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In my quest for the perfect soundtrack to this post, I discovered one of the finest ambient remix albums I’ve ever heard. Please enjoy this playlist from the marvelous Ace Waters.
The Games That Define Us features carefully chosen music and remixes from the franchise of the game represented. Music is a key component of sharing the emotions one feels about a game, so we hope you will press the play button if you’re in a position to do so.
Matt @ Normal Happenings
For all creatures of West Side Island
Game: Sonic the Hedgehog 2
System: Sega Genesis
Release Date: November 21, 1992
Just a brief summary if this is your first time here: This collaboration is a 34-day long adventure through video games. Each piece is its own unique audiovisual experience, complete with artwork, designs, music, and (most importantly) amazing works of prose by brilliant bloggers around the world. This adventure will take you through nostalgia, joy, ambition, self-discovery, regret, anxiety, frustration, mourning, and every human experience in between. Video games exist as fragments on the timeline of our lives, and each one of us have chosen the adventure we feel most defines us.
Anything is possible with enough planning and determination, but to accomplish my goals I must strive to improve constantly.
As you read this, you are breathing. You are thinking, feeling, and experiencing. This is not news to you, who are almost certainly old enough to understand and process the complexity of human emotion. When you were very young, however, the enormity of existence was like an overwhelming light piercing the darkness. The world was so big, and there was too much to process and consider. Time heals you from this predicament; like wading into water slightly cooler than expected, you are surprised as to how quickly you get used to the once-incomprehensible sensations of everyday life.
A funny thing happens as you get older: it takes more to impress you as adolescence fades and adulthood worms its way into your heart. As time begins to close in on you, the years of experience surround you like fractals on a snowflake. However, this is no cause for alarm. Seven, 27, 67 rotations around the sun – those are just statistics, and while I take great comfort in statistics, a number does not define how you choose to experience a life of wonder.
Instead I chose to find happiness in the small things, looking back at them as a trail of breadcrumbs leading me to this point. One of those small things was, in fact, measurably so: 108mm (4.25in) long, 68mm (2.68 in) high, and 16mm (0.63in) wide – the size of a Sega Genesis cartridge. Specifically, that cart that contained a copy of Sonic the Hedgehog 2: the game that defines me.
The Architecture of a Soul
I often imagine my life as a bar chart; as I said, statistics comfort me. Charts are the source code for my life, something thematically appropriate as I program the CSS for this collaboration. I have learned that, if there is something I don’t like about who I am, I often just need to reallocate sections of my chart to accommodate my goals. For example, right now physical activity is a segment of my life which I am steadily working to increase for the betterment of my future. But like the half-life of chemical elements making up the microscopic world, nothing is ever truly gone. Hidden are the memories sometimes, sure, but never gone — even as I write this, childhood memories of being fascinated by standing between two mirrors flood my brain. I would often contemplate if those refracted images went on forever, and how many I could count before losing the ability to envisage just one more layer.
With such an active imagination and curiosity, those few pixels of my life between where Sonic 2 begins and ends may not seem like much, and indeed there are certainly things in my life which comprise far more real estate. I am an adult now, not the shy kid who came home everyday to his grandmother’s house, popped in a copy of Sonic 2, and started barreling through Emerald Hill Zone. But the residual effects of my experience with this game means that tiny portion will never blink out of existence. Sonic 2 will always reside there, sandwiched somewhere between my love for the science of cooking, my peculiar interest for the 1960’s marionette show Thunderbirds, my determination to remember all the song titles on Sufjan Stevens’s masterpiece, Illinois, and my obsession with filling up all available character spaces on Twitter. (Five characters left? Inconceivable!)
I can close my eyes and play Sonic the Hedgehog 2 — every track, every zone, every branching path memorized in acute detail. I did it, in fact, before writing this piece. My mobile phone (with a brilliant copy of the game, interestingly, downloaded on it) far away in another room, I rested on my bed and pressed the power button on the Sega Genesis of my mind. Zoned in, I gripped the familiar Genesis controller as I would in a dream or a trance. The ubiquitous SAYYY-GA chant, love it or hate it, greeted my ears. The sparkles and chimes, unique to the title screen, soon broke the black – Sonic and Tails jumped into the frame like total goofs, and before I knew it I was off to the races. Removed from my much more pleasurable life with an amazing wife (plus two cats), intriguing education, good career, deep spiritual life, and pursuit of writing, I would make a good Sonic 2 speedrunner.
