Everything I Need to Know I Learned from Captain N

Yes, Captain N: The Game Master can help you be a better person.

By M. Noah Ward. Posted 07/21/2010 10:00 2 Comments     ShareThis

Captain N: The Game Master

You’re entitled to your opinion of Captain N: The Game Master. The cartoon was cheesy, it was fantastic, it was shameless marketing or it was the best of breed in its time. What I’m just happy for is the series was made available again on DVD, defying odds that an obscure cartoon with a niche audience could merit an effort for re-release. Yes, getting those DVDs allowed me to relive that segment of my childhood, and while doing so I realized that there really were some solid life lessons that potentially helped me and other viewers grow up to be the great adults we are today…

Video games are allowed to trump chores. In the first season, before Kevin (that’s Captain N, neophytes) was sucked into his TV and let out his first surfer/valley dude, “WhooOOOoooAAAAaaa!”, his mom can be heard nagging in the background to clean his room. While Kevin comes back to a fake version of said messy room in a later episode, he ultimately never has to clean it up. Instead, he gets to be an all star video game hero in game after game. Alright, so we shouldn’t shirk our responsibilities, but haven’t we all, at one time or another, put off a chore or errand for just “one more game”? Captain N: The Game Master represented the ultimate wish fulfillment of that desire– and an extra excuse for us, today, to keep playing for that next milestone.

You take what you’re given and make your own life. Kevin follows a path many of us do when we move away for college, or move to a new city, state or country for a job. The new environment is alien, you may not have friends there, and you’re very far from where you came from. Yet one of Kevin’s best traits is his ability to look on the bright side and adapt accordingly. He ends up becoming good friends with “The N Team” and relishes the ridiculous and sometimes evil schemes hatched by Mother Brain and other villains. And, he manages to do this as an involuntary captive of Videoland, detailed below.

Responsibility can sometimes get in the way of our wants. Kevin doesn’t voluntarily come to Videoland. If anything, he’s unwillingly abducted via some creepy-looking Druidic-like ritual around a Power Glove. While in Videoland, he’s sometimes shown as homesick and determined to go home, but ultimately his ability to save Videoland as “the prophesized one” keeps him around– for “just one more thing,” perhaps. While some might say this is far too much absorption in video games at the sacrifice of real world duties, family and friendship, I’m going to look at this more generally that when you have something you need to do, getting it done is the right thing. Whether it’s good or bad is a different story.

Diversity is good for the team. Whether with furries, dwarves, robots or closet cases (after hearing her, how can you say Mother Brain is not a drag queen? And who’s really buying effete Simon’s love for Princess Lana?), Videoland still works fine. It’s not a homogenous world of look-alike characters who only differ in personality traits. Instead, Captain N had (for 1989, at least) some atypical variation in its inhabitants’ appearance and characterizations, and that only helped to bolster an idea that differences don’t lead to disaster.

Making hardware sentient is a very bad idea. Mega Man aside, Game Boy was one of the most obnoxious characters to show up in any cartoon. Beyond the fact that he was as blatant as corporate marketing could get in the series (“Game Boy just came out! We need a Game Boy in the show!”), his annoying personality and even worse voice only reinforced what we’ve learned in the Terminator movies and Battlestar Galactica series: give toasters brains, and you only get trouble.

You could letter… in video games. Presumably Kevin earned his high school letter jacket doing something athletic, but the more time he spent in Videoland, the more we knew the truth: that letter wasn’t for football or swimming, it was for video games. Look, at least in my world it was.

Vegetables can be bad for you. If getting a kid to eat vegetables isn’t hard enough, the Eggplant Wizard didn’t do parents any favors. Not only did he make the lessons we learned about giving machines brains applicable to vegetables, but his menace of shooting produce as projectile weapons just confirmed children’s fear of healthy foods. This is one of those lessons best left forgotten.

Video games can help you get the girl. In the ’80s, playing video games was seen as likely to get you a date as playing Dungeons and Dragons– if not less so, because at least D&D was more social. But in the magical world of Videoland, Kevin easily wins Lana’s affections with his sharp abilities with the NES Zapper and magical control pad belt. And this is with Lana being practically the only female in Videoland– she really had her pick of thousands of men! Using video games for woo-age was quite a fantasy for kids twenty years ago, but with the advent of gaming as a major hobby for everyone, it’s a more realistic possibility than ever before in finding love.

Your friends can get you through the rough spots. In the end, saving the day almost always came down to Kevin’s skills, but viewers would be hard pressed to believe he could single-handedly trump every challenge Videoland threw at him. At best, he was skillful at managing his teammates and keeping them upbeat, if Lana didn’t do the managing part even better. Regardless, Kevin met his challenges with his friends, and when he couldn’t fight, such as in a late season two episode where he’s infected with a Videoland virus, the whole team bands together to help him out instead. Teamwork is a rudimentary lesson of many cartoons, but there’s no denying that this series showed how well it worked, too.

Could a silly 1989 cartoon be this virtuous? As Captain N might say, if you look at it a certain way, it certainly was. Thanks for the insights, Kevin– I look forward to passing them on.

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