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Where Are They Now: Q*Bert
By InsideJoke.TV


His adventures enthralled thousands. The punctuation of his name baffled millions.

Whether or not you were able to pronounce the word asterisk you knew Q*Bert. Even those who did not participate in his adventures were aware of his sometimes fruitless attempts to outwit the dastardly Coily the snake.

But where is he now?

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A direct descendant of the Roman Emperor CueBertiMus MaxiMus, Q*Bert was raised with the knowledge that he was destined for greatness. This fact was never lost on his parents, who were always slightly disappointed that their "Little Bertie" never really applied himself towards his schoolwork, always seeming more content to be alone in his bedroom. Whether he would ascend the stairs with paint thinner, airplane glue, or turpentine, his parents secretly hoped that he would one day share with them whatever wood-working project he was surely building in there. In an interview in 1986 with Scratch and Sniff magazine, Q*Bert revealed that this was actually the beginnings of a life-long addiction to inhalants.

The altered state of mind that he often found himself gave him what his teachers generously referred to as "an over-active imagination," which by today's standards would be classified as "borderline schizophrenic." However, Q*Bert was perfectly content in his notions of government conspiracies against revealing the truth. Q*Bert was convinced that the world we live in is actually comprised of miniature cubes, and he would go at great lengths on this subject, spouting of phrases and word combinations that no one could really understand. Many would simply try and listen closely, or even recording what he said and playing it backwards, but, the fact of the matter was simple: Q*Bert was never really saying much of anything. Once this became apparent, he went largely unnoticed.

Word of this unique character reached Michael Ovitz who was then employed by the Atari Corporation as a scout for stars for their video game adventures. Q*Bert's strange features and oddly pixilated quality made him perfect. Ovitz felt that he had the next Frogger on his hands. He immediately approached Q*Bert and brought him to the offices to meet with the video game makers. The research and development team at Atari spent a great deal of time studying what made Q*Bert tick, and what type of game would suit him. Their first attempt, Q*Bert's Filthy Swear-o-Rama, never really got off the ground. Game programmers took a closer look scrawlings about how the universe was actually comprised of cubes, and how mastery of those cubes would lead to ultimate power. Or at least that's what he attempted to express, despite it actually coming out sounding more like "Eep Opp Ork Ah-Ah."

His ailing health made it impossible to tour in promotion of Q*Bert's Qubes, ensuring that it could never succeed.

It helped that he had countless drawings on the topic, which he was able to turn over to the designers. The notion of a game largely comprised of cubes excited all involved, because it was the one thing that could actually be made to look realistic at that time. Now, the only problem was to find a formidable adversary for Q*Bert. The ideal foe was already signed to an iron-clad ten-year contract: a purple snake named Coily, whose previous game Coily's Slither Disco '81 failed to catch on due to lack of interest in playing a game where a snake does the hustle.

By early 1983, the game was ready to go. Q*Bert would hop around trying to change the colors of the cubes, all the while attempting to evade Coily's dastardly intentions. The flying disks were a last minute addition to add slightly more risk to the game, and because Q*bert seemed to like the way that flying through the air made him light-headed.

The game test-marketed so well that it was decided to market the game as a first-run arcade video game. This was great news for Q*Bert and Coily, who would each share three cents of every quarter that was put into the game which put Q*Bert on the fast-track to superstardom.

He was on top of the world. Happy for the first time in his life, he purchased an estate with a reinforced swimming pool which would satisfy his increasingly insatiable cocaine addiction. Unfortunately, with Q*Bertís recreation of choice, it was only a matter of time before tragedy would come knocking.

Riding high on both the success of the video game, and the coconut sized chunks of cocaine he inhaled, Q*Bert was totally unaware of a worsening health condition. Despite the fact that the septum of his nose had once been the size of a small childís arm, he was oblivious to its virtual disintegration, and his diagnosis with Paranasal Sinus Cancer caught him completely unaware.

Refusing to accept his condition, he returned to work. However, his constant hopping resulted in a thin layer of blood left on the entire game cube. With increasing awareness of the AIDS virus, Coily swore to never work with Q*Bert again.

At the height of his fame, you could have Q*Bert in your very own house. Although he preferred to be kept right next the cleaning supplies.

Within days, Q*Bert was unable to perform, which could not have come at a worse time for him. A sequel to his eponymous adventure was the all-new Q*Bertís Qubes. A major media push had been planned, with Q*Bert doing a multi-city tour. But, not only was his health too poor to do the tour, but Atari executives felt that Q*Bertís fans would not be able to handle seeing his bulging eyes and cancerous growth on the side of his nose.

With Q*Bert unattached to the project, Q*Bertís Qubes met with minor success. He cast aside his recreational lifestyle and set out to beat his cancer. Sadly, a year of intense chemotherapy was not enough. His only chance for survival was to have his nose removed. Although it meant the end to his livelihood, and all he had worked for, Q*Bert was glad to be given a second chance at life. He had the procedure done, and spent several months recovering. The remainder of his fortune went to reconstructive surgery, so that he could function again.

Finally healthy, Q*Bert began to try and get his career on track. But, the public simply didnít recognize him, and the video game market had changed so drastically that there simply was no longer a home for him in the industry. A short-term job as a sunglass-clad rock ní roll orange for Sunkist paid the bills, but it wasnít enough for him. Heíd always known he was destined for better things, and he knew if he worked hard enough, they would happen for him all over again.

Only they never did. Years went by, and despite guest appearances on Empty Nest and A Different World the public never really accepted the nose-less Q*Bert. Worse than that, Q*Bert could no longer accept himself. His ensuing depression illustrated how old habits die hard. With his nose removed, his ability to inhale toxic fumes had diminished, and he had to seek out larger and larger quantities of them.

It was just such a pursuit that put a tragic end to Q*Bertís struggles. On October 5, 1990, Q*Bert was found face down in an aquarium filled with kerosene. Friends within the video game community were devastated, and banded together to make sure that nothing like that would ever happen again. The Q*Bert Memorial Fund was set up in 1992, establishing for the first time health insurance for video game characters. Then to honor his memory, in 2000 a newly generated Q*Bert-like character took his place in an all-new adventure for Sega Dreamcast, proving that he might be gone, but never, ever forgotten.

Article copyright © 2003 Inside Joke Productions


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