When I was in middle school I would make sport of searching the house around Christmas time in an effort to uncover my gifts prior to the big day. Perhaps I’m just not big on surprises but I would make it my quest to find as many presents as possible and enjoyed the foreknowledge of what I would receive that holiday in advance. In December of 1997 there was one item in particular that I desired greatly and simply knowing I would have it was not enough. Filled with greed and impatience I had to satiate my cravings post haste.
It all began on December 24, 1996. To no surprise I received a Sony PlayStation for Christmas which is something I had debated over for several weeks and ultimately asked for. I was excited, and who wouldn’t be? It was my newest video game console and I was extremely eager to play it. The effect soon wore off however. After only a few short months I was tired of the clunky 32 bit system that was primarily known for JRPG’s and decided that I was interested in several of the latest offerings for the Nintendo 64. In the summer of 1997, with my grass cutting money in hand I purchased the coveted system with the ambition of playing the updates to childhood favorites I had enjoyed in years past.
I was fortunate to whittle away the summer and fall months in front of our TV playing Super Mario 64 and Mario Kart 64. Then in December of 1997 I spent the night at a friend’s house. This was a fateful night for me as I was exposed to several games that would define the 5th generation of gaming in my eyes. Two of the games I was exposed to at that sleep over were Goldeneye 007 and Star Wars: Shadows of the Empire. Both quickly made my short list of must own titles. Although Goldeneye was the superior game I had always been a mark for the Star Wars franchise and was actually more interested in Shadows at that juncture.
About a week after that sleep over I embarked on my yearly expedition to uncover my Christmas gifts. The journey began in my parents bedroom while the house was devoid of other habitants. Location 1 was the closet. There I found a board game called NFL-OPOLY. That surely wasn’t what I was looking for so the search continued to my father’s shirt drawer. Inside I found three VHS tapes: Fletch, Big, and Top Dog. Blast the luck. I then proceeded to the sock drawer and found a rectangular cellophane sealed box titled “Star Wars: Shadows of the Empire”. Holy smokes! My eyes must have grown larger than Jupiter at that moment as the realization sunk in that the coveted game would soon be in my possession! I respectfully replaced the box and left the room with a smile that wouldn’t fade.
Days later I decided that knowing I would soon own the game simply was not enough. I craved the action packed gameplay and exploration of the Star Wars universe and began to ponder actually playing the game. This would be a daring endeavor the likes of which I had never before had the intestinal fortitude to attempt. Was there actually any way to open the game without leaving any evidence of the deed? I sat and contemplated in my bedroom. Dad was out of the house and my mom had mentioned that she would be gone shopping for several hours. If there was a time to get away with something, this was certainly it.
I went into my dad’s sock drawer to fetch the title. I removed the box and marveled at it, studying the photos printed onto it’s surface and reading the game description. At this point I was too tempted to play to resist the urge. Taking the box into the kitchen I grabbed an X-Acto knife and breathed deeply as I committed to make my move. I gently pierced the cellophane where the box would open, lifted the flap of shrink wrap gently, and opened the side of the box. I slid the cardboard tray out and removed the cartridge from it’s prison. I then ran into the living room and inserted the software into my Nintendo 64 and proceeded to play for two hours.
When playtime was over I had to decipher a way to replace the game and reseal it so that no one would be the wiser. I slid the game back into the box and carefully folded the cellophane wrap back into position. I then placed a thin piece of clear scotch tape over the box opening and appraised my work. No one would notice the breech of the shrink wrap unless they audited the packaging carefully. Knowing that my mother would only pick it up quickly to wrap it I was satisfied with my work and placed the game back into it’s hiding spot.
Over the course of the next week I continued unwrapping and playing the game while home alone until tragedy struck. In an act of carelessness I had accidentally torn some of the factory cellophane off! “Well, maybe if I tear it so that it is a clean cut I can do something with it.” Fiddling with it in this manner only made the situation worse as I watched myself tear half of the shrink wrap off of the box. I would surely get caught now! There was nothing I could do but own up to my actions; or was there? I took a box of Reynolds wrap from our kitchen drawer and covered the game packaging with it. I then used some clear scotch tape to hold everything in place and used a hair dryer to tighten the Reynolds wrap and cause it to shrink. Pitiful. Surely anyone with half a brain would notice that one side of the box had tight shrink wrap and the other half looked rather loose. I also noticed that one side of the wrap had a different tactile feel than the other and the tape was clearly visible. My only option was to replace the game and pray that my mom would wrap it in such a hurry that she wouldn’t notice.
Lucky for me she must only have half a brain. Two days later I found a gift wrapped box the same shape and dimensions of the game I had secretly played underneath our tree. She didn’t notice! Wow had I dodged a major bullet. Now all I had to do was wait until Christmas and I could play the game to my heart’s content. So badly did I want this game that despite knowing I would own it only a few weeks later I still decided to rent it from our local Blockbuster Video in the interim.
When the big day finally arrived I opened the game and ripped my shoddy reseal job off faster than Lex Luger went through hypodermic needles. Just as quickly I eliminated the evidence. I was safe. I had pulled off this heinous crime and now rightfully owned the game I so badly desired. It provided me with many hours of entertainment from that day forward both in actual gameplay and memories.
I still own my original copy and although I may not recall all of the secret locations or cheat codes I will certainly never forget the lengths I went to in order to play the game clandestinely. Although it has faded from the memories of most old school gamers I will always hold it in high regard with fond thoughts and a warmness in my heart as it was the star attraction in one of the great adventures of my childhood.