A couple weeks ago forces from two different countries and two different walks of life combined to steal away what little productivity I have left. A YouTuber/soulless ginger from the Southern USA and a soulless Canadian bureaucrat, by colossal coincidence (Coincidence? I think not!) nearly simultaneously introduced me to the online game World of Tanks. It’s basically a slow-moving first-person shooter involving tanks. The best part is I can speak with the soulless Canadian bureaucrat over the internet while we play. (I realized after we first played that it was the first time I’d spoken to him directly in 15 years. Welcome to the modern world of modern friendship. This makes sense when you keep in mind I’m also friends with New Zealand knife maker I’ve never spoken to at all.)
All this has me thinking about computer games because the first computer game I remember playing too much was Combat on our Atari Video Computer System we got a couple hundred years ago (plus or minus a few years) when we lived in Hayden, Colorado. The most amazing thing about the Atari 2600 was that my mom also liked playing, although her favorite game was backgammon, and that we still managed to play outside a lot, even in winter.
The first thing I remember learning from that game system was that computer games cheat. My mom still has a picture of the tv screen after the backgammon game gave itself double nines on six sided dice. We also learned, when mom got the famously buggy ET: The Extra-Terrestrial game. (By the way, if, by any chance, she still has it, I encourage her to sell it.)
I also remember a little cafe or shop across from the park in Hayden having, at one time or another, Space Race, Asteroids and Pac Man and burning a few quarters on those (about the equivalent of a dollar now).
My chance at fame and glory came in or around junior high when our school got Apple computers and they attempted to teach us programming. Some of my friends were programming surprisingly fun computer games yet, try as I might, I just couldn’t get interested in that. I liked playing games, not playing with code. To this day, I’m more interested in playing computer games than getting under the hood and trying to make them better or figuring out how to make my own. It’s one of the few activities I can truly surrender to. I could sit for hours with my Coleco Electronic Quarterback (hey, you had blockers and could pass. Awesome.) Decades later, I could play Civilization II for days on end without eating or sleeping and consider it time well spent.
Give me a book, though, and I’ll be analyzing it from the opening line and collecting ideas and tricks. Or I’ll be criticizing it and figuring out how to make it better or giving up halfway through because it’s not going anywhere. I’m basically the writer/narrator from John Barth’s story “Lost in the Funhouse” who can’t help but comment on the story as it goes along because he knows so much about the tricks the story is trying to pull. Sit next to me when we’re watching TV and you’ll soon consider moving to a new room where you can watch without the running color commentary and attempts to guess the next line.
I can surrender to movies–I’ve never walked out of a movie; I’ve been close, though, very close–but that critical eye is always watching.
Now it’s time to go fight with some tanks or stop the creepers from reaching my base. I haven’t decided yet.