We’re pairing 8-bit music thematically, rather than based entirely on series. You can find this track and more Tater-Tot Tunes on YouTube! Stop by and Sonic Jam to some great tunes.
Normal Happenings is proud to present The Characters That Define Us, a year long collaboration of 52+ incredible bloggers!
The two veteran collab contributors today have very good tastes in characters, and in this piece we’re treated to an incredible entry on perhaps the favorite character from my childhood: Miles “Tails” Prower. It’s also written by one of my favorite bloggers, Matt from 3PStart!
Matt reflects on life through the inspiration of popular culture, so it’s a blog you should be reading. Matt has also contributed to both The Games That Define Us and Tracking Shells in pieces that are well-worth reading.
Let’s get to the next great piece in our Sonic block!
Let’s face facts for a moment: I was an only child. As a result, I found that I had very little to relate to outside of pop culture. I can name plenty of characters in comic books and from television that I wanted to be like; that is, after all, how plenty of us learned our values and set our sights on being the people we aspired to be. When push came to shove, though, I was sort of an outcast at a young age. I had some friends, but once grade school started, I was a typical “new kid” since I had just moved to a small town where everyone seemed to know each other. Eventually, as they usually did during my adolescence, video games broke those barriers, giving my family and other kids a connection point to come together on.
As someone who felt like an outlier, though, I empathized easily with characters who identified the same way. I was a huge fan of the X-Men, April O’Neil was my favorite Ninja Turtle — if they were a sidekick or not a part of regular society, I gravitated toward them. When my parents wound up getting me a Sega Genesis for my birthday, I fell in love with the original Sonic the Hedgehog. While I was a Nintendo kid originally, as soon as Sonic showed up, I became obsessed with the game, following him through the Green Hill Zone and saving animals as his sidekick, despite the fact that I was the one controlling him.
Then, in 1992, Sonic the Hedgehog 2 hit the shelves. Shortly after, it hit my Genesis. Along with it came a character that would resonate with me for years to come, despite having very little development in his first outing: Miles “Tails” Prower.
At the beginning, Tails starts out as Sonic’s sidekick which was something I already related to, both because of playing the original game and because in life, I kind of felt like the sidekick to the people around me. Bear in mind that I don’t say that in a derogatory sense- I loved sidekicks and still love them to this day. To me, though, Tails was even cooler than Sonic because he could fly, he could run into things that would take one of Sonic’s lives and still come back, and he could keep up with the Blue Blur just as easily.
Of course as I kid, I had no idea what the word “moderation” meant. Tails was suddenly everywhere in my house. I watched the Sonic cartoons to see what he was up to. I doodled plenty as a kid, and you can bet I have a pile of Tails pictures alongside all the others I mentioned above. He was even plastered across my snowmobile helmet after I begged my mom to paint him on the back of it. That little two-tailed daredevil was one of my heroes.
The fun thing about Tails is that as I grew up, so did he. In his first outing, he followed Sonic like a shadow (no, not the Shadow) but that wasn’t his entire personality. Through his graphical design, you could tell he was determined and ambitious- you could see it in his little pixelated face whenever he’d run behind his role model. When it came time for Sonic 3, though, he got his own time to shine. I could actually play as “the quintessential sidekick”.
Ten-year-old Matt was having a field day.
If I had to wager a guess, I’ve probably played more of the third Sonic the Hedgehog– most likely with the “& Knuckles” add-on cartridge- than I played any other Sega game growing up. It didn’t matter that I never got all of the Chaos Emeralds or that I wouldn’t always make it to the final showdown with Dr. Robotnik. What mattered to me was that I got to play as this tenacious little tagalong who finally had the confidence to break away and try to save his planet on his own. Honestl, that might have been the first time that I started to feel a sense of confidence about myself that I can remember. I wasn’t just the sidekick to someone else’s Sonic; I was main character material.
As Tails (and really, the entire Sonic universe) grew, I was also growing into myself. I missed out on Tails’ first solo adventure, never actually owning a Game Gear. Sadly, I wouldn’t stumble onto Tails’ Adventure until years later where Sega had started laying the groundwork for the little fox to have personality traits- he was an inventor and a technological whiz. I wouldn’t realize it until Sonic Adventure was released on the Dreamcast, but he was being set up to be “the smart one”. Sonic was the cool and courageous guy, Knuckles was taciturn and physically tough, and Tails was the boisterous genius.
