Part and parcel of moving to a new area (be it the next town over or moving halfway across the world) is making an effort to meet new people. It can be as simple as inviting your elderly neighbour round for a slice of ginger cake and a cup of PG Tips, or as difficult as facing the chaos of Fresher’s Week* on starting university in a new town. Typically, if you’re a bit riper in years than the average vodka-chugging, cheesy chips ‘n’ gravy-guzzling undergrad, or your neighbours are a little on the bitey side, a good option is to throw yourself into clubs and hobby groups.
This is ideal if you’re an aspiring athlete or have some sort of creative talent that lends itself to practising in groups; video gaming doesn’t really fit into either of these categories very easily. Sure, there are many games that are best enjoyed through local multiplayer, but you can’t exactly bring a Nintendo 64 to the pub or gather round a stranger’s house to battle away (at least not without fear of kidnap/worse). I personally think it would be great to have more book group set-ups. but using video games as source material, though it would probably not work as well as one would hope, given the relative expense of some titles compared to books and the relative times taken to finish them.
However, there is the odd glimmer of hope for us lone gamers who have to content ourselves with 1P shenanigans most of the time: conventions, flea markets and other meet-ups. Super Zokker Day falls into this miscellaneous category; it is an occasional event held for retro gamers, during which a small music hall (the “Stellwerk”) is kitted out with a bunch of CRT TV screens and retro consoles. For the princely sum of 7 euros (6 euros for students), you can borrow games from an impressive library with no extra charges, and play to your heart’s content (provided the console you wish to play on at the time is unoccupied). This is a particularly exciting opportunity for those of us who are young enough not to have had the chance to play on some of the major retro gaming consoles, and for those of us who have had beaten-up Mega Drives and Xboxes consigned to the rubbish bin.
Perhaps the biggest critique of my experience (and my only major one) traces back to before the event even began: I could not for the life of me find the venue for an hour and a half after landing at the nearby U-Bahn stop. A combination of Hannoversche Straße being the most twisty-turny singular street I’ve ever had the misfortune of trying to traverse, Harburg being an area of town that I’m unfamiliar with (a northside girl venturing into unknown southside territory!) and Google Maps being a dick meant that I walked 10 minutes in the wrong direction, then went round in circles. After bumping into an equally-perplexed attendee, we eventually managed to find out that the Stellwerk venue was actually in Hamburg-Harburg train station. IN the train station. It actually gave the venue an unexpected brooding basement atmosphere, which was really the perfect place to play retro games, but it was a nightmare to find first time around.
However, I finally arrived there, got my hand stamped and walked into the pit of consoles. By the time I arrived (5pm – 90 minutes in), there were quite understandably not very many free consoles, but I didn’t have to wait very long at all for a console to be freed up, and other players were generous enough to offer me a go. It seemed that the capacity-console ratio had been judged pretty well, as I never really saw many people sat waiting for consoles to become available. I also had the opportunity to cycle through all of the consoles on offer; the only ones I passed up on were the Atari 2600 (it intimidated me!) and the PS1 (since I am mainly a Playstation blogger, it would have clearly been a wasted opportunity to sit there playing a console I already have). The consoles I did get to sample were the N64, GameCube, Xbox, Mega Drive/Genesis and SNES.
Usefully, I got to sample the start of Eternal Darkness: Sanity’s Requiem. In future, I may make sure that I arrive early enough to quickly try some single-player stuff, to see if any of it is suitable for reviewing purposes. Eternal Darkness looked promising.
The system for borrowing the games and using the various consoles was fair and well thought-out. The consoles were already set up next to CRT TVs spread around the room, while the games library and the controllers for the consoles were kept at a central desk. You could go up and take out games/controllers or swap at will, but all of it was noted down. Furthermore, while you had something on loan, be it Sonic the Hedgehog for the Mega Drive or Digimon for the PS1, you had to leave your ID card behind, both as proof of identity but also to make sure you didn’t waltz off with the merch and spoil the whole event. There were a couple of hiccups here and there, with people forgetting to pick up their ID cards after handing everything in and confusion as to which consoles were actually free, but it was all ironed out relatively quickly. I was swapping and changing games what seemed like every 15 minutes with complete ease, and I was always met with a friendly face at the service desk.
Simpsons Hit and Run for the Xbox was a revelation, given that I grew up with two of the worst Simpsons games known to man: Simpsons Wrestling and Simpsons Skateboarding.
Stellwerk’s bar was also open throughout, so I could enjoy a cold beer with my games on an equally chilled Saturday afternoon. Added to the dimmed lighting, I felt exactly like I was squatting in someone’s basement, poring over their obsessively accrued games collection – but being allowed to touch everything! It was brilliant, instructive and, most importantly, a whole load of fun. I got to try games I’d played years ago but never touched since, games I’d always meant to play but never got round to trying, and games I’d not really heard of before but thought looked interesting. Something like this event is particularly cool for those who review in their spare time or even as a job, since it is a haven of enlightenment when looking for new material.
Note the CRT screens balancing on beer crates, for that extra “Shhh, my mum doesn’t know we’re down here!” ambiance.
I was a bit apprehensive about showing up, since I knew I was going to attend alone. I was concerned that it would be an event centred around groups of friends, and I would find myself frozen out, both due to my anxiety around new people and due to not having friends to play with. I needn’t have worried, as while the activity tended to centre around groups of friends playing together, people quickly noticed the couple of instances when I was stood awkwardly and helped me to join in on the action. I ended up playing a few games of Super Smash Bros Melee and Mario Party 4 with two complete strangers, and had a blast doing it (even though I was wholly unfamiliar with the GameCube controller and therefore terrible at both games). The atmosphere was spot-on in the sense that while there was some light-hearted banter when people won/lost, it was all very friendly and welcoming. It was a meet-up for enthusiasts, rather than for experts, which is to be commended.
Giant Waluigi will end us all.
However, I’ve missed out one of the most exciting parts of the event: the competitions played out on the big projector screen at the front of the venue, in front of all of the attendees. The first competition consisted of several bouts of Pokemon Stadium for the N64. I merrily put my name down and my opponent, Lucas (no, not this one), was an excellent sport, showing me the ropes regarding the N64 controller. We each had 2 minutes to select our teams (I tried to pick a well balanced team, this meaning varied strengths and also the purdiest Pokemon), and then we whittled down our full teams to 3 Pokemon, to battle off against each other. Lucas’ Gengar was an utter killing machine and made short work of my poor Psyduck (Enton auf Deutsch)/Arcanine/Squirtle dream team. We shook hands; Lucas went on to take 2nd place in the later Mario Kart showdown, so it was a proud failure on my part.
I took part in this Mario Kart bout, but unfortunately came in last place. I’d like to think this is because of it being one of my first times experiencing a Nintendo 64 game, but it’s probably just because I’m terrible. Oh well!
The night was wrapping up with a big-screen game of Worms (in honour of its recent 20th anniversary) when I crept away, all gamed out for one day. There was an after-party with “trash music” (i.e. quality cheese) and more gaming fun to be had, but I was just too tired to stick around and experience it – maybe next time. Overall, it was a great afternoon/evening that gave me the opportunity to sample a whole bunch of games which I’ve not yet had the opportunity to play. I even met some fellow gamers and got to test my skills against other avid retro fans (alas, it just confirmed my awfulness). I’ll definitely be swinging by for the next one, and so should you if you happen to be in the north of Germany. If not, look out for similar events around your neck of the woods, or even organise your own! Anything to bring retro nerds together is a good idea in my book.