Black and white static scrambled across the screen of a portable television as Quentin “Q-Ball” Freouf assembled an old plastic robot.
“This is R.O.B., which stands for Robotic Operating Buddy,” the 32-year-old said. “This thing is as rare as hen’s teeth.”
Several of Q-Ball’s wallet chains clanked against the concrete when he knelt down to connect R.O.B. to a yellowed, first generation Nintendo Entertainment System (NES).
“It responds to the light signals on the screen,” he said over the sound of R.O.B.’s whirring and occasional beeps. “In this game, he’s supposed to help you unlock gates and doors and help you disarm the bombs in the lab.”
Adjusting his rainbow-colored, flat-billed ball cap, Q-Ball hovered over the gadget, explaining it was a marketing gimmick used by Nintendo in 1985 to get the console on store shelves.
Despite the poorly lit room, Q-Ball, a self-proclaimed Nintendo Captain and video game collector, never removed his gold-rimmed aviator sun glasses as he demonstrated how to play “Gyromite,” one of R.O.B.’s companion games.
“There’s another R.O.B. game out there called ‘Stack-Up,’ but I don’t have it,” he said with tangible disappointment.
Replacing “Gyromite” with “Super Mario Bros.,” Q-Ball blew into the cartridge a few times to remove any dust collecting on the pin connectors.
“‘Super Mario Bros.’ is my favorite,” he said, setting a half-empty Mexican Coca-Cola bottle next to an unopened Slim Jim. “I grew up playing it.”
Q-Ball’s fascination with all things Nintendo began early, and quickly became an escape from the challenges of growing up in a small Wyoming town.
“My family got our first NES system when I was 5,” he said. “We lived in Torrington, where I was born. I was dynamically immersed in video games.”
Whether it was because he was different, an outsider or wore his hair long, Q-Ball said other children often treated him poorly. But after moving to Laramie, he found a group of friends and his gaming hobby became an obsession.
“Officially, I moved to Laramie Aug. 15, 1997,” he said. “I lived on 819 Hancock (Street) across the street from the Trinity Lutheran Church.”
Upon joining a Boy Scout troop at the church, Q-Ball found his clique.
“When I was growing up with my peers in Boy Scout Troop No. 135 — yeah, I was one of them guys — we were all gamers,” he explained. “That’s what sparked most of the collecting.”
Around the same time, Q-Ball found a lifelong friend in Anthony Mason.
“We met when we were 13 or 14,” Anthony said. “We both played Pokémon for a time, and we hanged out for a long time until I moved back to Cheyenne.”
The duo bonded over trading cards and “Mario Kart,” but the friendship wasn’t absent hurdles.
“I didn’t even like him at first — I can’t remember why,” Anthony recalled. “Maybe it was because he tried to date my sister.”
But he soon discovered that not only was Q-Ball a potential friend with similar interests in gaming, he was an ally on the playground.
“I got bullied a lot,” Anthony said. “He’s the one that kept the bullies out of my face.”
Nearly two decades later, Anthony and Q-Ball still get together to play Nintendo.
“Last December, I came over to Laramie with my Japanese NES Famicom,” Anthony said, explaining the Famicom was the first Nintendo console before the NES was designed and released in the U.S. “He liked it, and said he wished he had one. He has a lot more gadgets and consoles than me, but I’m still a collector.”
The phosphorescent glow of Q-Ball’s portable TV fell against his faded Hawaiian T-shirt and stained Bullet Bill wrist warmers as he guided Mario over pitfalls and lethal enemies.
“I have nearly 600 games and 40 systems dating back all the way back to the original Atari 2600 — the 1977 model, which is known as the ‘Heavy Sixer,’” he boasted. “I’m a fanatic of Nintendo and collector of games.”
The self-labeled title “Nintendo Captain” was derived from the cartoon “Captain N,” which first appeared in Nintendo Power magazine before becoming a TV series, Q-Ball said. The main character, Captain N, was originally penned as Captain Nintendo.
Collecting whatever he could throughout his youth, he said he didn’t get serious until he started hanging around Clint Harder, former owner of the now-closed Slackerz Gaming Emporium.
“I’ve known Q-Ball since junior high,” Clint said. “The thing that always stuck out the most to me was he loved video games so much, he wanted them more than food.”
When he opened the gaming emporium in 2006, Q-Ball was a regular around the shop.
“He wanted everything Nintendo,” Clint remembered. “He liked the used games, and I’d hold stuff for him on occasion.”
Not only did Q-Ball visit Slackerz twice a week, Clint said he joined some of the card-game leagues hosted at the store and occasionally helped out with the shop keeping.
“I would need help with manual labor, and he was always the first person to volunteer,” he said. “He would work for video games instead of money, he actually preferred that. He always wanted this R.O.B. the robot I had, and it wasn’t cheap. It took him quite a while, but he actually worked it off.”
Q-Ball wasn’t always motivated to work when needed, but Clint said the cure was simple.
“He loves soda pop,” he said. “If he was in a slumpy mood and not wanting to do much, a soda pop would always turn him around.”
Nowadays, Q-Ball totes the R.O.B. around in a bicycle trailer as he pedals across town. Clint said Q-Ball made videos with the robot, memes and conducted demonstrations about how it works.
“He’s done more with it than I ever expected,” he said.
While certainly a prized possession, Q-Ball said his R.O.B. is but one of the many Nintendo products in his collection — a collection he intends to grow for the foreseeable future.
“I just need one more game, and I will have 600,” he said. “But it can’t be just any game. I want it to be special. It needs to be ‘Super Mario Maker’ for the Nintendo 3DS.”