10 April 2010

100 Essays in 100 Days

This is the 100th post to the Phoenix Games Blog Project. What began as an exercise in discipline - post one gaming essay every day for a year - has become a devotion to the subject of people and the games they play; our fond memories of the seemingly benign video games in our lives.
Some of these posts - by myself and a small crew of writers - are beautiful. Some are the grinding of gears.
Looking back now, I'm glad the quality of these 100 essays is largely excellent and I am forever grateful to the folks who have helped to make this happen (especially the Pride of Riverside: George Morse).
Tonight I will celebrate with my wife and another couple. No one at the table (save for myself) would call themselves a gamer. I think each of them would call their relationship with video games to be marginal at best.
I would disagree. To wit:
Megan is a close friend of mine. I've known her for longer than I've known my wife and longer than she's known her husband. I respect her in every way you can respect another human being. She is funny and smart and beautiful. And when she has a few glasses of wine and the party here is breaking up, she's pretty keen on coming down to the basement and playing some video games. I've talked her into playing Rock Band and Wii bowling, but she's a Super Mario girl at heart. I was impressed with how quickly she remembered the patterns and secret passages on the NES classic. The last time we played it she had a blast and swore she would write a blog entry for me. It hasn't happened. If someone polled her on the street and asked her if she played games I bet she would say no.
But does she have fond memories that exist because of gaming?
Her husband, Jack, is an engineering type who owns a high-end bicycle shop on the East Side of Providence (www.legendbicycle.com). I've liked him since the day we met, well before he and Megan got married. The two of them fell in love at our home. Not exclusively, of course, but their courtship dovetailed with a variety of parties and dinners held here up to the point when Jack proposed to Megan on the way to our home one evening. She said yes and we drank champagne. On any one of those evenings we likely wound up in the basement, playing Warlords or some other old-school title to offset Jack's self-proclaimed ineptitude at games. He may not be a gaming champion, but he likes to play. And now he knows that his wife was a Mario junkie in the 80s. A fact that should not be kept from any husband.
And then there is my wife … my long-suffering wife. She's not a gamer. Not even close. In the near-decade I've known her we've played games maybe a half-dozen times. She claims she has a problem with depth perception or something but the truth is she just doesnt enjoy it. That's fine. No problem.
You know what one of the first things she told me about her youngest brother was?
That he owned an Xbox. We were walking in the woods on our second date and talking about our families. I told her I also had an Xbox and that he and I could link up and play together over the Internet. She thought that was cool. (She was wrong, by the way, he had a Gamecube.)
Then she told me a story about her other brother who wanted a Sega Genesis more than anything in the world back in the 16-bit days. Her parents believed any sort of media other than books or newspapers was evil so they refused to buy one for him. Not long after they ruled on this he actually won a Sega Genesis in a TV prize drawing. The first game he ever played was Altered Beast.
"I can still remember the game talking to you," she said.
"Rise from your grave!" she said.
Yup. That's a fond gaming memory.
Gaming has been in the homes of Americans since the early 1970s. We all have memories that involve video games. Whether we know it or not, these games that were once distractions have become a part of all of our lives. Some of these memories are trivial and some are as precious to us as the first time we heard a rock and roll song. On this blog we've got 265 more to go.
Thanks for coming along with us.
By Victor Paul Alvarez

Scorched Earth - PC

Brian was a genius. Still is, probably. I haven't seen him in a decade (we're not the kind of guys who call each other every Sunday afternoon to chat)
Through the magic of Facebook and the rare e-mail I hear he is alive and well.
A self-taught computer programmer who grew up in the Commodore 64 era, Brian was the kind of guy who could question anything and not come off as a know-it-all. We'd see a news item or documentary on TV and he'd say something such as "That doesn't seem right," and then explain why it wasn't. A new technology would emerge and he'd talk about how it probably worked - and he was usually right. I always thought he'd make a fine newspaper reporter, but he wasn't interested in the career path I had chosen.
Brian and I were friends in the middle of my college years. We were the only guys with real jobs at the time. He programmed computers and I was a copy boy at the Baltimore Sun. Maybe that's why we hit it off so quickly, or maybe it was because he looked so much like Michael Knight's evil twin from "Knight Rider" that I just had to get to know him.
Either way, Brian and I spent many an evening - especially during periods without girlfriends - shooting the breeze over late night cocktails. As a backdrop for these conversations, a video game was always being played. Most often that video game was an early PC classic called Scorched Earth. Developed back when DOS was still relevant, Scorched Earth was a turn-based strategy game featuring a tank on either side of a randomly-generated 2D map. The variety of weapons at your disposal was staggering but the interface was simple: Adjust your speed and altitude for one shot at a time. Then wait for your opponent to do the same. Scorched Earth is the archetype for an entire genre of games that has become more sophisticated since Brian and I stayed up until the wee hours discussing politics, health care, foreign policy and girls.
Of course, Brian was far superior at the game than I. This was also true for most of our other nerdly pursuits: Magic The Gathering, anything on Sega Genesis, arcade games. Having a friend such as Brian is humbling. You know he's smarter than you are and you know he has the mad skills in the dork Olympics that you'll never have. Yet he's still willing to hang out with you. Maybe that's the reason. It's like dating a chick out of your league. You know she could do better, she knows she could do better, but something about your charming self keeps her coming back.
By Victor Paul Alvarez