It’s incredibly easy for me to remember when I got the chicken pox. I was in third grade and a girl named Emily who was absent for a few days was running next to me at gym. She said she was absent because she had chicken pox and that I shouldn’t be so close to her because she was super contagious. But a few days later, I was sat at home for the whole week. For most people, the ordeal is irritating to no end: oatmeal baths, oven mitts, and physical anguish. But I can say with complete sincerity that getting the chicken pox was one of the most fun weeks I ever had.
Why you may ask? This all just happened to happen in late November of 1991, mere weeks after my birthday where I had gotten Super Nintendo, Super Mario World, and Road Runner’s Death Valley Rally. As you can imagine, it was a dream come true for my eight year old self. But school kept me busy to the point that I basically hadn’t really touched the system until then.
Perhaps it was simply the psychological distraction, the physical occupation of my fingers, or a mix of both, but for that whole week, I might as well have not been sick in the first place. Playing a Mario game as exciting as SMB3 without that evil Sun, Big Bertha, and other such difficulties for my young self was exhilarating. And in a time before the internet, being cut off from the more traditional networking of talking to friends during recess about game secrets, I was left to find keyholes, exits of ghost houses, and block buttons all on my own. By the end of that week, I had gotten somewhere in the Forest of Illusion where Wigglers and football players were too new and overwhelming for me. And that’s to say nothing of the entrance to the secret Cheese Bridge (or whatever that one where you have to get Yoshi past all those saws) that I didn’t yet know about.
It says something about the caliber of that game that I didn’t once touch Road Runner in that week. And that’s without going through two main worlds and that baffling star road and its 90s-slang-named conclusion. Realizing the utility of video games at this age provided me with amply fodder for the times my parents heckled me for spending so much time playing. I had been able to all but ignore a disease that all but crippled my sister when she subsequently caught it from me (at the insistence of my parents for her to “play with me” so she’d get it too, the ill-dispersers that they are). If there’s one thing I know from experience that video games can do – for better or worse – it’s that they keep idle hands and minds expertly distracted.