I was at work the other day, whittling away the hours while picking some orders and letting my mind wander to the prospect of putting my hand under a stapler to wake myself up. As I discreetly glanced up at the clock for the 1,627 time, my senses were shaken awake when I heard someone quietly chant from behind me, “SEEEEEGAAAA”.
You see, I was wearing one of my Sega shirts that day. This one is probably the most straightforward of them all. Emblazoned with those unmistakable letters of electric blue on an all white background, this shirt seems to strike up unabashed Genesis pride in anyone who sees it. Any time I wear that thing out in public, I seem to be inundated with closet Sega fans, almost none of which normally represent themselves as regular gamers. It’s unmistakable, though – the sportos, the motorheads, geeks, sluts, bloods, wastoids, dweebies, dickheads – they all adore Sega. They think Sonic’s a righteous dude. My coworker just blurted out this little sing-songy chant as an involuntary kneejerk response to the visual cue that we all have burned into our brains from childhood, but the little smirk that came with it told me she carried a little love in her heart for the heyday of the Genesis.
It’s no secret that Sega carries a personality that remains one of the most steadfast and well-defined of any gaming brand out there. No matter what they do in subsequent years, there’s a wealth of iconic phrases, sounds, and visual cues that Sega can utilize to immediately flood our minds with images of three button controllers and Saturday mornings on the couch.
That little run-in at work inspired me to start up this weekly article that focuses on all of those little aural cues. Sure, “SEEEEEGAAAA” is the most obvious and obligatory, but there are hundreds of others that have weaved their way into our gaming subconscious as the indelible and unforgettable sounds of Sega.
TRACK 1 – “EEEEEEEEEEEEEEP!!!”
Go turn on your Dreamcast. I’ll wait.
You hear that? I sure hope you did. If you didn’t, then you’ve either diligently changed your VMU battery for the past 10 years (kudos if you have) or you’ve gone deaf. Years ago, when that ear-splitting “EEEEEEP!” first ripped through your living room, you thought your little white box of dreams had finally gone sour. Did you just break your Dreamcast?
Well, of course you now know that the answer is a resounding no. Your Dreamcast wasn’t screeching out its death knell, nor was it threatening suicide because you asked it to play Slave Zero for the 500th time. No, it was alive and more vocal than ever. Your VMU battery was just low. That screech was Sega’s way of gently informing you and everyone else within 500 yards that the Dreamcast’s bread and butter was about to sputter out. If you failed in keeping your VMU kicking, how would you check on your Chao during your break at Price Chopper? How would you fish for Zombie Revenge zombies on the subway? How would you win a frustrating game of mini Trick Style while trying not to look like a complete dork in front of the hottie in the laundromat?
I don’t think that Sega ever really considered what the long-term effects of this would be. Surely, we would all be just as addicted to our mini fighting games and Tamagotchi time wasters as we were to their big brothers on the console. There’s no way that novelty would ever wear off… Right?
While I admit that I will always carry with me some fond memories of the VMU’s capabilities, almost all of them have to do with supplementing the full game as I’m playing it. Virtua Tennis displayed a tiny version of your player on the VMU screen, effectively allowing you to play a match even if your TV was off. NFL2K was the first football game that gave you the ability to hide your play choices from that cheating bastard sitting next to you on the couch. I’ve touted ad nauseam just how brilliant Capcom was for displaying the heart rate blip on your VMU in Resident Evil Code: Veronica.
For a while, that VMU shriek stood almost as a miniature badge of honor. I’ve played with my VMUs to a point where their power has depleted. Oh, yours doesn’t beep? Have you been neglecting your Chao, you deadbeat? A decade later, it’s gone from a source of annoyance, to a badge of honor, to an obligatory icon of the Dreamcast canon. It’s almost impossible to come across a Dreamcast fan who doesn’t expect that resounding beep each and every time that little orange triangle light turns on. If they don’t expect it, they aren’t a true Dreamcaster.
I may have made it sound like that shrill little beep really bothers me. I’ve been using words like “shriek,” “screeching,” and “ear-splitting,” but in reality I’d take it over abject silence any day. Sure, there are plenty of splash screens and little noisy ticks that any console emits whenever you start up a game, but I can’t think of any so distinct and recognizable as the Dreamcast’s Battery Beep ™. Your Dreamcast proudly announces itself to the world any time you turn it on. As with the unmistakable sounds of a dirty movie, anybody in the immediate proximity is going to know exactly what you are doing when they hear that beep. Maybe it sounds a bit silly, but it just feels so appropriate considering the playful, arcadey, admittedly loud enthusiasm that comes inexorably with your average Dreamcast game. I’ve always interpreted that beep as my Dreamcast encouraging my delight and audibly high-fiving me before we start up a game of Crazy Taxi or Space Channel 5. That orange triangle is like HAL 9000’s eye, but instead of not letting you do that, Dave, he’s letting you doing it, and cheering you on.
Now, I’m well aware that there are a ton of Sega addicts out there who will stand against me and say that they still play with their independent VMUs, changing the batteries on a regular basis. Hell, indie developers who still bring us new titles on our beloved console are even making brand new VMU games, including adaptations of console classics like Metroid and Metal Gear Solid! I admit, I want to try some of these, but I can’t give up that beep for anything. It’s simply too synonymous with the orange swirl at this point. Does anybody change all the batteries in all of their VMUs? I highly doubt it. Everyone who’s played a Dreamcast has heard that beep at some point or another.
When you first think of Sega, I doubt that Sega’s Battery Beep ™ is going to come to your mind off the bat. It’s not exactly a sound people would want to have coursing through their brains. Even so, if you close your eyes and hear that beep, you and anyone who’s picked up a DC controller in the past five years will be patiently waiting for the mystical and calming sounds of the Dreamcast splash screen that comes a few moments later. Sega has subconsciously given the Dreamcast its own unique voice in any Sega fan’s living room. Sure, it doesn’t play DVDs or come with WiFi capabilities, but it has just as much identity and personality as any piece of hardware you have set up in your entertainment center.
The Battery Beep ™ is a part of that.