How Slaying Perseus Helped Me Defeat Shao Kahn


We all had those years where most of us were just not good at video games. We wanted to be, wanted it badly enough to play for hours, writing down cheat codes (by hand, no less) and feeling that crushing defeat over and over again. Everyone had their dragon/Kraken/Mike Tyson to slay before they ascended into gaming mediocrity, and mine was Shao Kahn.

Mortal Kombat 3 on the Sega Genesis was both my bane and my delight. I’d practice forever just to get waylaid by Scorpion or frozen by Sub-Zero. In a nutshell, my ass was handed to me on a regular basis. The rare times I managed to get to Shao Kahn, I’d panic like a fourth grader and scramble while he knocked me about. Repeat ad infinitum until I went to bed, feeling like a wuss.

But what does this have to do with a Greek legend, you ask? Actually, pretty much nothing. This is the story of a particularly ornery gander who unwittingly became the nemesis of a much younger me.

At the time, my family and I lived in a small apartment complex in South Carolina. The bus arrived at the head of the complex ritualistically, and many of us had to trudge past a few man-made ponds to get there. Guarding one right near the bus stop was said gander, who I dubbed “Perseus”, or “Percy” for short. I had watched Clash of the Titans, so I thought it was neat. In hindsight, if I had been clever, I would’ve named him Kraken or Calibos, but I digress. This gander was pure hate in white, feathery form. He’d charge any who got within a few yards, shrieking his squawking battle cry and flapping his wings. If irked enough, he’d take a running leap and attempt to bash people in the face.

And for some reason, he hated me especially. I don’t know if he could sense my weakness but his bloodlust ran rampant and I regularly boarded the bus riddled with gander-related PTSD. Percy was my dragon in the real world and the first real enemy I had ever made outside of a girl that had knocked over my blocks in kindergarten. I was resigned to a web-footed death in the near future.

Then, my grandfather chanced to visit. Farm-tanned, no nonsense and ex-puncher of criminals in Washington D.C.; his dragons were long dead and he wore their scales like a Norse god. I told him about Percy and he gave me his usual sage advice: “That’s easy. Take your backpack and whack that sucker down. He won’t mess with you no more if you show him who’s boss.”

I took this to heart. The next day, I trudged with the determination of a soldier. Percy was waiting for me. His cold, beady black eyes unblinking and ready. I gathered all the bravery a fourth grader could manage and shrugged my backpack off, holding it like a shield. He took this as a challenge and that day, it was. With a rustle of his wings and a squawk, he charged. However, he hadn’t accounted for one thing: how many books we had to lug around. Percy hit the front end of my pack and I swung it forward, bashing it like a shield. His banshee shrieks grew more angered and he tried again to peck at my leg, but my backpack held true! If God of War had existed then, I imagine the theme would be playing in my head while I struggled with this ridiculous bird. He was screaming, I was screaming, kids and adults alike were looking upon this in sheer awe of how absolutely idiotic it all was.

Yet, with a final crash of my history text book and a wild yell, my foe retreated back to the murky pond from whence he came. No one would speak to me on the bus that day but I didn’t care. I was a god-queen, surging with victory and power. I held on to that feeling all day and when I came home, I turned on the Genesis once more. The journey through the ranks was a blur. I was high on cream soda and triumph and soon, I faced Shao Kahn himself.

And I laughed. He was a silly man in a silly hat with a silly thong. And I was a silly centaur man with a metallic tail. Regardless, Motaro and I shared a brief moment of an internal solemn nod and then we went to work. Shao Kahn was still a hard fight, even in a thong, but little by little we wore him down. The victory screen came after a long tension and then burst like fireworks into a full on fit of yelling, fist pumping and spilling my poor soda all over the carpet.

In short, this is hardly a motivational story or even a life lesson. It’s a silly story about a young me battling a gander like Perseus fought the Kraken, minus awesome flying horse, decapitated Gorgon and acid scorpions. If anything, it’s a reminder that almost every gamer starts out uncoordinated, timid and desperate to get better. You may never have to battle a gander from Hell but if you find your own Perseus, fight well.

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