by Mickey Tveter
Video Power began its television life in 1989 as a simple cartoon show with some video game tips spliced between toy commercials and badly-drawn animation. In 1990, someone at Astoria Studios made the poor decision of saying "Hey! Let's put little kids playing video games (poorly) on TV and keep the exact same name for the show!" This is where my life changed forever.
In June 1991, I read an ad in a local paper about tryouts for a video game TV
show. Being twelve and having very little in the way of a redeeming social
life, I thought to myself that this was the coolest thing that ever happened to
me. My rationale was that if I could win big prizes on a TV show, not only
would I have cool stuff to play with but I would get popular fast! All the
boys would pick me for their teams in gym. And what girl could possibly
resist a video game champion? Screw Tom Cruise, I was gonna be the 6th
grader every girl wanted to ask to the Sadie Hawkins dance. I was very
jaded, as by this time I had already seen The Wizard three or four
I attended a 'regional contestant tryouts'. After filling out a short video game test and sitting in front of a mock camera set-up, I left the arcade sure that I was gonna be huge.
Sure enough, two weeks later I got a letter. I was going to Queens to start my 12-year-old destiny. The taping was to be in late July and I got a plastic "all-access" pass to tour the studios before the show. Little did I know then that you could tour the whole studio for like $5, but I wasn't a sharp kid. The tour was cool, Video Power was filmed in the same studio as both The Cosby Show and Arthur. In other words, three of the biggest comedies ever on filmstrip were shot in the same building.
After meeting other contestants for the show, I realized something.
They weren't going for the good-looking or interesting contestants; most of us
were the freaks. Muscles and charm were replaces with zits and personality
disorders. We were all the social outcasts from a Papa Roach video.
The four of us were shown the video game terminals that we would use for the
game show. We had all been chosen to play sports games, as the 15 question
tryout exam had become some sort of Myers-Briggs personality test. There
was myself and Jack, the two quasi-normal contestants. Then there was some
other boy who seemed to be more wooed by being on TV than actually noticing
anything (Mike TeeVee syndrome a la Charlie and the Chocolate
Factory). The fourth contestant was a girl who seemed to possess no
video game skills.
A very sad part about Video Power was the lack of good female contestants. It seemed that girls who were good at video games well were weeded out, so as to not have little boys through temper-tantrums after losing to them. Because of this, virtually all female VP contestants were lousy, the Los Angeles Clippers of the gaming world.
I remember being scared right before the show started. It wasn't nerves at all. It was that some kid has just pissed in the 'audience pit,' a weird roped off area for kids who were the cheering section. The urine went everywhere, some of it nearly landed on the host of the show, Johnny Arcade (Stivi Paskoski). My twin sister was standing near this kid, and I feared that I would have to smell piss for the car ride home. Urine would also be a good way to describe the hideous color of the stage set up... neon lights must have been real cheap when they built the set.
The four of us got on stage and we told to get all psyched up for the big challenge that was to come. The first game I played was Tecmo Bowl, a popular enough game to where I had already owned a copy of it. I won easily because Video Power employees were fucking dumb. There was no parity on the consoles. There was no picking of teams or the computer teams each person played. I got to be the Super Bowl Champion NY Giants versus the hapless Cleveland Browns. Nobody else had an even remotely favorable match-up against the computer. Each player had 1:41 to score as many points as possible. I scored 10 points, no one else scored at all. Jack joined me in the next round by default, he was the only one not turn the ball over on downs.
Round two of the game was also rather stupid. Unless someone swept the entire category of trivia questions (worth 30 points for all three questions), it had no basis on the final round (also 30 points). Since no one ever swept a round as the questions were very confusing (What jellybean do you feed the blob to become a bridge on Boy and His Blob?), it was just a good time-filler to put
commercials for video games around.
The final round was the toughest. It was a head-to-head game of Bases Loaded baseball against the computer (why didn't I just play the other kid at something?) 101 seconds was only enough for about two at-bats in a baseball game, I hit a double, he didn't and I won. Again, no parity (I was matched against the worst team in the game, Minnesota I think).
After being crowned Video Power champion for the day, I got to run around the prize maze. The prize maze consisted of hundreds of worthless video games velcroed to Dilbert cubicle walls. It was a library of the truly lousy video games, housing copies of Bad Dudes interspersed with Super Glove Ball, Ninja Gaiden II and Little Ninja Brothers (which itself must have had 30 copies in the maze, impossible not to win at least one). LNB was also the secret prize game; getting one often won the contestant a cheesy prize (I won a remote control car worth about $100). There was no parity to the prizes either, ranging from a $35 Game Boy to a $1,000 complete Neo-Geo system.
