Since this site’s inception a mere two months ago, my dad has been a frequent visitor. Though he doesn’t play video games, he eagerly anticipates the day when he’ll get a 404 Error so he can call me and say “I told you so.” See, as strange as it may sound, my father is slightly older than me, and grew up in a time when video games didn’t really exist. And in his teenage years, he saw this new medium develop before his very own eyes. I figured it must have been strange seeing these weird VCRs which let you control dots on the television, and so I decided to talk to him about what that was like. So off we went, deep into the woods of East Tennessee. We equipped ourselves with rudimentary weapons to fend off the hill people, and once atop a grand mountaintop, looking down upon the TVA dams and grist mills, we discussed what his vastly different experience with video games was like.
We’re both out of breath as we reach the top, and I ask him if he ever actually played video games growing up. He says yes, and in fact went to an arcade and spent several hours and quarters there. This all came to an end when a friend of his got a pinball machine for Christmas and they could play that instead, for free. I ask him what a pinball machine is, just to instill further disappointment in him with today’s generation, and then say I’ve heard of it, because I had Sonic Spinball for Sega.
We’re at a gazebo at the top, and we both sit in the shade. We’ve done this hike many times before, and always love it. The hike up the trail at the beginning isn’t the reason we come though. That part comes later. I tell him that pinball sort of counts, but when did he first really play an actual video game? He says the first video game he ever played was Pong for the Atari. I really do remember the Atari, they had one at the church I went to for preschool, but I don’t remember which games they had. I think it was the one with pixels, big pixels. Regardless, I ask him to elaborate. He and his brother loved it, and thought it was extremely difficult. It took a few years of convincing to get one at his own house though, because his parent’s thought kids needed to be outdoors instead of controlling the television. It did a good enough job controlling itself they would say derisively, presumably while gathering leaches to reduce the levels of black bile and other humours. Or it could be that they just didn’t want the one television in the house tied up with Pong.
Pong was not the only game they played of course. Pac Man and Space Invaders were also fantastic, addictive new innovations. Because there wasn’t really much to compare those games to, I ask him what he thought about the graphics at the time. He says that Pac Man and Space Invaders were better because they were in color, and he thought they had good graphics. He pauses and then adds, “No one really thought about graphics then.” This makes sense to me. These games weren’t trying to be realistic, they were just games. It was the gameplay that mattered. No one cares in Uno how well the cards are drawn, in the same sense no one cared if the Pong ball was shaded or not. Graphics only come into play when you attempt to show something in real life, and the graphical quality is thus measured in terms of how closely it resembles whatever it attempting to be represented. It wasn’t that these games had good or bad graphics, it was simply just not a factor to be considered at the time. I’m feeling enlightened, and we look before us at the hike to come.
He goes on to say that he preferred pinball to video games at the time because pinball featured pictures of scantily clad women, which he needed to feed his perverse mind. I suppose he’s right, as a kid perversion will outrank Frogger in terms of entertainment 10 times out of 10. I ask if he ever imagined these things (video games) would one day become common place in people’s homes, and he said no. They were part and parcel of arcades and skating rinks, and served mostly as something for him to do when they called for couple’s skate. Anyone that had one in their home was rich. I ask if he could foresee video games becoming as huge as they are today, and mention that Modern Warfare looks to outsell anything before it in terms of entertainment, including movies. He says no, he thought it was a flash in the pan, a fad that would last for a Christmas or two like Cabbage Patch Kids did for girls.
Video games at the time, he says, were a nice bit of a distraction. In an arcade, they cost money and you didn’t want to waste it on something that is over and done in a matter of minutes. I ask if some people got hardcore nerdy into games back then like they do today, and he said not really. It was all so new and novel at the time, and no one had them in their homes, that it was more of something fun to do while you were out. Though, he adds, if your initials were on the high score on a video game, they probably thought you didn’t have much going on in your life. I attempt to correct him, and point to my mentor George Costanza and his Frogger high score, and my dad gives a sly smile. He’s proven his point.
We stand up and prepare to head back to the car. I acknowledge that he doesn’t play video games at all, and ask what the biggest reason for that is. He says they go too fast. Not being brought up around games and playing them for years like younger people have, it all just races past him too quickly, and the mental stimulation may induce a wild eyed seizure on a man of his age. We both look out at the extremely steep hill before us, and I get it. Sure, I play a lot of video games, but I’m also a busy guy and have tons of work to do. Video games are an easy way to burn off stress and distract myself from law stuff. But as we take our first steps off the path and straight into the brush, prepared to rush down this horrendously dangerous mountainside just to see what happens, I realize that he sees life, real life, as something far more satisfying and rewarding. And I get it.
Trees snapped as we desperately tried to grab them to stop our decent, rocks were torn from the ground as we searched in vain for a foothold, crashing downwards until we could hear them no longer. Down and down we went, our hands gathering puncture wounds, our legs shredded and torn in the bushes. And once we reached the bottom, our faces sweaty, our bodies bloodied, his leg bruised severely after slamming into a tree, we wiped the dirt off our asses and drove home.
And when I got home, glowing from the adrenaline and endorphins I had rushing through my veins, I sat down and reflected. I grabbed a Mountain Dew, turned on the TV, and started playing some Battlefield 3.