The early days of online gaming with SNES and Sega
August 17, 2007
My friend, Neil, he really liked to brag. He was one of my best friends, but boy could he really make you feel jealous.

He'd be spouting off about whatever newest technology his parents had bought him, and I'd be all like, hell, I want that.

Usually, I just deflected it, but one day I went over to Neil's house, and he showed me this new contraption for SNES and Sega called an XBAND: this novelty device with the ability to hook you up with an opponent through your phone lines.

This was during the time (1994-95), when the Internet was a novelty, and my mind was blown by things like chat rooms. And Neil goes and shows me something incredible like XBAND.

"It's great," he said, "but it'd be better if you got one too."

The both of us being only children, it was a lonely life of video gaming by ourselves. Playing against the computer on Mario Kart was cool, but it only intrigued you for just so long.

You wanted flesh and blood opponents, even if you couldn't actually see them, and this is why XBAND was so great. It was the earliest popular version of a gaming online community for SNES and Sega.

There were times when me and Neil would avoid getting together so that we could play each other through the phone lines. Pretty dorky.

I guess it was antisocial in that way, but I met a whole lot of other interesting folks and got my ass kicked at Kirby's Avalanche in the process.

The main reason, though, that Neil wanted me to get an XBAND, and this could have something to do with the device's eventual demise, was because there weren't that many people to play against.

If you got the basic package: 50 credits a month and no long distance calling, well, you'd be sitting at your Nintendo or Sega for 20, 30 minutes waiting for an opponent once you logged in to the system.

Obviously, you could only link up with others who had XBAND for a particular system, and they had to be trying to link up with that particular game, and it had to be within your area code (unless you wanted to pay out the ass for long distance).

So, if you were lucky, you could plug into the phone line and find an opponent pretty quick. But that would only happen every now and then, and you HAD to be playing a popular game to find an opponent in any reasonable amount of time.

I remember XBAND tried this experimental use of Mario World after a while. If you dialed in to XBAND with Mario World in your SNES then it would treat the cartridge as a chat room.

That's right, instead of playing against somebody, you'd just fumble around on the shitty excuse for an on-screen keyboard and shoot the shit with a potential child molester.

But there were halfway normal people on there I guess too. Most of their screen names were variations of dirty words or monikers full of innuendo. After all, it was mostly 4th and 5th graders playing I'm sure.
Names like "DeBoner" and "Mike Hawk" were not uncommon.

Rivalries got a little heated from time to time during my six-monthlong XBAND stint. There was one kid who lived about 10 miles from me, and he would always play me at Mario Kart, and I kicked the crap out of him most of the time.

Problem was, he was a "puller." That is to say if I was beating the aforementioned crap out of him, and he thought that failure was imminent in a given match he would "pull" the plug on his system.

This caused both systems to freeze up, and you'd lose your credit (quite valuable if you didn't have unlimited credits), and you wouldn't get to chalk up a victory.

And winning was damn important. Every time you won a game of anything (NBA Jam, Kirby's Avalanche, Killer Instinct, Mortal Kombat) you got another click on your running tally stamped right next to your screen name for everybody to see.

And the number of points you had from online victories could qualify you for certain benefits. There were clubs you could join. And these clubs had initiation rites.

That's correct. If you wanted to be a member of one of these clubs, you had to get a digital tattoo on your screen name.

My screen name was "Machine" on XBAND, but when I joined an XBAND club called XP, I had to change my screen name to "Machine XP." And joining these XBAND clubs meant you had a reputation to uphold.

If you started screwing up and doing poorly: losing games or, God forbid, PULLING, you'd be stripped of your colors and have to go it renegade. And XBAND's a lonely place to go it renegade.

So me and Neil spent the better part of a summer not hanging out physically, but playing each other at Mario Kart through the phone lines, and even cussing each other out afterward.

Sometimes a telephone call was in order after a heated battle that went on for 30 minutes, and you even had the opportunity to chat with your opponent afterward.

It was good manners to simply key in the acronym: "gg," meaning "good game" after a match, but me and Neil cussed each other up and down, and I guess that was an advantage. You could cuss and nobody'd hear you.

Except for that one time when Neil's dad walked into his room while I was calling him a heap of undulating something or other. That didn't go to well.

But the heyday of XBAND came and went quickly. So quickly. I've all but completely forgotten about it. It's just a blip.

Me and Neil still talk about it to this day, though. We're both like mid 20s now, so I guess you could call that living in the past. But who gives a hell. XBAND was rad, and it laid some tracks for popular online gaming.
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