Anyways, I donned a Velcro, Lazer Tag-esque suit and had thirty seconds to grab as many video games as I could. The problem was that for me and most contestants, no one ever told us we had to actually GET TO A FINISH LINE in the maze. I didn't, so I cried like a twelve year old in a stupid Velcro suit only could. The producers assured me I'd keep my prizes and then had me re-tape the run by grabbing other games and finishing the maze. For winning, I was given another plastic 'all-access' pass and told to return for the weekly-championship taping the next day.
The weekly-champions prize was a Sega Genesis package with Genesis games put into the maze. How I wanted a Genesis. My Nintendo blinked like a Christmas light and my controller was wrecked from lots of up-up-down-down-left-right-left-right-B-A-B-A-select-start. I was determined to win, but my gaming prowess was no match for parity. I whooped up on the first round, again the Giants in Tecmo Bowl compared to everyone else's New England Patriots caliber
teams. However, the final round of the new, never before played Bases Loaded II was a cruel blow, I was Hawai'i. As any video game-crazed kid at the time knew that teams in sports games that didn't come from real sports cities always sucked ass. I struck out three times and gave up two runs in under two minutes seconds. Some other kid got the Genesis but I still had my celebrity status, I thought.
The episode aired on the second day of school. This was gonna make me the man, I was sure of it. I walked onto campus waiting for the 'oh-my-gods' and 'you're so cool' laurels to be rested upon me. This was not to happen. Other kids gave me awkward looks and I got a lot of 'you were the queer on that game show this morning' type remarks directed towards me. I probably had to avoid getting the shit kicked out of me a few times that week by older kids who saw the show. And my appearance on that show only further insured that I would go date-free for many years to come.
Nine years later, I learned alot from Video Power. That cool game show hosts like Johnny Arcade work all over the supermarkets and fast-food chains of America (ironically, his sidekick Michael Donovan has made himself rich through cartoon voice overs such as the ones in Ranma 1/2.) I learned that video game controller skills and shoulder massage techniques go hand-in-hand, much to my finacee's enjoyment. I also learned that even the crappiest cartoon (ie Maxi's World) is still ten times more interesting than watching stupid kids play video games, and most importantly, that playing video games was far cooler than any of the crap 'cool' kids did anyways.
For jading me on this, I blame Fred Savage. His role in The Wizard showed me that you could be a video game geek and be a 'cool' kid. He lied, playing video games wasn't going to get you the fame or the girl from Brooklyn Bridge. It got me far more. The ability to not give a shit about what is or is not cool.
So, If I ever see Wonder Years boy in my life, I'm gonna take my video game strengthened fist and pop him one right in the eye. Not for just myself, but for every kid who made an ass out of him or herself in one of the biggest debacles of modern television, Video Power.
POWER UP... AND DOWN!
Here's a surprise. Not only are people still reading The Gameroom Blitz, a few of them seem to be fans of Video Power. Reader John Martynski felt compelled to offer a second opinion of the oddball game show... I just hope he isn't this fond of the Video Power cartoon!
I just read your guest writer's article about Video Power. I also just watched that same guest writer compete on Video Power... via video tape, of course. Only one conclusion can be made:
He's got it all wrong.
There's nothing wrong with Video Power. Every kid that I knew loved the show. While most weekday morning kid's shows don't hold the highest production values, and even though Video Power most certainly met that classification, it is indeed a true classic. Sorry Mickey, those kids were right. You are a dork.
It's good to see that you put something about Video Power up on your site, though. I read Mickey's article a while back, and believe it or not, I saw the guy on VP and figured he was the author. As you already know... he is. Social outcasts? Maybe a few, but most seemed like pretty normal kids. Maybe that's why Mickey stood out in my mind as a highly probable, beleaguered contestant? Have a pleasant evening.
P.S. If you keep in touch with the guy, feel more than free to forward this email to him.
Oh, he got the message, all right. Here's Mickey's somewhat agitated response:
Dear Jess Ragan:
Hi, this this Mickey Tveter. I wrote an article about Video Power a couple of years back. Thank you for keeping it up there, I appreciate that.
I am sorry that I hadn't noticed there was a reply/rebuttal to my article. I've been up to a bunch lately and had kinda forgotten about it until recently.
Now, while I'm thinking about it, here's my reply to Mr. Martynski's e-mail:
Thanks for the reply to my article. Your opinion is appreciated. I still like mine better though. Here's a few thoughts:
1) You've got tapes of Video Power? If I may be so bold... why? It's not exactly a show with a cult following. I could see having a tape or two 'for old times sake' but you were able to find one that I was in? That's just a little creepy.
2) I am a dork, someone is shocked by this? I love all things Star Trek and still play RPG's regularly. I was saying that many of us were 'freaks.' It's part of the rationale; if you play 4-6 hours of video games a day (therefore excelling at them), you're probably not going to be the most extroverted individual.
3) It's a beautiful world out there. Go out for a walk, hang out with some friends or see the world. There's no need to be watching 15-year-old tapes of little kids on a video game show.
Thank you for your time,