06 February 2010

Grand Prix - Atari 2600

One warm summer morning in 1982 found me in the basement, joystick in hand. I was already deep into my Atari addiction when Activision released Grand Prix. A 10-year-old kid living in a Baltimore suburb, I had played Asteroids and Adventure to death. Those games were great, but they lacked the polish and vivid colors of Activision titles. Grand Prix was no exception, and I knew this was true that morning as my mother watched me play. I was going for a record.
Not to brag about it on the internet or to unlock a new track; but to beat a track in a certain amount of time so I could send in a photo of my TV screen for a special Activision iron-on patch. (Note to Activision: Bring back the patches.)
As mom watched me fail over and over again I noticed she didn't seem as bored as she usually did when watching me play a video game.
"They should make you play this game before you get a driver's license," she said.
Today the game looks like it was created by a kindergarten class, but in 1982 the vibrant graphics and realistic sound effects were total racing immersion. The simple gameplay - race to the finish line, avoiding obstacles and other cars, as fast as possible - forced you to memorize patterns and pull off maneuvers with zero room for error.
That summer was two years before everything would change for my family. It was two years before my father got laid off from the tugboats and my mother rejoined the workforce after decades of being a stellar housewife. The days of her watching me play some stupid game in the basement would soon be over. I wasn't growing up hard, to be sure, but I grew up a little faster.
But on that summer morning with my mother watching I beat that track and she took the picture.
Of course, we left the lights on and the picture never came out. All you could see was me sitting next to a white screen. I've always wondered how many more kids would have patches now if they were better photographers. (And what did the folks at Activision do with all those pictures anyway?)
Grand Prix is a great game on its own merits, but it also a catalyst for fond memories of my youth.
You can't ask for much more than that.
By Victor Paul Alvarez