I don't know what happens when we die. Maybe we are greeted by angels ushering us into eternal bliss. Maybe we are plunged into a fiery abyss. Maybe we just get to eat lots of pie. But you know what my biggest fear is? A thorough accounting of our existence.
In my nightmarish afterlife, St. Peter stops me at the pearly gates bearing a file folder several feet tall. "This, Mr. Leitch," he says, frowning already, "is a minute-by-minute log of your activities on earth. Everything you have ever done has been documented, and then compiled. We know how much time you spent watching Cardinals games, how many times you said you were going to hit the gym and ended up falling asleep with an old slice of pizza on your stomach instead, just how often you re-wore socks without washing them. We know it all."
He'll pause, and furrow. "So we need to talk to you about 'NHL '94.'"
It is possible that I have spent more time playing "NHL '94" than just about anything else in my life, save for sleeping. (Maybe.) "NHL '94" is the most addictive video game in human history, and it came out when I was a freshman in college. That is a cruel combination: It was basically like handing me a heroin needle as a graduation present. I played "NHL '94" so much that everyone on the floor of my dorm began to look like miniature hockey players; I occasionally found myself trying to high stick the cat. My roommate and I played so often that sometimes one of us would fall asleep in the middle of a game, which was less a sign to quit as it was a brief competitive advantage. (Wins over a dozing opponent count too!) I played until my eyes rolled back in my head.
I am not alone in this. There's an exhaustingly comprehensive site devoted to the game, complete with sound files, a list of bugs and a log of everything "announcer" Ron Barr says in the game. ("Let's take a look at tonight's matchups!") That site also runs competitive online leagues, headquartered at NHL '94 Online, an impressively catalogued and organized site that is definitive proof that the Internet is a kind and good place. And there is of course Double Down Trent.
That clip, from "Swingers" of course, is a reminder of the great tragedy of "NHL '94:" That they eliminated fighting from the game. This was back when hockey was pretending that fighting was bad for its sport. You could still make Gretzky bleed, though.
I'm bringing all this up because news broke yesterday that in the upcoming version of "NHL '14," EA Sports is including an updated, playable version of "NHL '94." In this one, you can fight. Here is the trailer, which is basically pitched at the exact right level: ironic nostalgia.
If you can get over the fact that it has been 20 years since "NHL '94" came out and thus your body has decayed and you are rapidly approaching death -- something the trailer winks at with that "Take yourself back to the '90s and relive those glory days, when you were actually good at video games" -- it's a brilliant idea. I love that video games have now evolved to the point that they can have special anniversary editions. I fully expect "MLB: The Show" to do this with "RBI Baseball" at some point. (If you're looking to waste a workday, you can in fact play RBI Baseball online, right now.)
I haven't played a hockey video game, I don't think, since "NHL '94," and I haven't even watched that much hockey since then. I am no longer a college student with swaths of idle sloth time and no inherent need for sleep or recovery. I have a family, and a job, and never-ending obligations. I barely have enough hours in my day to finish half of what I need to get done. It always feels like an uphill climb.
And when this game comes out in September, I'm going to lock myself in my room and not come out until October. I think I'm gonna call my old college roommate. He has a family of his own now too, one he'll have to abandon for a few weeks. They'll understand. You understand too, don't you? Make Gretzky bleed.
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