The cheat code

Up, up, down, down, left, right, left, right, B, A, start (or ‘… select, start,’ for two players)…

That’s the cheat code for “Contra” — a multiplayer action/adventure video game, and one of the original “shoot ‘em ups,” harking back to its Nintendo release, in 1988. If you executed that key sequence to perfection, voila! You’d receive 100 lives. “Life and death,” in the context of “Contra,” thus became less crucial, and more an example of starting over.

Starting over is fairly normal for almost all video games. Your avatar “dies” and you have to begin again, at the last checkpoint.

In “Contra’s” case, dying was easy. A barrage of projectiles could fly your way at any given moment. You could burn through 20 lives or so in the first level alone.

Contra – Level 1

An escape

In the real world, we only get one life (that we know of!). So the “Contra” cheat code somewhat liberated players, who vicariously guided their burly avatars through the murky alien landscapes of “Contra’s” many levels. Removing the threat of death freed us, as players, to take chances, try new things (that we might not otherwise entertain if it meant certain doom). As in most contemporary Nintendo games, each Contra” level ended with a boss you had to beat. A particularly difficult boss became less intimidating, with the safety net of 100 lives to cushion any anxiety of defeat. We could go out on a limb, take risks, and learn from our mistakes with little to no consequences. Needless to say, most bosses fell to our near immortal avatars.

Beat the Contra boss to complete the level.

No consequences

“No consequences,” however, created a consequence itself. Vastly minimizing the threat of death removed all the drama. The no-risk aspect suddenly turned a fairly difficult game into some kind of sandbox environment where players could try new things in order to move onto the next level. And once the cheat code hit the mainstream, “Contra” became notorious as one of the easiest games to beat.

Extrapolating ‘Contra’

I beat the game (with the cheat code). Soon, I lost interest in playing, but the concept of unlimited lives stuck with me. What if this were true in real life (IRL)?

We could try new things. If our gambles didn’t work out, no worries! Let’s reset and try a new approach. A vivid imagination soon rendered me jaded to this concept, as well. No consequence IRL, or in a video game instantly felt boring, like drifting aimlessly through blank space.

It’s at that point that I discovered a newfound respect for death. I had always feared it, but now I actually respected it. Death is necessary for life. It adds the key ingredient of consequence so that we measure our decisions before executing. It forces us to be better humans.

It’ll always be sad to see loved ones go. But heed the fact that this aspect of life is necessary for everyone. Our mortal brains can’t completely comprehend the role death plays in all of our lives, but we can at least acknowledge its necessity. Not only is it a passage into the unknown; it provides the special sauce of intrigue that makes all of our lives more interesting.

Think about it.

Daredevils would be obsolete. Perhaps war would go away (since weapons would no longer pose a threat), but that doesn’t mean violence would subside. It just wouldn’t carry any sort of impactful effect.

What would we do with our days?

Immortality may certainly be within human reach at some point in the future (or if we finally realize time is an illusion!). But microcosms like “Contra” indicate that the current human consciousness may not be ready for such lofty responsibility — what would we do with unlimited time?


Simulated realities far more advanced than the 8-bit Nintendo “Contra” have certainly emerged since the ‘80s. And it’s expected that virtual reality (VR) could soon surpass the brain’s ability to distinguish “reality” from illusion. VR and augmented reality (AR) also beg the question, ‘What actually is reality?’ Some scientific theories have even entertained the idea that the “real world,” is itself a simulation.

(He knows Kung Fu)

That latter scenario is exciting. Death truly becomes just a passage into the next shell. We might actually be avatars in a video game that’s influenced from a dimension above this world!

Life, in the metaphysical sense, now becomes a journey that transcends death. Surely there are still consequences. Choose poorly in one life, and you might wake up in the next as a Dung beetle.

Starting over also takes on a whole new meaning. It’s not some finite, ultimate end we must all dread (mortal death); in fact, it becomes an opportunity at every waking moment. And, just like some infinities are bigger than others, (yes, that’s true; ask a mathematician!) some “start overs” are more significant than others. You could start over midday, if you woke up on the wrong side of the bed. You can restart your professional life, with a career shift. And, yes, the most ultimate start over that we know of is the death of this earthly existence, into the unknown. But if this life truly is a simulation, then the “ultimate” start over breeds hope of new beginnings into a world entirely out of our current experience.

And perhaps the ability to start over in one’s mind is a quality that’s uniquely human. Starting over or reassessing a concept is the process by which we learn. Today, and every day after that can be the first day of the rest of your life. The latter depends on how good you’ve become at adapting, at starting over again and again, evolving ever closer to the person you’re meant to be.

short stories

Sega Genesis

Sega Genesis

Going for the trifecta in posting three days in a row. Never done that before. The 63 posts that I completed yesterday have taken me more than two years to author. And at least eight of them are chapters from an e-book I wrote (for all you dedicated Apple people, there’s a Kindle app), where I bound myself to publishing a new chapter every two weeks, like Sir Charles Dickens serialized his novels back in the 19th century.

So this will be lucky #64. Sixty-four is sort of significant. You can write it as 26 (two to the sixth power). It also reminds me of Nintendo’s 64-bit gaming console, N64.

Nevertheless, I was a Sega Genesis guy (16-bit).

So when I was little—maybe 8 or so—I’d play Sega’s X-Men like every day. Errrrry day. I completed level after level after level. Then I got stuck on the second-to-last stage for what seemed like a couple of months.

I just couldn’t figure out how to beat it. You see, at the end of this level, a message appeared. It said ‘RESET THE COMPUTER.’ Yet there was nowhere on the screen to reset the computer. A timer counted down, and frantically I searched for a solution. Time after time, the clock would dial down to zero and I would lose. I’d lose a life and have to start the second-to-last level all over again.

Eventually, I’d run out of lives and have to restart the entire game. Slowly, I’d make my way back.

After a while, when I approached this fateful, seemingly dead end, my eyes would glance down at the Sega Genesis itself.

There was a little, grey reset button there. It was installed by the manufacturers to reset the console, in case a game ran into glitches—kind of like restarting your computer. As I watched the clock winding down, time after time, an idea slowly crept into my mind: What if that was the solution?

I was extremely hesitant resorting to such a drastic measure. If it truly was not the solution, I would lose everything. No matter how many lives I had at the end of the second-to-last level, I would surely have to start from scratch. The risk for failure seemed too great.

One day, I got fed up with inevitably losing. I reached the end of that level and the clock began counting down. I felt like Arnold Schwarzenegger (Dutch) when Predator initiated his self-destruct sequence and the digital wristband counted down in those weird alien numbers. In a fit of pure, pre-pubescent adrenaline, I threw caution to the wind and pushed that grey button.

The screen went blank. I thought for sure it didn’t work.

Then a little green cursor appeared in the upper-left corner of the TV screen. And messages scrolled across the display. The Sega Genesis had indeed not been reset. At last, I had “RESET THE COMPUTER,” as the X-Men game had been telling me to do.

This experience has stuck with me all these years. It symbolizes an evolution in thinking, a paradigm shift. In some ways it represents a fundamental change in the way I perceived Sega Genesis, the X-Men game and how I solve difficult life problems to this day.