I’m sure it’s not a huge surprise, but as a kid growing up with great grades, a desire to learn, and who wasn’t afraid to exercise his intelligence, I was made fun of a lot. Being smart in grade school is a label that can brand you for mockery for years to come, and I made no motion to hide how bright I was. Of course, I was still self-conscious about it. Being a kid who loves nerdy things and gets good grades and wants to talk about them to anyone willing to listen? I was equal parts anxiety and excitement at a young age. You know who had the same personality and qualities that I experienced as I grew up?
That’s right. Miles “Tails” Prower.
Tails wasn’t made fun of for his smarts or his occasional drifts into technical jargon. His friends might not always understand him, but they valued him as someone they could count on and who would be there for them. He was always a part of the team; rarely was Tails left out of some adventure because of his optimistic temperament or his brain power. On the flip side of things, I tended to find myself alone. I’d hang out with a friend or two here or there, but before high school, I spent a lot of time being ridiculed by people I considered “friends”.
The lesson probably sank in a bit later than I’d like to admit, but all of this pointed back to the fact that Tails surrounded himself with people who appreciated him for who he was. You can’t trace back to his origin for that- Sonic wasn’t a huge fan of his young admirer following him around everywhere, at first- but Tails and the gang supported each other as more games released and the Sonic universe expanded. Disagreements they had were fleeting and each member of their gang, whether they were a part of the game universe’s crew or even the Freedom Fighters from the ABC Saturday morning cartoon, recognized each others’ strengths and qualities. There may have been a lack of choice for other talking animals to spend his time around, but Tails knew how to pick caring and healthy friendships. That’s a quality I’m still a little envious of- but it’s a work in progress.
Even listening to his theme song from Sonic Adventure, “Believe in Myself”, puts me in a good mood and perfectly encapsulates what I enjoy about Tails that resonates with me so much. To briefly sum up the lyrics, the song comes from the point of view of someone who wants to be respected and well-regarded but also needs to believe in their talents and what makes them unique. It’s about trying not to compare yourself to others even when you’re pursuing the same dreams and going through some of the same motions as them. If that doesn’t express an ideal that should be adhered to by, say, a blogger in a sea of other amazing and talented writers, I don’t know what does. Given my past with constant theatre auditions, writing submissions, screenplay work, and plenty of other creative endeavors, this is another lesson I’ve learned maybe a bit too late throughout my life. It’s also one that I’ve tried hard to live up to and failed more than a handful of times. Hard not to feel empathy with a character who has transformed from someone desperate to bask in the glow of his hero to someone who wants to be satisfied with his own accomplishments and is working toward giving off his own luminescence.
Now that I’ve gotten older, my “roads of life” have taken me past my phase of idolizing fictional characters and into the era of appreciating them and analyzing them. It’s not all that different in the end- really, I still find reminders in some characters of the kind of person I want to be and can still relate to plenty of imaginary folks since that’s a big part of enjoying any media to me- but Tails isn’t all over my house and game systems anymore. I’d be lying if I said that I wasn’t looking at a small stuffed Tails doll that my best friend from college bought me for Christmas a few years ago, sitting next to my computer monitor and urging me to write more. I don’t think I’ll ever truly let good of some of my childhood habits and aspirations and that’s not a bad thing. Even playing more recent games like Sonic Generations and Sonic Forces, I gravitate toward Tails and his earnest desire to help people with the resources he has at his disposal: his smarts, his determination, and a whole ton of mechanical know-how and gadgets. The difference lies in the fact that I don’t want to be him like I did when I was young. I don’t envy him the way I did for a time, either.
I’ve learned my lessons from him. Like plenty of other characters I grew up with, he gave me something to work toward and sharpened my ability to become a better person with good intentions and a hard work ethic. Now, playing games with him in them gives me fond and familiar feeling. It feels like looking back at my past and seeing how far I’ve come on my own while visiting with an old friend. That might sound cheesy or a little childish to some folks but you know what?
I’m happy that I can be a little cheesy and childish sometimes.
Adventure Map! *FINISHING UP!*