and I’d use it as much as I wanted.
Even if “as much as I wanted” wasn’t all that much. Or at all. Really none.
Did buying that Virtual Boy teach me lessons about responsibility? No. Did I wish things had been different? I’ve wished everything in my life had been different, I mean, there’s no changing that. Did I come out of the experience a better person? No, I’m much worse.
But the important thing is now I’m an adult with the full financial burden that comes with it and I now literally own two Virtual Boys – because I can.
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