sure plays a mean pinball

Tonight my brother-in-law sent some money, with strict instructions to buy a copy of Lego Dimensions for my boys in time for Christmas.

Lego Dimensions is the latest entry in the near-field-communication kids’ console video gaming market; in brief, you plug a pad into the game console and place action figures on it, which then “come alive” on the screen and let you interact.

More simply, this is going to let my Lego-obsessed kids build figures and vehicles out of Lego that they will then be able to play with in game.

It’s… really amazing technology, and it got me thinking about how much video games have changed since their inception.

The first “video game” I ever saw was Donkey Kong, for Colecovision, circa 1982. Check this out! Show your children!

Are they crying yet? I’ll bet they’re crying.

1985 brought the first Nintendo Entertainment System into homes of spoiled / rich / lucky children. It came with two games; Super Mario Bros. and Duck Hunt. If you’ve ever played Duck Hunt, you are now imagining that goddamn dog laughing at you as you missed your target. And you’re wondering just why it was impossible to shoot the dog.

If you weren’t spoiled, rich, or lucky – and you didn’t have a friend living nearby who fit those criteria – you might still have an arcade nearby where you could get your video game fix. Even the nearest small town to me had one. Our arcade was a dodgy place in the early to mid 1980s. The air was thick with cigarette smoke and teenaged hormones. There were always a few bored girls draped around waiting for their boyfriends to finally run out of quarters. The lights were kept dim so the flashing and blinking from the machines was more alluring. It was noisier than hell, and always in the background was the metallic rattle of quarters hitting the chute at the bottom of the change machine.


This is the most 80s picture ever taken, probably.

Explaining arcades to my kids now is nearly impossible; it’s like our parents telling us they used to have to walk to school uphill both ways through six feet of snow.

Me: You see, kids, you had to pay a quarter to play. For your quarter you’d get three lives, usually.

Kids: That doesn’t sound so bad…

Me: But there was no save feature on arcade games, so when you died, you had to go back to the beginning.

Kids: What? How did anyone ever beat a game?

Me: Oh, the games never ended. The levels just kept repeating at slightly higher difficulty levels. The goal was to get your initials on the “high score” list.

Kids: *baffled stares*

The thing about my kids’ video games that always amazes me the most is that there are no consequences to really, really sucking at them. In all the Lego titles so far, you can’t even die in-game if you fall off a cliff or get eaten by a dragon; your little minifig explodes into a pile of coins, and you immediately regenerate on the spot. There are save points everywhere. You can work on a game a little bit at a time for weeks or even months until you finish it, and there always is a defined end point.

Don’t get me wrong! I love video games and I think all of the changes are great, I really do.

But imagine the satisfaction of actually being able to beat Pac-Man?


2 thoughts on “sure plays a mean pinball

  1. This is still a completely foreign world to me. I never played video games as a kid – except for that one on the Texas Instruments where you were looking for some treasure and usually ended up dying of infected chigger bites. Never went to an arcade. Maybe played Pac Man once or twice on my cousin’s Atari. I get that they’ve come a long way – I still get pissed off when there’s a commercial and I think it’s a preview for a really cool movie and it’s just an ad for a new video game. But I don’t get it. Never have, never will.


  2. I never played video games either, because when I did I died immediately. This is still the case today, by the way. If you were to judge my actual driving based on how I do at Mario Kart, you would never let me get behind the wheel of my minivan. Usually I’m going off cliffs or driving in the wrong direction.

    My cousins had Pong! I remember them playing it in their basement. This was in Saskatchewan, so this was in 1997. Ha! Kidding, Saskies. But I do remember my brother having a miniature arcade game (like, maybe a foot high) of Ms Pac Man.


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