Friday, October 30, 2009
Zombie Girl Saved by Yo-Yo; Devil Defeated with Laughter
I became completely attached to and taught important life lessons by a computer game called Nightmare Ned at the tender age of eleven or twelve. It was a very special game.
I'd played my share of Magic School Bus (awesome), Dr. Quandary, Oregon Trail, Carmen Sandiego, etc, but this Ned was different. Less flashy. Deeper. More mature.
It came as one of those little cardboard-cased discs that was a really unexciting bonus surprise in the box with the computer game that your parents actually paid for, the one that you always carried around longingly at Costco that you didn't get until Christmas or your next birthday. You carried it anyway and pointed eagerly at the two tiny screenshots on the back of the box and tugged on your parents while imagining the hours and hours of delight the game would give you.
No cardboard sleeve game that snuck along in one of these boxes was ever played by me but one. And that was Nightmare Ned.
This particular cardboard sleeve game, NN, came in the box belonging to the original Disney Villains game, which I loved but wasn't totally enthralled by. I didn't really relate to it. I've never had a literal mad Queen of Hearts chase me through a badly animated whispering topiary maze, as unusual as that may sound. Neither have I, in real life, mixed any kind of potion or fought anyone with a sword...through arrow keys...and a spacebar. On a crappily animated pirate ship. And I'm pretty sure I never will. Strange right?
When I was on a break from the villains once, after a frustrating three hour sojourn into their dark but predictable world, my eleven-year-old self decided what the heck I'll go get myself a new plastic cup of rootbeer and fistful of pretzels and load that Nightmare Noodle or whatever the heck it's called game onto my computer and give it a go. It looks easier than this villains game, because the graphics look crappier. And it didn't cost $20 like crappy dumb Disney villains can't even beat Captain Hook with mindless clicking when I try a hundred times. Nightmare Ned didn't even cost anything and it doesn't look like there is any swordfighting.
Here. Watch the intro to Ned. It was too long of a paragraph to explain it myself. It's conveniently on YouTube. See if you don't fall 100% in love with Ned from the start. See if the music doesn't creep you right out.
Ned, after this intro, has five worlds to conquer and defeat in order to get out of his nightmares. They're set in the stereotypical environments an overly nervous little boy (or, overly dramatic little girl?) would worry about--his school, the echoing recesses of his home bathroom, a spooky haunted graveyard, a chilling attic, and a hospital. The school is Alcatraz-inspired, slanting, bars on windows; the bathroom is composed of toilets that want to eat you and electric razors acting like sharp-toothed rodents. The doctors in the hospital world are comically-animated corpses who plunge their hands into you to steal organs as you wheel rustily by on a gurney, there's also a demented dentist who shows up randomly to electrocute you with his drill. The attic is full of really eerie circus performers and odds and ends of furniture and tears of wallpaper across the walls. The graveyard is full of zombie moms, ghosts, funerals, and the most poignant part of the whole game, in my opinion: a tiny zombie girl clutching her knees and rocking in the corner of her room (some unexplained bedroom) while a bat with slitted eyes holds her nightlight hostage in an upper recess of the room.
You have to rescue it for her, being Ned, with your yo-yo.
You flick your yo-yo at the bat a few times, letting the creepy little guy know who's boss, and he eventually drops the nightlight and flutters annoyedly away. The positively eerie scene turns simply cheerful and the little zombie girl plugs her nightlight in to commence dancing around happily with a doll of hers.
Yes, Ned's weapon is a red yo-yo he holds in his pocket. Not the most powerful weapon you could imagine. But that's the point. The game was made for little children to play. I remember very recently sitting next to someone who remarked, as I space-barred and arrow-keyed my way through Ned's world, at how scary it was. He wondered how a little kid could play a game like that without having horrifying nightmares.
This is how.
Each world in the game has many different things you have to defeat with your yo-yo or your spellbinding wit. In your socks and purple boxer shorts. At the hospital, you win your organs back from a spinning Wheel of Organs and you get the chance to knock the dentist right in the face. In the bathroom, you have to make your way across a fleet of dancing rusty tubs, who are floating in the air. You have to jump, timing perfect, so that the rats throwing radios down into the tubs don't electrocute you. In the graveyard you pass a fleet of wisecracking ghosts, meet a skeleton in a smoking jacket who propels you out of his grave on a the lid of a jack-in-the-box, save the zombie girl, and defeat a big craggly monster with an exposed heart. At school you avoid trampling masses of students zooming around, connect with your personal bully, and wander through a blackboard maze with a teacher trilling times tables insanely in the background. The attic is definitely the most disturbing, and seems the most pointless, full of scary scary stuff, but you get to fly out of there in a car, so I believe it's ultimately worth the terror.
After each piece of darkness is defeated, there is a poof that appears in the air before Ned. From the poof comes animated sparkles (little plus signs) and after the sparkles appears a familiar figure in Ned's life. In the graveyard, it is his cheerful grandfather, in a pair of green and purple plaid pants, reassuring Ned and telling him everything is going to be OK. In the attic, it's a little girl named Sally that Ned knows from school. In the bathroom it's his toilet, which talks (strange, but strangely comforting) and at school, it's the bully who turns out to actually want friendship, although he definitely didn't know how to approach it. Ned politely asks the bully to quit calling him "Melonhead" and their friendship is off to a start. At the hospital, the familiar face is a nurse friend of Ned's.
They're all there to reassure, and while Ned acknowledges and faces his fears, he has an army behind him. He just doesn't know it's there, the army, until he's done. Which is important. He has to do it himself. But they're there all the same. And they show up when he needs them. And he gets out of his nightmares, and his parents wake him up in the morning.
Remember at the top where I was talking about Disney Villains not being relative to the life of a small child? It's true that I've never had a dream about dancing tubs or zombie girls, or been a little boy, just as I haven't fought villains, but it is true that I've been in situations seeming endlessly terrifying in which my own apparently useless childish/childhood strengths have come to great use in defeating great amounts of cloying darkness. And that is what Ned does, too.
And that's a great thing to remember. That one has the power to do that.
I went to see a play this week in which the antagonist character, who is actually a mercenary of Satan, who is named Mr. Dark, is actually defeated by laughter. Laughter, plain and simple. Laughter, with which the protagonist reminds himself that he is in charge of his own destiny, that the devil cannot Make Him Feel Sad. Cannot make him Die. Because behind that sadness, that darkness, there is always the light waiting to come out.
So that's what I learned from a little animated boy named Ned and the devil and some zombies and the UVU theater department this week.
And Happy Halloween.
at 3:59 AM