Ted (merovingian) wrote,

Gratitude for a Fortunate Childhood

I went to the arcade this afternoon and it felt a lot smaller than I remember. It isn't, of course -- I'm taller now -- but it makes me grow wistful for the never-quite-forgotten days of childhood.

My memories of the video arcade are probably like yours: I went there often but never nearly enough. I resisted the temptation of the flashy games that hyped some user-interface gimmick but only delivered ripoffs. Before I started to learn a new game, I watched other people play for a while to see if it seemed worth the effort and the hard-begged money.

Usually I'd just play the games I knew best. At various times, these were: Burgertime, Spy Hunter, Gauntlet, Marvel Superheroes, Street Fighter 2 (Blanka 4 Lyfe Yo!), the Lethal Weapon 3 pinball game, Area 51, and of course Becoming a Robot.

You probably don't know that last one -- only my local arcade had it. At the time, I didn't know it was anything but one of many delightful distractions. I'd watch my older brothers play it, or just random arcade whiz-kids, and eventually I tried it myself when no one was watching, sinking quarters into skills so that later my quarters would yield the sweeter fruits of pride and engagement.

(Much later, I discovered that the basketball-ticket games weren't a rip-off if you learned them, and I actually started winning prizes for my quarters, but that was much later. The dangerous, maddening things I won with those tickets are another story entirely, and perhaps if you bake me some baklava I'll tell you. Today, though, I'm talking about Becoming a Robot.)

You might have guessed what the Becoming a Robot really was. I found out the awesome way. Those chiming pellucid abstract shapes mixed and matched in deceptively simple patterns, forming gems and secrets and eventually circuits. The more you played the game, the more you saw the world in that same peculiar idiom. The more you thought like the game did, the more your internal organs would convert into hyperefficient robotic analogs.

The changes were surprisingly subtle, never visible to a casual observer. You wouldn't feel any different until you were more than 50% converted. In fact, a skilled doctor probably wouldn't notice a difference much earlier than that. The brain was last, and by the time your brain conversion was complete, you were programmed, fully loyal to the video game's creator company and (presumably) some nameless overarching conspiracy.

By that time, you would also be awesome at the game and everyone would like you.

At the first sign of behavior changes, my parents stepped in and stopped me. They were unaware of the complex physiological changes; they just noticed my slipping grades and worsening table manners. At the time I screamed and railed at the unfairness of it, but now I'm grateful for it: I was never drawn into the shadowy agenda of that robot company, and I still got all the awesome robotic internal organs.

And now I go back there and the arcade seems so much smaller, but of course it's just that I'm taller now. I resisted the call of Becoming a Robot today, but I played a quarter on Burgertime. I got my initials on the top score list, but I didn't get anywhere near my adolescent personal best.

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