I’m pretty sure that I was one of only a handful of children equipped with a video game mindset who did not play Pitfall!. I didn’t play Pitfall! on the Atari. I didn’t play Pitfall! in the small, old-timey arcade in our local movie theatre. And I didn’t play Pitfall! at my friend’s house, despite the fact that her family had a killer Atari setup. The game was never in one my uncle’s famous mystery boxes that appeared at Christmas and a copycat of it never appeared on any one of a dozen 1001 Great Games on CD! CDs that we had. Oh, thanks to TV, I knew what Pitfall! was – jumping over crocodiles, avoiding scorpions, climbing ladders, etc. – but it simply never entered my life in a meaningful fashion. Not in 1982. Not in 1986. Not in 1992. Not ever.
Until…well, I want to say 2002 to make it all anniversary-like, but I think it was 2003 or 2004 when we picked up the Activision Anthology for the PlayStation 2.
Over 45 Radical Games in One(!) it proclaimed on the cover. At the time, grad-school-engulfed me wasn’t much of a champion of anything, except maybe having my own head up my ass while in school, so the thought of playing a bunch of silly retro games didn’t sit very well with me. (Besides, when the hell was I going to finish Super Mario Sunshine?! Uh, y’know…fucking never.) Upon reading the back cover of the game, two things caught my attention: Pitfall! was included among the games and the “Hit 80s Soundtrack.”
Damn if I’m not a sucker for The Alan Parsons Project. Alright, fine, #retro, you win.
But where do we go from there? In an ideal world, one might pick up a game, head home, pop the new game into the console, and start playing. But my world is faaaar from ideal. So although I can’t recount the specifics of that day, I do remember standing in line with my husband to get the game. I remember the game coming home. I remember spending approximately three minutes playing Pitfall! before becoming bored enough to want to do my schoolwork. Seriously. Why the hell did Pitfall! make such a splash back in the day? Why did any of the games in this anthology? More likely than not, I was probably in a sour mood on that day because I was always in a sour mood then. I moved on and the Activision Anthology ended up on the shelf with everything else.
Over the course of several years we moved, I grew less sour and started playing more games. I popped in Activision Anthology to the old, grindy PS2 every now and again just to give Pitfall! another shot. Each time, boredom quickly set in. My brains told me that I should try another game on the disk because why not? “Over 45 Radical Games in One” remember? Yeah, radical…games. Sure…fun. And then I spotted the Mega Man Anniversary Collection or Prince of Persia: The Warrior Within or something else more modern and less 8-bit and I got distracted. But my mind continued on that path as I think about playing some other game from the disk. Activision Anthology soldiered on with our forever-small video game collection and somehow survived approximately three hundred and seventy-four attempts at being traded or given away.
Several months ago, I turned my attention back to Metroid Prime, another game that eluded me the first time round. I set out to really beat the game and all its sequels, and, much to my likely impending dismay, The Other M. Initially I set myself up with Prime on our Wii, but things weren’t going too well, and I chalked that up to the fact that I was doing it wrong. In order get the full experience of taking Samus on another majestically challenging quest to face Ridley, I had to go semi-old school and play the game on the Gamecube as nature intended. So I pulled out from storage our little Gamecube, so cute, and squat, and square. (I had forgotten just how compact the thing was!) During the process, I also grabbed our almost-forgotten PlayStation 2 – a later slim version because the original PS2 bit the dust years ago. Last I recalled, the poor thing barely stammered to life when we tried to use it, and I wasn’t hopeful that the console would work at all now. But I retrieved all the necessary cables and accessories, rescued an old, fat television set that had been languishing in our garage, and set up a teensy-weensy gaming corner in my office.
I also culled together all the Gamecube and PS2 (and PS1) games that we had left. And I bet you can guess what I found as I was piling everything together…? Yep, you smarty-pants, you! Activision Anthology! Once I got the consoles hooked up the TV, I stopped for a bit before diving back into the world the Metroid Prime. Instead and without much forethought, I fired up the PlayStation 2. Much to my surprise, it worked! And it worked pretty damn well! Or, well…the home screen came up. But still, win! I considered which game to try out first, and opted to try an original PlayStation game: Street Fighter Alpha 3. It loaded up and played beautifully. In fact, I probably could have kept playing if I hadn’t had my Metroid goal in mind, but I moved on…but not before testing Activision Anthology, of course.
In when the disc, up came the game, and a glorious rush of memories came flooding back as Naked Eyes crooned softly in the background. As I cycled through Over 45 Radical Games in One, I realized something: I never had tried any of the other games on the disc! Not a single one. It was a strange realization and one that struck me as very odd in the moment. Because some thirty years ago, I would have tried any game, every game at least once. One playthrough, any game, just to see if I’d like it. Simple math for a kid that should be easily followed by a knowing adult, right? Not so much in my case, I guess. I further enhanced my stodgy nature by starting up Pitfall! for the umpteenth time. And my internal voice nagged.
Really? Again? Why do you hate yourself? You know you’re just going to get bored after a few minutes. Pitfall! just isn’t for you! Don’t give in!
As the game started I silently yelled SHUT UP, only to soon realize that fuck if the naggy-nag voice wasn’t right. Pitfall! was still boring. Jump, climb up, climb down, jump, hang, jump…shit. Bright, green, and dangerous, also…but mostly boring. It’s not a game for me. Despite it’s stature among classic games, it just isn’t. I tried, but no. No Pitfall!
Though you can bet your ass on a fine summer’s day what’ll happen if I play Activision Anthology in the future…
…goddammit Pitfall!. Why can’t I quit you!?