Monday, February 16, 2009

Let me tell you about my, press the A button first and then up with the joystick!

I don't smoke, I don't do drugs, and I don't drink to excess. All in all, I live a pretty vice-free life. Of course, there is one exception that my parents knew about for years and that my wife has learned to tolerate -- I'm a member of Generation V...the videogamers.

I was hooked from the start by Mattel's handheld Football, a game that my father and I still look back on with a fond eye. Nothing more than little red LEDs moving up and down, left and right as you pushed the buttons as fast as you could, it was completely addicting and passed the time in the car as we drove to visit relatives. That carried over to Mattel's handheld Baseball, another game that consumed hours of my childhood. With both games, you never knew how fast your "player" was going to be at the start of the play so there was always a little bit of variability. Would you be able to zip to a touchdown or would you be limited to a single even though you heard the double beep that indicated you might be able to stretch it to a double?

As the videogames in the malls got more involved, so did the games at home, including Donkey Kong and Pac-Man designed to mimic that full-size feel while consuming huge quantities of batteries. Untold quarters were fed to the waiting maw of Joust and Tempest with its deceptively simple but oh so engaging design at the local Store 24.

However, my parents never went so far as to buy me a console game like Atari. Perhaps they recognized the temptation embodied by those silicon chips. For those, I had to visit friends' homes where we'd play Space Invaders, Missile Command, etc., using the rudimentary single joystick and one red button. Eventually I received a home computer (first a Commodore VIC 20 and then a 64) on which I could play some incredibly basic games (anyone remember Lunar Lander and Escape MCP?) before moving on to my first Macintosh and classic Mac games like Dark Castle, which filled many late nights in college.

The fascination has continued. Getting a computer with color monitor expanded the realm of available games. As a bachelor, I owned a Nintendo 64, my first home console game, and became hooked on Goldeneye and Wave Race. The Nintendo 64 eventually went away but the computer games remained, although I always felt a bit deprived on the Mac when faced with the swath of games available to PC owners. Then came the Playstation 2, which I won in a raffle, and the love affair began again, much to my wife's chagrin and bemused tolerance though she revealed a surprisingly strong affinity for Tempest and Pac-Man.

And then Apple began using Intel chips and suddenly, the world of PC games were accessible. Finally and most recently, came a Nintendo Wii, which definitely elicited a rueful shake of the head from my spouse even though I was merely following in the footsteps of 10-year old sister AND my 33-year old sister and her husband while being urged on by my mother to get one for use during Game Nights. Watching my mother and step-father box against one another in Wii Sports was oh so worth the money.

It's never been a head-to-head competitive thing for me. Oh sure, I'd play against friends (head-to-head Mario Kart on Wii is hilarious) but more often than not, it's me against the computer, trying to complete the story or tally a high score that carries no value in the real world. It's an escape, a release valve, the same way losing myself in a brilliant book is. Now, I'm using it as a spur, as an incentive. I allow myself to play when I reach a milestone (complete the outline or the text of a new chapter in my book, finish a project around the house) though I will admit to slipping, playing in recent days just to not think about my mother's cancer or the challenges facing friends and relatives right now.

Sometimes it's good to simplify your world for a short time and just go head to head with a giant gorilla that's throwing barrels at you.

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