Tales from an old gamer.
A couple of years ago, I picked up a throwback Namco joystick at Wal-Mart. I couldn’t resist the old school design, but best of all, it had my all-time favorite game of the early 80’s – Ms. Pacman! It also has Galaga, Pole Position, Xevious, and Mappy. Long before my interests in sports, women, and alcohol, my three main passions were Diamond Back dirtbikes, comic books, and Ms. Pacman. In the summers of 1982 & 83 you could find me at the old Video Forrest, or at the Village Liquor store a few doors down, playing ‘Star Castle’. My buddies and I would often hit the bowling alley for ‘Gyruss’, the 7-11 on Capricorn for ‘Tempest’, and the old theaters had ‘Galaga’. And who could forget the ‘Yellow Brick Road’ at University Town Centre? I spent countless quarters and the occasional smashed nickel perfecting my skills. Remember the intro scene from ‘Fast Times at Ridgemont High’? That was my world.
Sure, we had an Atari 2600 at home, but I think we can all agree that it just didn’t cut it. When I run across a first generation console at the swapmeet or thrift shop, I’m often left with a feeling of bittersweet nostalgia. Sure the graphics were horrible, but we still spent countless hours fixated on the rectangle “man” throwing the square “ball”. You get the picture. Don’t even get me started on the original handhelds – Coleco Football, Digital Derby, no comparison to today’s PSP or DSi.
Even as kids, we knew what we wanted, the technology just wasn’t there. It’s funny that in our household, we have a PS3, two PS2’s, X-Box, Gamecube, N64, original NES, Nintendo DSi, PSP, you name it. Yet, last night, this little device running on 4 double-A batteries, provided hours of entertainment. Not just for me and the wife, but the kids as well. I do love today’s games, the whole online aspect and mindblowing graphics.. but sometimes, man, you just got to have game. Back then, the formula was easy: Simple to learn, difficult to master. Best of all, everyone was on an even playing field. There were no tweaks, cheats, or hacks. You either had it, or you didn’t. If you didn’t, you put your quarter up on the glass and got in line with the other chumps.
So, currently I hold the in-house Galaga title at 92,860 and don’t foresee anyone topping that anytime soon. I may be a little rusty, but this old kid still has the skills. My boys can hold their own with the new stuff, but with the classics, it all comes down to the hand-eye precision that can only be attained from years of hanging out at the arcade. The old Track-and-Field button jab, the ability to remain focused on the enemy ships, dodging incoming fire through your peripheral vision. All that, while blocking out the occasional “pop” of the foosballers behind you. With that, there’s also the “Atari joystick scar” that never actually healed, relieved only temporarily by holding a Slurpee Big Gulp.
Factoid: Did you know that a Tijuana-bought stiletto knife switchblade, when jabbed at the proper angle, can provide an endless supply of credits on Donkey Kong, DK Jr. machines?
So, I’ve heard.