[Originally published August 10, 2016]
Sleepaway camp is a wonderful, interesting place. I should know – I’ve been both a camper, and a counselor at Greeley, PA’s very own Camp Shohola. Turns out – gamers once had a sleepaway camp of their very own. It was called ‘Camp Hyrule,’ and it was an online camp staffed by the employees of Nintendo Power (pour some out for the dead homies). Summer 2016 is almost over. Soon, the leaves will change hues, and die with captivating dignity. Instagram users will flood the site with their artistic snapshots and ‘fall filters.’ Children will return to their schools, to experience anew.
An awful time of year, isn’t it?
So let’s clutch the past tight – hold onto our nostalgia until our dying breath. Freedom is fleeting, and so is life. Come. Cherish forgotten thrills with me, won’t you?
Break out your free 60-day trials, y’all, we’re going back to the 90s. Camp Hyrule began in 1995, on AOL – the internet’s awkward teenage phase. Registration was open for about a week, during late July, early August – only to those with a ‘My Nintendo’ account (us young folk would recognize this as a ‘club Nintendo’ account). Truly – a clandestine, elite group. Members would participate in various message boards and flash games – not unlike the structure of a real-life camp. I can attest – camp culture breaks down into two categories: activity, and socialization. Occasionally, the two mix, but – for the most part – they remain separate, like so much oil and water.
We wake up at the crack of dawn, have breakfast, clean our cabins. Then it’s off to morning activities. For the campers of Camp Hyrule, that meant flash games. The program is long-dead (spoiler alert), but yours truly managed to wrest some record from the jaws of the ‘net – a flash game, featuring an anthropomorphic marshmallow roasting alive.
Now I see where Sausage Party got its sense of humor.
Back at Camp Shohola, we didn’t roast marshmallows at the campfire. We roasted people. Literally and physically – not in some sort of cannibal fashion (it wasn’t one of those camps), but there was a great deal of roasting. The staff often mocked each other, and many folks jumped the fire – never campers, obviously, but chants of ‘someone jump the fire! Someone jump the fire’ were commonplace. One year, a man caught on fire before my very eyes. Have you ever watched a man burn? I have.
Just another night at Camp Shohola For Boys.
The camp’s layout changed from year to year, often mirroring whatever Nintendo wanted to promote at the time. There were, however, certain recurring landmarks:
– The Lost Woods: A Legend of Zelda chatroom.
– Lake Webaconda: Good pun, guys.
– Kirby’s Mess Hall: Fun Fact: this is the birthplace of vore. I have no proof for this. None. But it’s true. I know it. You know it. We all know it.
Kirby: the Vore Lord.
Enjoy the pic, dirty birds
My personal favorite:
– Maniac’s Cave: Another chatroom, though the ‘camp maniac’ would – evidently – apparate every once in a blue moon to maliciously boot everyone from the chat. (God knows who this is. I’ve searched hither and yon, and have yet to find any record of this madman).
We had a camp maniac at Shohola. His name was Rusty [redacted]. He was a counselor – and a cruel son of a bitch, to boot – who delighted in inflicting pain on his campers. He was a hockey player, and he would use his stick whack the fucking hell out of us whenever he thought we were having too much fun.
What a great guy. Coincidentally, my year working at Shohola was the first year where ‘don’t hit the campers’ was an explicit rule. Did they enforce it? No. But it was a rule.
Hooray mild progress.
Camp Hyrule managed to progress as well. Two years after its 1995 debut, Nintendo.com became the host of Camp Hyrule. It’s at this point that we start to get a clearer record of the camp and its narrative, thanks to user DaHoneyBadger, whose accounts of camp life are everything you’d expect from someone with a honey badger reference for a username.
No shade, DaHoneyBadger. My username used to be ‘666musicman.’ We all have a dark past.
There’s much reference to camp culture and comradery, and – I have to hand it to Nintendo Power – it seems like they really cultivated a genuine camp experience. There were cabin rivalries, pranks, goofs, gaffes. One thing they didn’t simulate, however, was sexual tension.
Now, maybe I’m wrong. I know how it gets of the forums. But the romance at Shohola was palpable. The air was thick and heavy with teenager both BO and whispered nothings. Allow me to elaborate:
One fateful night, I was out playing the ‘cabin game’ – sneak out after curfew, touch every cabin, get back without getting caught. Simple.
Now, chaboi thought he would be particularly clever by avoiding the main roads, which – on any other night – would’ve been The Move. But not this night. No. Not this night.
On This Night, I decided to sneak by Commtech – the camp’s tech building – on my way back from my VERY SUCCESSFUL RUN. It was pitch dark. The heavy foliage blocked out the moon’s guiding light. And that’s when I heard the noises. Wet. Smacking. I was only 14 at the time. It would be some years before I became aware of what this noise connoted.
Hint: It’s not smooching.
The noise stops. I freeze. Then, a light – shined directly in my eyes. A British voice I instantly recognize.
“HEY. WHAT ARE YOU DOING OUT OF YOUR CABIN.”
“GO BACK. DON’T YOU FUCKING TELL ANYBODY.”
I did. And I didn’t. Until now, I guess.
Camp’s fun, isn’t it?
Then, it all comes to a close – but not without pomp and circumstance. The end of a camp session is a lot like Oscar season – everyone’s competing for the coveted end-of-season awards. Camp Shohola had the Shohola ‘S,’ awarded to the camper that most embodied ‘Shohola values.’
Whatever those were.
Camp Hyrule, on the other hand, had an extensive list of awards. The Carrot Top Award for the most humorous. I would argue that’s a bit of a misnomer. The Marylin Manson Award for the ‘scariest camper.’ I can see where that comes from (though, full disclosure, I used to listen to Mr. Manson as a young man. Like I said – my old username was ‘666musicman’). The Mel Gibson Award for… I don’t know, actually. I’ve not yet found the criteria for winning this award. I think it’s safe to say, however, that I doubt Nintendo of America would’ve given out an award for ‘most anti-Semitic.’
S/O to Mel, the terrible, terrible man.
Then, the session would come to an end. Shohola’s still going strong (somehow), but – sadly – Camp Hyrule is not. Once publication of Nintendo Power shifted from in-house to publication Future US, Camp Hyrule was no more. Resurrection seems unlikely. So we must find refuge in our nostalgia, to bring back That Which Is Lost. Even if it’s not always perfect.
RIP Nintendo Power. RIP Camp Hyrule. Maybe we’ll see you in another life.
Thanks for reading.