It was rapidly approaching my tenth birthday and I knew that a milestone, such as the celebration of the first decade of my existence, would warrant an extra special present that year. I had never gone without as a child, but I was far from spoilt and this year I could take some extra liberties with my gift request. So I grabbed the Argos catalogue and delved into the Toy section, scanning the pages for that extra special something that would distract me from the stresses of the world, because as a nine year old there are obviously way too many things to be stressed over. But then I came to the page that made my eyes widen; the video games section!!! Consoles weren't the must have accessory in 1992 that they are now and I knew hardly anyone that had one. I had never thought about asking for one before, I was always content with action figures, but recently I had found them to be appealing and I knew the time was right to explore the world of pix elated characters. I skipped past the Nintendo straight to the big blue four letter word that ushered me in like a siren - SEGA. At that age I couldn't really tell the difference between the Mega Drive and Master System, but I knew that the former was a lot more expensive than the latter and I also knew better than to push my luck when asking for gifts. So I asked for a SEGA Master System II, I marked the page in the Argos book for my Mum and I waited patiently for the 25th of January 1992.
It was a Saturday morning, so no school. No distractions. Whatever goodies awaited me downstairs wrapped in colourful paper that was soon to be shredded and scattered over the carpet, would be all mine, all day uninterrupted. I jumped out of my pit and ran downstairs to see a wrapped box on the living room table waiting for me. It was bigger than one of my Dads shoe boxes, but was that relevant? I was lucky enough to be given Castle Grayskull and Snake Mountain a few years prior and they were both bigger than the package that lay in front of me, but I had never seen a boxed console before and wasn't sure what to expect. There was nothing left to do but unwrap the gift and see if my 8-Bit fantasy was about to become a reality. The paper peeled away to reveal a white box with a grid pattern and it was soon clear to see that I had gotten what I wanted, a SEGA Master System II.
Ecstatic, I opened the box and pulled out the slick, black console with the curved letterbox shaped gate on the top of the machine. It was beautiful. I was still unaware of its capabilities, but with the help of my Dad it was hooked up to the television set and tuned in. I had no cartridges to go with it. The system was expensive enough as it was and I was extremely lucky to have it, so I wasn't going to push my luck and ask for additional games. Not that it mattered, there was a game built into the console called "Alex Kidd in Miracle World". I was set up and good to go and it was time for the moment of truth. I flicked the power switch to the on position and the snow on my TV screen changed to solid black and those big marvellous blue letters in that distinctive font spelled out SEGA across the middle. A tune then kicked in that would forever be indelibly lodged in my mind as part of the soundtrack of my life as the title screen prompted me to push the start button. Looking down at my control pad with all of its two buttons, the first of which was marked "Start", I shoved a pudgy digit toward it and the title screen disappeared making way for a map to unravel on the screen with a Lord of The Rings, fantasy style setting of caverns, lakes, volcanoes and castles. This was going to be fun.
The game itself was an absolute joy of colour and music. As Alex, you were on a quest to find and free your brother, Prince Egle, from the clutches of the evil Janken the Great. You fought your way through each level using the martial art of Shellcore to break rocks that blocked your path, open boxes that could contain useful a item or a dangerous obstacle and defeat enemies that were usually in the form of vicious animals. It seems that the Miracle World is not the safest place to be, especially amongst the wildlife as you defend yourself from birds, fish, octopi, frogs, bats, bulls, scorpions and monkeys amongst other various threats. You travelled across the levels mostly on foot, but some levels had you riding a motor bike, flying a helicopter or cruising in a speed boat to get to the end. Sometimes though, just getting to the end of the level wasn't enough as you had to face Janken's henchmen; Stonehead, Scissorhead and Paperhead in a deadly game of Rock, Paper Scissors before you could pass. At the end of each level you were rewarded with a tasty burger that you chomped on as the map reappeared to let you know which part of Miracle World you would be exploring next. It would be eleven months before I would be given another game to play, but I wasn't bothered as I spent hours engrossed in the adventures of Alex Kidd as I pushed closer to the end of the game each time. Little did I know that my life would be turned upside down before those eleven months were out.
My Mum had told me to play my computer game, which was odd as she was usually asking me to switch it off as I monopolised the TV time, but I wasn't one to look a gift horse in the mouth so on it went and Alex was there to greet me as I endevoured to accompany him on his adventures. There was arguing going on upstairs between my Mum and Dad. It wasn't unusual for them to be fighting. I had the door to the living room closed to block out noise from the rowing and I carried on with what I was doing. The noise got closer as my Mum and Dad came down stairs, but by now I could hear my Mum crying. Not just sobbing as if something had upset her, but hysterically bawling. My Dad had a suitcase with him and was standing by the front door. The next few moment are a bit of a blur to me, but I remember trying to ask Mum if she was ok and my Sister insisting that I carry on playing my game. It was confusing and upsetting, but as I said before, I had gotten used to the arguments and was almost becoming desensitised to it. This seems awful to me now, but my ten year old brain was unable to process what was happening. The front door opened, my Dad walked out, the front door closed and he was gone leaving behind a hyterical wife, his sixteen year old daughter who was desperatly trying to comfort her and me, his ten year old son who was scared, confused, but thankfully distracted by a computer game. How ridiculous is that? It seems so to me as I type this, but I often wonder what my reaction would have been if not for that distraction. I'll never know I suppose.
It didn't sink in for a long time. The details are still a blur, I can't remember when I was told that Dad had left, if it was the same day or if it was later on. I remember not being mad at my Dad for a long time as I didn't really realise the extent of the ramifications of his actions. He was my hero for the longest time, though looking back now, I can't remember why. He never took me to the park for a kick around, we never went to watch a live Wrestling show together. He worked hard from what I remember, but when he came home I seem to remember him spending an awful lot of time in front of the TV. I'm not bitter. In a way I am grateful to be able to learn from his mistakes and I hope that means that I won't be doomed to repeat them when I eventual become a father myself.
My Mum used to tell me that the theme tune for Alex Kidd in Miracle World, the song that fills me with joy whenever I hear it, used to make her sad after that day. It reminded her of the day her husband walked out on her.
It has been twenty years, almost to the day, that my Dad walked out on us. Most of those twenty years have been fairly difficult both finacially and emotionally, but if I could turn the clock back, with all the mistakes and regrets in my life, I wouldn't change that day. Knowing the man that my Father is now, I'm not sure if I necessarily would have wanted him to be the guiding hand through my teen years. I am happy with the man I have become, even if the path that got me here was less than ideal at times.
Twenty years on and Alex Kidd still means the world to me. I can finish the game in less than half an hour with a full caché of weapons in store and have fun with it the whole way. Though I will perhaps be forever grateful to it for being the beautiful distraction on the ugliest day of my life.