Y’know what’s scarier than dial-up connections? A dial-up connection hooked up to a Super Nintendo.
Let’s talk about a little thing called the XBAND.
My first exposure to the “online” world wasn’t through AOL or some other prehistoric PC net service. It was through the XBAND that I discovered the slack-inducing magic of interacting with other peeps by means of pixels and text. You slapped this thing into the cartridge port of your SNES or Genesis (SNES for me) and stuck the actual game into the slot on top of the modem. You could play a select few games on the thing, mostly fighting and sports games, and you were lucky to find someone to play with. The only game for it that I really liked was Super Street Fighter, and no one in my area played the game (I literally played, like, two matches the entire time the network was up.). Everyone was all about Killer Instinct. I kinda hated the game, but I had to buy it to take advantage of the fact that it was the only game local XBANDers played.
And yeah, you were limited to people in your local area unless you wanted to shell out cash for each long distance game. And there was no way a broke, jobless high school dude was gonna be able to afford that.
So, yeah, the actual gameplay was pretty shitty on the thing. What made the thing fun was the email and chat functions. It was the first time I had access to this sort of thing. I’d randomly email peeps if I thought they had a cool screen name or bio and talk with them about shit. The character count for each email was pretty damn small, so it was like Twitter if you could only tweet one person at a time.
But I’m writing this post mainly about the chat function. After you played a game, if you put in a secret code before the connection was severed (I think it was Up, Up, Up), you would start up a chat room with the person you just played. Unless you shelled out cash for the XBAND keyboard, you had to use the gamepad to type using the on-screen keyboard. And to make matters worse, it was all in real time. You didn’t type in a message and then hit “send,” everything you typed appeared as you typed it. If you said something, there was no going back. So you had to think ahead before you started plugging in shit.
For the most part, these conversations were idle chat between teenage and college dudes about the sort of shit guys talk about: video games, sports, and girls. I made a few buddies I’d talk to on a regular basis. But that shit isn’t worth an entire blog post. Nope. The XBAND is privy to another embarrassing, soul-crushing moment not unlike this one I wrote about awhile back.
I sucked at Killer Instinct. I would almost always lose against the peeps I played against. But there was one person who I would consistently defeat. Said person had a female avatar. Said person claimed to be female. Said person was pretty nice and all.
Said person also repeatedly wanted me to talk to her. As in call her on the phone. In real life. Even in the Paleozoic year of 1996, there was the assumption that everyone “online” was a guy, so there was that assumption running through my mind. But that isn’t what kept me from calling her up. At worst, I’d get pranked or something and the next time I saw the person on XBAND I’d probably get laughed at. I’d probably be mad but I’d get over it and laugh at it as well eventually. That alone would have made for an amusing story.
But no. That isn’t why I never took this person up on her offer. I didn’t call her because she claimed to be married. She said she was in her early 20s and was bored while her husband was off working, so she wanted someone to keep her company.
Yeah. I got propositioned for an affair over a online game of Killer Instinct. I’m pretty sure I’m the only person in history that can make that claim.