Inadvertently Speedrunning Life
As a kid, through repeated playthroughs, constant mistakes, and critical failure, a pattern began to emerge. Sonic 2 taught me, more than strict parents or a highly, highly challenging social life, that nothing ever comes easy.
At first, unable to comprehend the finer mechanics of game design, I looked at this as a curse. I comprehended that the goal was to make it to the end of the act as quickly as possible, but it took an enormous amount of practice to dodge all of the enemies, an intelligent grasp of the physics of the game to build a sustainable pace, and a lot of good luck throughout each run. Why didn’t they make the game easier? I constantly asked myself this as a nine or ten-year-old, without noticing all the while I was shaving seconds off of my total time.
Those questions paralleled very similar ones in my own life. Why must individuals constantly go to blows with each other just to get what they want? Why couldn’t we live in a utopia where people are free to explore their naturally artistic hearts unrestricted? I was starting to get to the age where I noticed nature’s constant competition, while at the same time I was learning the skills needed to be competitive. At some point — I feel like I may have been doing a quiz in my fourth grade classroom — my daily adventures through Sonic 2 and my real-life desire to learn collided and I had a revelation.
Anything is possible with enough planning and determination, but to accomplish my goals I must strive to improve constantly. This realization marked when I became stupidly good at Sonic 2 — imagine an eleven-year-old blasting through each act of the first three zones in under a minute. I would consult online guides, which were still in their infancy — usually text-based on GameFAQs. I would use debug mode to analyze each branching path, attempting to crack the code of how to access a new, faster, section of the course. I would doodle sketches of the levels in class, planning with architectural precision how to bypass a slow section as quickly as possible.
Something else happened as well, something wonderful. The attitude of knowing that anything is possible translated one-to-one into real life. I began applying the lessons I learned to all aspects of daily experience. I viewed every math problem and every multiple choice quiz question as an obstacle to overcome, as if in a video game. By fifth grade, I was reading at a twelfth grade level, understanding the works of Bradbury, Tolkien, and Rowling with great cognizance. And, while I struggled mightily with the social aspects of life as a child — it would take until university to unlock that part of myself — the gamification of obstacles is an element of my childhood that has only been strengthened and fortified in the present.
My parents would often laugh at me as I desperately tried to explain that video games improve lives. My dialectic discussion of how they helped improve spacial orientation, reaction time, and problem solving skills — Sonic 2 is a master class in all three — must have sounded outlandish coming from a child. I do not necessarily blame my parents for this short-sightedness, as culture often passes off new technologies as harmful. However, I do wish they had cross-referenced my perfect grades with my passion for becoming remarkably efficient at games for my age.
Pulled Into Focus
My dad once said, “you have got to stop living in this ‘Sonic-world’ of yours.” I’m forced to disagree, the “Sonic world” gave me my sense of aesthetics. It may seem a little strange, but there is one final feature of Sonic the Hedgehog 2 that defined my life: this game is drop-dead gorgeous. It does not even matter that it the game will be celebrating its 26th birthday this month, it will always be one of the most aesthetically appealing games to my brain which so fondly values geometric precision and vibrant colors.
These are not glamor shots or tech demos, but rather screenshots of the original game. In modern games, I’m completely unconcerned with spectacular graphics, but Sonic the Hedgehog 2 far exceeds any game that had ever come before it. Still, it’s not the technical impressiveness of the graphics that I adore so much. Rather, the style is what blows me away. As a child, the exhilarating speed and gameplay of Sonic 2 defined me. But as an adult, the graphical style of the masterpiece is what truly adds to the substance of my life.
