A strange phenomenon swept across the world in the Summer of 1997. It continued through the subsequent months, getting substantially worse over the festive period and stretching on through 1998 and beyond.
Streets fell quiet. Park benches, supermarket car parks (after hours) and McDonald’s seating became criminally underused. The over-whelming stench of urine in phone boxes drifted away to merely a faint-aroma and all the world was different. To the general public, it may have just seemed like quieter day – if you noticed any change at all? However, if you were a teenage girl in 1997, this seemingly subtle change was shockingly apparent. All the boys were missing.
Though the effect of this dramatic shift in normality was clear to the teenage girls, the cause was not so obvious. For that, some investigation was required. It couldn’t be that they’d all been stolen or killed – that would have made the news, surely? No, something else was afoot – and it didn’t take long for the inquisitive young ladies to identify the problem.
Any girl who was willing to ring the doorbell of a nearby teenage boy, be invited into his house by his mother and then be brave enough to make her way up the stairs to the boy’s bedroom and gently ease the door open would immediately comprehend the problem.
For there, right in front of this courageous explorer would be – not only the boy in question – but 3 of his closest friends. They would be all crowded together (well, 3 on the bed, 1 on the floor) in a darkened room, lit dimly by the light of the TV they were all staring towards. They wouldn’t even notice her come in. When she spoke, they would acknowledge only with grunts, not even turning their heads (even though she was dressed as provocatively as she was allowed to at 14).
And the reason for The Great Boy Drought of 1997? GoldenEye on the Nintendo 64.
GoldenEye, from Rare, was a game changing first-person-shooter that packed an amazing package into one tiny cartridge. Firstly, it had an amazing single-player campaign that loosely followed the plot of the Pierce Brosnon movie from 1995. The Dam sequence, infiltrating the missile silo, even meeting Robbie Coltrane in a shady, after-dark location were all included in the game. It was packed with action, explosions, varied missions – and was split over 3 skill levels each with their own challenges making it one of the most re-playable single player games ever. Boys would compare times taken to complete levels, argue over which was the hardest mission to complete, which was the most impossible challenge (Archives on 00 Agent I always struggled with), then get right back to trying to beat each others scores.
And that was just the single-player! The thing that REALLY captured the boys imagination though, was multiplayer. Four of you could sit down and battle it out via split-screen, local multiplayer. It didn’t have the graphical clout of a Call of Duty or the depth of Battlefield, nor did it have the level of control offered by ‘dual analogue’ control sticks featured in today’s games. Yet it captured the imagination of nearly every boy between the ages of 8 and 18 (probably older if we’re honest). It rarely stopped at four players too, the room would be crowded with others waiting their turn as time-limits or ‘winner stays on’ rules were negotiated between ever – increasing groups.
With a large variety of multiplayer maps on offer (Facility and Complex being the favourites amongst my peer group), boys and the occasional girl who broke through the ranks and got desperate enough for male attention, learned how to play the damn game – then put all the boys off by owning them repeatedly (don’t feel too bad for her though, she’d stopped caring at this point and just wanted to play Goldeneye anyway) – would often play into the wee, small hours. If things even became remotely stale (after 72 hours playing, you might want to mix it up), they would just introduce self-imposed rules to the next game. Right, this time we’re playing ‘head-shots only’, or ‘one hit kills’, or (my personal favourite) ‘proximity mines only’. The game was at once familiar, with enough scope for variety that the group never got bored.
Though rumours of a drop in teen pregnancy and petty crime due to GoldenEye were never really verified in ’97-’98, it really wouldn’t have surprised me of there had been a correlation! The game was that good.
Sadly, GoldenEye would fall into the category of ‘Often replicated, never duplicated‘ as game after game would attempt to capture what it had (the closest being the ‘would-be sequel’ Perfect Dark, that – though awesome – never quite captured the magic of GoldenEye). There have been stellar attempts to recapture the nostalgia with GoldenEye 007: Reloaded, sadly this only served to prove that the world of first-person-shooters had moved on.
The disappearance of boys and men due to video games still happens today, but never on such a seemingly grand scale as back in 1997. Perhaps this is a good thing? If EVERY game were able to recapture the magic of GoldenEye, it could put the survival of the human race in jeopardy?
Richard is a father, teacher, gamer and writer. He believes that The Last of Us and Olli Olli 2 are the finest games ever made, feels that the StarWars Saga should only be watched in ‘the Machete order’ and once cleared Legend of Zelda: Ocarina of Time in one sitting. Took him 20 hours, four cups of tea and a sausage roll. You can follow him on twitter @TLOUFactionsMP or @VigilanteSanta and view his occasional twitch outbursts on twitch.tv/spooklebeans.