Continue? (OR: The Subtle Art of Extracting Meaning from Meaninglessness)

It’s easy for me to pinpoint the moment that got me hooked on “Continue?

I can’t recall how I initially stumbled across the show.  Probably via a YouTube suggestion algorithm.  I was a bit late to the party.  I don’t think I watched my first episode until early 2013 or so, over three years into Continue’s lifespan–and well after the show’s wry, witty co-founder Dom Moschitti had departed.

By the time I caught up to it, the hosts were Pixies fan and legitimately skilled gamer Nick Murphy, de-facto leader / middle-seat-occupier and sometimes bad gamer Paul Richey, and irascible scoundrel and occasional time-traveler Josh Henderson, Dom’s replacement.

In any event, I had watched and enjoyed several episodes before getting to the then fairly recent show that covered the Super Nintendo game Plok.

About six minutes in, Paul, the primary player on this particular episode, stumbles across what appears to be a large present, complete with ribbon and bow.  As a giant, Mode-7-ified question mark displays on screen, Paul, Nick, and Josh shriek in anticipation  . . . before Plok suddenly reappears in a hunter’s outfit, carrying a large gun.

I GOT A BLUNDERBUSS,” screamed Paul.

That moment inexplicably yet organically led to a riff about offensive jokes, with the decidedly unoffensive premise actually being that Paul’s version of a “joke” is simply to blurt out the name of the topic.

“I’m going to tell a 9-11 joke.”

OK, go ahead.”

” . . . . . . . 9-11!!!”

Equal parts glee and good-natured, friendly mockery, Paul’s reaction to a random power-up and the subsequent conversation made me a fan of Continue for life, as well as an eventual, enthusiastic Patreon supporter.

Tomorrow, December 14th, 2019, marks the tenth anniversary of the upload date of the show’s oldest episode.  I thought this would be as good a time as any to share my love of Continue, and explain what, from my POV, makes the show so uniquely good.

First, the basics.  Explaining what Continue isn’t is actually more efficient than explaining what it is.  It isn’t a “let’s play.”  It certainly isn’t a tutorial, as the guys only occasionally bother to learn the games’ basic controls before playing.  It isn’t really even a video game review show.

Ostensibly, the show’s format is a snap judgment on a (usually classic) video game, based on picking up and playing it for 15-30 minutes, ending with a verdict of “Continue” or “Game Over.”

Except that’s not really what the show is about.

The subset of people who are trying to make a decision about whether to buy, say, 1988’s Snoopy’s Sports Spectacular for the NES is pretty small.  That’s why I say it’s not really a review show.

It’s something far better.

As I was watching the Plok episode, I felt something I’ve now felt dozens of other times during Continue’s nearly 500-episode run.  It was a kind of nostalgia–but maybe not in the way you might think.

I had no nostalgia for playing Plok.  I had never even heard of the game before, much less played it.  In fact, I never owned a Super Nintendo (I was a Sega Genesis kid).

The nostalgia I felt, if you want to call it that, was a reminiscence of the kind of beautiful, exquisite, unabashed nonsense that my friends and I used to have playing video games growing up.

It didn’t matter that I never had an SNES.  What I felt was a connection to a time in my life when beating my football teammates at Bill Walsh ’95 or Coach K College Basketball was the most crucial thing I would do all day.  More than that, I felt a connection to the camaraderie and fun that went along with those memories.

Week after week, amid an endless stream of current and dated cultural references, wonderfully gratuitous profanity, and blissfully juvenile comic remarks about every conceivable human orifice, there is something unspeakably wonderful and pure about three childhood buddies sitting around and spending a half-hour playing a meaningless video game.

But that’s the trick of the show.

It isn’t meaningless at all.

There’s another moment–a significantly more recent one–that stands out.  On an episode about New Super Mario Bros. U Deluxe (sidebar: get a longer title, Nintendo), Nick’s young son Desmond was a special guest star.  At one point, he correctly figures out a power-up mini-game, triumphantly raising his hands in victory while his father excitedly reacts behind him and Paul and Josh cheer him on.

At that point, “Cat’s in the Cradle” by Harry Chapin plays over a slow-motion, black-and-white zoom-in of the moment.

Brilliant editing and cutaways like these have become a hallmark of the show, particularly over the last few years, as the technical side of Continue has become simply outstanding.  I found myself laughing out loud at the Chapin pull, but there was also an undeniable poignance to the moment.  In fact, Nick later mentioned on Twitter that seeing that part of the episode caused him to get emotional.

And that is what this show is really about.

In an age when we’re bombarded with intentionally inflammatory content from at least three different addictive devices within arm’s length at any given moment, finding a piece of entertainment that is genuinely enjoyable, yet sublime in its purity, is almost impossible.

On paper, Continue is a meaningless show about three guys making meaningless jokes while playing a meaningless video game.  But what Continue has reminded me is that all of those “meaningless” parts of life aren’t meaningless in the least.  Quite the contrary.  They’re simply a delivery system for the most meaningful aspects of life.

Maybe it’s video games.  Maybe it’s music.  Maybe it’s sports.  Maybe it’s a particular TV show.  Maybe it’s model railroads.  Maybe it’s camping.

Maybe it’s any number of these or countless more hobbies and pastimes and amusements that become the connective tissue that ties together the most important relationships we’ll ever have in our lives.

Continue, more than any work I’ve ever seen, captures that part of life: the way that these meaningless little “atoms” somehow, cumulatively, create the substance of what we care about most.  The childhood memories that make us who we are as adults.  The touchstones that inform our cultural sensibilities.  The bonds between friends–or a parent and a child–that create the emotional foundation of our entire existence.

That, for me, is what Continue is about.  A reminder that we can often lose perspective on what actually matters, because, on paper, things look different–just as, on paper, Continue is a silly show about (often badly) playing old video games.

There’s so much to like about the show, and my favorite moments are too numerous to remember, much less name (give me a break–I’ve watched like 495 of these things).  But this was one.  As was this.  So was this.  And this, which also included this.  Not to mention this, which begat a masterpiece:

 

And, hell, this entire insane episode is gold.  Then there are the episodes where the guys get competitive.  And the episodes where playing the game becomes completely incidental to the guys’ commitment to a bit, like this one or this one.  And so much more.

In the end, I think the essential, transcendent point of the show is that its “meaninglessness” is far more valuable than all of the seemingly important trivialities that divide us.  It is that relatable, almost universal sensibility that can make a guy who grew up hundreds of miles away and a few years before they did immediately and unmistakably identify with the bonds the show spotlights.

As best I can tell from afar, there are lots of differences in experience and opinion between the hosts of Continue and myself.  In general, we don’t share sports rooting interests, political views, musical tastes (aside from the occasional foray into Billy Joel’s song catalog), religious affiliation, or a hometown.  Yet, none of that matters.  None of those allegedly “important” differences do anything to dilute my enjoyment of Continue or, more vitally, my ability to relate to the subtle-but-profound truth of the show.

One final Continue moment to mention.  On the day of Nick’s wedding, the guys took the time to record an episode that was, appropriately, the video-game version of the Game of Life.

I recall thinking at the time that Continue was, in one sense, a bunch of largely interchangeable episodes (albeit with a solid through-line of running gags).  But, in another, more meaningful way, it was very much an ordered series of snapshots of the hosts’ lives, not only reflecting the connection and history among the three, but underscoring and building upon that history in a way that I found both compelling and reassuring.

Reassuring, because it reminded me that, no matter who you are, no matter where you are, and no matter how old you are, there are always opportunities to revisit and enhance the irreplaceable, invaluable relationships that make life worth living continuing.

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