Some may say all of the bright colors look gaudy at first, and removing myself to become an independent observer, I completely understand why. When not invested in the game, the constant input of colors can be overwhelming in a very similar manner to the aforementioned blinding light that pierces the darkness. That sensation quickly subsides, however, as you rub your aching eyes and truly invest yourself in the experience. I am a graphic designer by trade, and the straight-line geometry and color coordination that went into the game continues to impress me. Each stage has little details and patterns that fit together like an unforeseen art piece. The skill in which the visual elements of this game are assembled always put my mind at ease and gave me a strong sense of stability when I had few other sources.
My final takeaway is this: those pixel size portions of your life on your bar chart mean more than you know. It may not seem in the moment like something so non-essential as a video game can be instrumental in providing foundations in essential elements of identity, but until you scale that mountain and look down from above, you don’t realize how important your little adventures are. You envision the things you’ve accomplished in life spread across the landscape below, and with them you see the assemblage of small things which bring you to those milestones. When I look down at my life, I see a tiny amount of Sonic the Hedgehog 2 in most of the things that have happened to me. Therefore, because of how influential the game is to my development to this point, I would not trade those lightning-fast romps across West Side Island for the world.
- 0 | Adventure Map
- 1 | Mr. Backlog · Mr. Backlog | The Bard’s Tale
- 2 | GG · Hungrygoriya | Faxanadu
- 3 | Kim · Later Levels | The Secret of Monkey Island
- 4 | Matt · Normal Happenings | Sonic the Hedgehog 2
*YOU ARE HERE*
- 5 | The3rdPlayer · 3PStart | Zombies Ate My Neighbors
- 6 | Amanda · Imaginating Life | Myst
- 7 | Justin · TWOTALL4UFOOL | Donkey Kong Country
- 8 | The Well-Red Mage · The Well-Red Mage | Breath of Fire II
- 9 | Shauna · HideNGoShauna | NIGHTS Into Dreams
- 10 | Murr · geeksleeprinserepeat | Pokemon Red/Blue
- 11 | The Gaming Diaries · The Gaming Diaries | Crash Bandicoot
- 12 | Ryan · Games With Coffee | Final Fantasy VII
- 13 | Luke · Hundstrasse | Resident Evil 2
- 14 | Ellen · LividLightning | Banjo Kazooie
- 15 | Megan · A Geeky Gal | Spyro the Dragon
- 16 | Victor · The Modern Gafa | Digimon World
- 17 | Alex · The Purple Prose Mage | Warcraft III
- 18 | Jan · The Life of Jan | World of Warcraft
- 19 | Heather · Just Geeking By | World of Warcraft
- 20 | Nikki · Normal Happenings | Animal Crossing
- 21 | Chris · OverthinkerY | Kingdom Hearts
- 22 | Ian · Adventure Rules | Paper Mario: The Thousand Year Door
- 23 | Pix1001 · Shoot the Rookie | Guitar Hero
- 24 | Michael · Git Gud at Life | BioShock
- 25 | KT · Wintendo 64 | Metroid Prime 3: Corruption
- 26 | Kathy · Krysanthe | Wizard 101
- 27 | Khinjarsi · Upon Completion | Fallout 3
- 28 | Ruubin · FTWRuubin | Borderlands
- 29 | Will · geeksleeprinserepeat | DayZ
- 30 | Alyssa · Nerd Side of Life | The Sims 4
- 1 | Zerathulu · The Zerathulu View | Starcraft
- 2 | Imtiaz · Power Bomb Attack | Super Metroid
- 3 | Teri Mae · Sheikah Plate | Legend of Zelda: Ocarina of Time
- 4 | Skylar-Mei · gamergal.exe | Guild Wars 2
- 5 | ??? · ??? | It’s a Secret to Everybody
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This collaboration took an overwhelming amount of time and dedication from 34 exceptionally creative, incredible makers! Help us with the resources to make more, even better, collaborations in the future! We also have aspirations of developing a podcast called Normal Talks about optimistically appreciating everyday life! Please consider becoming a patron of Normal Happenings and help us try to make the world a better, more positive place!