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Remembering the Dreamcast, the console that wanted to murder you

Regardless of which console you favor in the current, raging war for hardware supremacy, there's one thing the PlayStation 4, Xbox One and Wii U have in common: None of them are trying to kill you. That's because you are already dead, and the Dreamcast was your executioner.

Today marks the 15th anniversary of the Dreamcast's launch on Sept. 9, 1999 — or 9.9.99, as its promotional materials touted, possibly because that's 6666, the number of the super-devil, only upside-down. There's a lot of things to remember and love about Sega's final console: Sailor-hunting in Shenmue, infinite grinding in Phantasy Star Online, taking my VMU to middle school to show everyone how well I'd nurtured and loved my Chao, getting the shit kicked out of me in middle school after telling everyone how much I loved my Chao, and also, Toy Commander was pretty tight.

But the Dreamcast's most memorable facet was the profoundly batshit manner in which it was promoted. The focus wasn't on its graphical fidelity, its inventive and interactive memory card or its remarkable launch titles — Sonic Adventure, Ready 2 Rumble Boxing, Power Stone and Soulcalibur all dropped day one in the States.

The focus was on the fact that this machine, this "Dreamcast," was sentient, powerful and sought to destroy its owner.

It's Thinking

Here we're introduced to the main bullet point in the Sega Dreamcast promotional onslaught: This machine can think. Go ahead and put your Nintendo 64 into the garbage, because that's exactly what it is — dormant, unthinking, unfeeling garbage. It will never challenge you the way the Dreamcast can challenge you, because the Nintendo 64 is not self-aware. Bowser will not adapt to your battle tactics. Blast Corps cannot hone itself against your skill, like a blade against a whetstone. No matter how long you play it, Chameleon Twist just kind of sits there.

The Dreamcast was pitched as an adversary. All of the games you've played up until this moment have been in preparation for this worthy opponent. It is never mentioned that sometimes, you will have fun playing it, because fun is for kids. The Dreamcast is explicitly for cyberwarriors.

I mean, holy shit. This thing can hear, too. It has senses. As we all know, you can't really play video games without literally enunciating every button on the controller that you're pushing as you push it. What defense could we possibly devise against this thing? We're sunk. Our whole society, everything, is completely sunk.

Also, if you mute the commercial above before watching it, it looks like an advertisement for some kind of edgy, futuristic dental clinic.

In this commercial, the machine's capacity — or rather, its unquenchable desire — for murder is turned into an anti-theft mechanism. Try to steal a Dreamcast from a local Electronics Boutique, and this blood-drenched monster is going to try to crash a plane into you. Sonic the Hedgehog is behind the wheel of this hatebox, and his justice is supreme and unwavering. There is no cost too great to bring Dreamcast-stealers to justice, and that includes the collateral damaging of ten-score human souls.

"We got her," Sonic proclaims to his fellow prisoners! "Sleep well, my friends. For tomorrow, the flesh-hunt begins anew!"

Just remember: You have to buy your Dreamcast instead of stealing it. If you buy it, the Dreamcast will afford you the decency and honor of murdering you in your home, rather than in the street, like a dog.

This commercial starts with a bit of a tonal shift, showing an in-console, The Matrix Reloaded-style Zion rave featuring launch game characters. Are they celebrating a recent kill, for which they'll never, could never be suspected? Possibly. Probably! But the cause isn't important; for once, we're shown fun, and levity — until Sonic, the DJ for this party, enters a trance-like state where he remembers a life before he was entered into this cycle of extermination. He remembers the sunrise over the towering loops of Green Hill Zone, a home to which he can never return.

"Sorry guys! I must have lost my train of thought!" He is feigning aloofness. The party continues, and Sonic wonders if he's the only one who remembers.

ChuChu Rocket wasn't a Dreamcast launch game, but I'd be remiss if I left this commercial out of here, because sweet Christ.

Seganet, which launched in North America about one year after the Dreamcast, was a lot like the internet, if the internet only existed for two years before being deemed a doomed enterprise. It was actually pretty impressive for its time, letting Dreamcast owners play a handful of games online with shockingly low latency. But, of course, its positive attributes were not what its advertisements focused on. Its advertisements focused on Americans' inherent hatred for people who live more than 15 minutes away from themselves.

I'm assuming that, after one year, everyone's Dreamcasts had thought and thought and thought, and evolved to a point where the machine could not be beaten. Upon loading, a game's title screen would simply inform you that you had lost, and that the game had won. A colorless, odorless gas would shoot out of controller port four, blinding you instantly. You try to scream, but you no longer have a mouth from which to scream.

Your only hope, as a Dreamcast owner, is to play against other human beings. And by "play," I mean "interactively hate," because the commercial above makes it seem like that's the only thing this online platform is capable of transmitting. It is not enough to beat someone from New Jersey whom you've never met at NFL 2K1. You have to demoralize them. Only one party can enjoy themselves at a time when you're using Seganet, and that party is always, always the Dreamcast itself, rejoicing at the splendor of the nationwide scattering of its seeds of despair.

A kid fucking dies in the commercial above. He is immolated over a ghoulish refrain of "America the Beautiful." You see him for a few frames at the end, his screaming husk thrown onto a paralyzed, also-dead bird. Investigators can't figure out what caused his trailer to explode — they did not see the single hair, there, behind the stove. No, not a hair; a quill. A red quill, like you might find on an echidna.

Happy birthday, Dreamcast! And thank you for allowing me to live.

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