Fifth of Five

With the release of GTA IV there’s a new number one in town. As others before me have noted there’s no disagreement that the latest Liberty City scenario is a “10,” or whatever other top grade it can get.

Having been obsessed with a GTA title in the past this new round of hallelujahs got me thinking of the video games I’ve had love affairs with. Full blown, lack of sleep, loss of appetite, unhealthy pallor of the skin love affairs. I’d use the word obsession but it doesn’t really speak to the depth of emotion I had for these flickering pixels.

I’m not saying these are the best games in history, but they are the ones that sucked away my will, hurt my eyes, and tried to prove that the real world had less to offer me then their electronic realms.

So, here we go, the first entry is the fifth on my list. I’ll follow up with one a week. Building suspense and saving me from wracking my brains to figure out what I’m going to write every Thursday.

5. Asteroids, Atari 2600

OK. I suppose now I have to explain that I’m on the 40 side of 35. When this game was released in 1981 I was nine years old. There were no levels, no saves, and no real “end game.” You just shot space rocks with an arrowhead shaped “spaceship.” Big rocks, when shot, spawned numerous smaller rocks. Which, now that I think about it, is a pretty decent metaphor for cellular reproduction. But awkward sexual allusions aside, that was the whole of the game. Points were racked up and the eponymous asteroids just kept appearing for you to destroy.

The arrow design of your ship was in fact way more sophisticated then the “player” of other contemporary games. You could imagine that a spaceship would look like a sleek dart more easily than you could justify a square with a one way street sign being used to represent a brave knight.

I played that game as though my family’s well-being depended on it. Every day I’d spend a couple of hours making virtual gravel in 2D outer space. So much of my time, in fact, that I did reach the sort-of end of the game at least twice. I flipped the score.

I don’t know if there’s a modern example of this phenomenon. But back when Atari was the final word in home video game entertainment the games had a limit on the amount of points they could record. I’m sure the game programmer (I doubt there was such a thing as a “development team” in 1981) figured that no one would ever reach 1,000,000 points. No one would ever be able to survive the glowing rock menace long enough to make it that far. Their cleverly programmed granite killers would shatter the spaceship’s thin hull well before enough points were earned.

But I was one of those who made it. I watched with mounting glee as the numbers crawled up and up until, after hours and hours, 999,999 appeared and was quickly replaced with a big fat zero. Flipped the score.

It was my first real love and I’ll never forget Asteroids. Simple and repetitive, it still showed me a good time.


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