15 May 2010
Tom is a veteran of the Iraq war who talks too loud, says dumb things when he's drunk and has a variety of tattoos that can only be described as "spontaneous at best." He's also a musician with a love for the blues, an honorable guy who would help you out of a jam and he's expecting his first child in two months. I like Tom, and I always enjoy when we get together to have a bourbon and play some games. Typically, Tom and I play Call of Duty, Gears of War or Halo. You know, the macho shooters that define his generation (he's in his early 20s) and were born in my generation (I'm 37, a child of Wolfenstein and Doom).
So when I hooked up the Super Pong system I got from the mom and pop gaming store the other night he was visibly surprised.
I'd made a batch of seafood stew: Squid, scallops and shrimp simmered in a broth of tomato, white wine and good olive oil. I figured his girlfriend might enjoy something other than pizza or Chinese food - that's all you can get in my neighborhood - so I told him to drop by if he wanted to pick some up for her. He did, and we agreed there was always time for a cocktail and a quick game. Since he had to get back to his long-suffering girlfriend soon, I figured Super Pong would be good for a few laughs and a quick but simple battle. We were both surprised to find it the most challenging and aggressive game of anything we've ever played. The first mode we played was a little like volleyball. Each of us controlled two small blocks on one side of the board. They shadowed each other as they moved up or down. The ball was small and fast. Surrounded by enough video game hardware to launch a satellite, we sat enthralled at the world's simplest game.
And I won.
Then we tried a game variant where you control a long bar that covers the screen save for a tiny opening. The goal is to get the ball through that tiny opening, sort of like Pong in reverse. I think I got as much joy out of scoring a point here as I have when scoring headshots in Halo. The colors on the screen were vibrant and a little trippy (given that this console is over 30 years old, it might just be broken) and the sound coming out of the small console was perfect. Tom and I had a final game that came down to the wire, as intense a gaming session as I've ever had.
And, again, I won. (Nice.)
I've had a nearly complete gaming museum in my basement for years. When people come over, I typically try to impress them with the latest graphical powerhouse from the 360 or PS3. Not anymore. From now on, if someone wants to see what video games are all about, they're playing Super Pong.
By Victor Paul Alvarez