The summer of 1999 was a pretty good time for me. It was the summer between sophomore and junior years in high school, and as such, I was fitting comfortably into my dual identity as drama geek and orchestra dork. But this was summer, and I was working at my friend’s father’s construction company as a shop guy, which basically meant that I had minimal responsibilities and made some really solid bank. Trying to teach me that money doesn’t really come as easily as it was coming to me that summer, my mother made me put something like 90% of my paycheck in a savings account. Much of the remaining 10% wound up in a jar I kept in my bedroom, on which I had carefully painted the words “Dreamcast Fund.”
The Sega Dreamcast was released on September 9, 1999. Yes, the same day as the 1999 MTV Video Music Awards. I don’t know why I was so excited about the new system, but I’m sure the numerical novelty of 9/9/99 had something to do with it. This was the first Sega console that ever I purchased – I was strictly a Nintendo boy before that. I also had a Playstation at this point… Jesus, I had access to a lot of resources as a kid.
My buddy Pete gave me his pre-order for the Dreamcast because he decided last minute that he wasn’t going to pick one up right away. So I was in line at Toyworks on the ninth of September with maybe half a dozen other people. Dreamcast didn’t get the sort of launch the most recent generation of consoles got. In the early early early days of the Wii and PS3, I used to hit two different Best Buys, two Targets, a Wal-Mart and three Gamestops searching for them, and I was always in good company. This went on for weeks before I finally found a Wii. But this wasn’t the case Sega’s swansong.
The video game industry looks back fondly on the Sega Dreamcast, but it was never appreciated during its lifespan. The controllers were weird and the memory cards were even weirder. The technology was just a shade too dumb to play DVDs, which I always thought would have been a save for the system. This also landed it in that awkward phase between console generations, so while the hardware was impressive at the time, it would soon be trumped by Nintendo’s Game Cube, Microsoft’s Xbox and Sony’s PS2. The one thing this magic white box had going for it was software.
I bought it for the Resident Evil series. Totally worth it, by the way: Code Veronica was a great game. Either the machine came boxed with Sonic Adventure or I decided that I wanted to support the company’s new entry in the flagship series. My collection was eventually rounded out with two Capcom fighting games – Marvel vs. Capcom 2 and Power Stone. If you never played Power Stone, the game is amazing – you get to run around in an interactive 3D environment and throw chairs at your opponent until one of you collects three gems and transforms into a robot/demonic/monstrous version of that character and starts kicking ass. There are only two ways to play that game now – on the PSP and on a 12 year old Sega Dreamcast.
I still own the Dreamcast that I bought when I was 17. Any other so-called classic consoles I own have been purchased second-hand in my twenties. Tonight, I took the machine out of the box and cleaned it. I was preparing it to sell to a vintage gaming store in Chicago. While dipping a Q-tip into a glass of warm water, a melancholy set upon me. I only bought four games for the system, and by most accounts, Sega’s console was DOA. In 1999, I felt like I was part of something that most people were avoiding. In the years since, I’ve been able to say that I liked the Dreamcast before it was unpopular and then mysteriously popular again. A Dreamcast in your collection is a sign of nerd cred, a sign to other life-long gamers that I wasn’t fucking around.
But that’s not why I saved all summer for the thing. I didn’t know there would be a cult surrounding the Dreamcast years later, I just wanted to play some fun games. Those four games represent some of the purest gaming experiences I’ve ever had – all fun, all immersive, and all came to me at a time that I needed something to be excited about. I have an obsessive nature, and adolescence magnified this in me greatly. The result being that I played the ever loving shit out of this system. My little sister and I bonded over these games – especially Power Stone – for reasons neither of us understand. The Sega Dreamcast represents that whole time for me and yes, I do know how silly that sounds.
No matter what I do, I can’t shake the thought that I should hang on to the Dreamcast forever. I only pull it out of whatever storage I’ve crammed it in once a year. That’s an estimate, it’s probably less frequent than that. But as my girlfriend and are preparing to move out west, we’re making a specific effort to get rid of junk and slim down our possessions to those that we really need or really want. I know I don’t need it. In truth, I don’t even want it that much. But it makes me feel safe to have it. Besides, I’m guaranteed an astonishingly low price to part with it. Obviously, I’m conflicted on the issue.