Derelict Junction

Providing missile launch codes for foreign cryptographers everywhere.

Saturday, October 09, 2004


Ever get the perverse desire just to bother people for hours on end?

On my daily commute to work, I have the pleasure of riding passed San Francisco's City Hall and Civic Center. Last week I noticed a lot of construction going on. An outdoor stage was being set up as well as huge tents. Now, the Civic Center is the site of many a public function. From the Gay Pride Parade, to a failed attempt to move the SF Halloween celebration out of the Castro. It also includes the Bill Graham Civic Auditorium, SF Public Library, and the Asian Art Museum, so it's not surprising that another multiple-day event would be setting up. But for days I couldn't figure out what it was.

Then, one morning I saw on stage (Spoiler Alert) what appeared to be technicians testing out a huge mechanical Pac-Man, chomping an illuminated white pellet. What could possibly be going on here that they would finally erect a proper tribute to the pop culture phenomenon who's eponymous fever grew to epidemic proportions in the early 80's? Why, The World Cyber Game Conference!

Having lost much of my pre-teen years to video arcades, this piqued my interest. Could Buckner and Garcia actually be slated to perform? How could they ever free up from their busy schedule?

That excitement lasted only a few seconds, for video games have come a long way and I, fortunately, have been left behind. What's featured in this day and age are complex one-on-one fantasy and fighting games that the internet allows you to play against other shut-ins around the world.

This leaves me with a crotchety, 34-year old scowl as I gaze upon the Pac-Man monument, grumbling nonsense like, "How many of those kids even know what that is?" And then sounding suspiciously like Rutger Hauer in Blade Runner just as he's about to die, "I have seen levels of Tempest, & Defender, & Space Invaders, that you people could only dream of!"

Flash-back: 1980, Ziggy's Video Arcade, Taunton Massachusetts. A ten year old version of myself studies every move of a venerable 18 year old master of Defender, clearly the most difficult video game in the world. I scan for the secret "pattern" that the game designers, according to talk in the men's room, have programmed in that would make any player invincible. This is the current-day Fountain of Youth that teens and adolescents have devoted more time to finding than all of Ponce De Leon's years. The Pac-Man pattern is real. Not only have I seen it in action, but multiple books have documented it's existence. The Defender equivalent, though, is still in question.

Goddamn that game. Just the name commanded respect back then. All other games paled in comparison. Pac-Man and Centipede looked silly being in the same room with Defender. Only the conceptual Tempest could be placed side-by side and not get embarrassed. But make no mistake, if Defender was The Police, it made all other games look like Christopher Cross.

Now the world through ten year old eyes is much different from reality. I remember watching the Defender high score champion, with his pack of cigarettes rolled in his T-Shirt sleeve and his skanky girlfriend, just waiting to go to the back seat of his Trans Am, and thinking, "That's all I want in the world. I want high score, the skakiest girl in the arcade, cigarettes, and having sex in a car to Rush's Moving Pictures." Unfortunately, I think, I achieved none of those.

How many kids at WCG will have flash-backs like that? How many VietNam vets have flash-backs that lucid?

Now I know how old people feel when the come across a car they had as a teenager. Maybe someday I'll wheel my chair into a throw-back restaurant, see a Defender game some kitschy interior designer thought would be hilarious to put in the corner, and be so moved with nostalgia I'll actually stop shitting into my bag for 10 seconds.

What was the point? Oh, yeah, having spent most of my later years absorbing, not distributing common nerd abuse, I feel strangely tempted to attend WCG costumed like Ogre of Revenge of the Nerds fame, and scream "Nerds!" as loud as possible. Most people wouldn't get it, but those who do, would love it to no end. It's thoughts like that that remind me how much we miss Andy Kaufman. Posted by Hello



At 8:28 AM, Blogger Drew said...

Hey, it's never too late to grow a bad beard and take up smoking. Plus, once the trucker-hat fad goes away, you should be able to score an old TransAm for next to nothin'. I think if there was ever a demographic breakdown for different games, it would go something like this;

Defender - Just the guy you described, only loves the Scorpions as much as Rush

Centipede - Popular, has a hot girlfriend and rich parents. No one likes him

Dig Dug - Total Fag

PacMan/Ms. Pacman - Sad, pathetic. Don't have the reaction time to play Tempest or Defender and think that people should be impressed by their being able to remember simple patterns.

Joust - The 'real' cool people. Ahead of their time Asians etc.

And then there was me, the dork in the corner playing 'Venture', a game that featured a smiley face with a bow and arrow going into dungeons. MOST PATHETIC GAME EVER...


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