Like a trip through the past


If I could go back and see myself as an adolescent, I would probably find him in an arcade.

Aladdin’s Castle at White Oaks Mall is where I first caught video gaming fever, and if I had to put a date on it it would be around 1980. I eventually moved my video gaming to the Wabash Amusement Center, which was located at a bend where MacArthur turned into Wabash Avenue. I would ride my bike there several times a week, and shovel away my paper route earnings one quarter at a time.

Last night, with my wife and younger daughter away at a skating competition, and my teenager sleeping at a friend’s house, I found myself alone on a Saturday night. So I did exactly what I would have done as a 12 or 13 year-old, and I went to an arcade. And it was a lot of fun, too.

I played games that I had forgot even existed. I played Space Invaders and Defender, Zaxxon and Asteroids, Pac Man and Joust. I even played a game of pinball, although that was never really my thing. But finding the Donkey Kong machine was the peak of the experience.

Donkey Kong was always the first machine I sought out at the WAC, and the other games were what I played when someone else was on it. My high score back in those days was 204,000 and I had no illusions I would be playing at that level in 2014. In fact, the 13 year-old me would have disgusted with my play last night, but then again I’m not happy with the choices that the 13 year-old me made with our money, either. So I guess it all works out in the end.

After the last token was inserted into the coin slot, and the adolescent nostalgia bug had been thoroughly scratched, I went back to my car and drove home. Aladdin’s Castle and the Wabash Amusement Center went away a long time ago, but the kid who once frequented them still walks the earth, periodically indulging his prior obsession with a mixture of fondness and regret. But as always, he’s glad for the experience he had, and the memories they can still provide.

A part of my youth


I spent some time this morning playing an Atari game that I picked up at a second hand store. It was a way of connecting to the kid that I once was.

Video games were once a huge part of my life. I once spent hours upon hours playing Missile Command and Yars Revenge and a host of other games that cost me $30 and up. A good chunk of my paper route earnings went into Atari cartridges, at least until an even bigger chunk of it was shoveled into arcade games like Donkey Kong and Defender.

I once had shoeboxes filled with the games I had bought for myself over the years. And then one day, they were obsolete. The games had become a lot more sophisticated than my Atari could handle, and I was going to have to either buy a new game system (I think ColecoVision was the next big thing back then) or go without. So I opted out, instead. And I stayed out until I purchased a Wii for my family a number of years ago. I like the Wii, too, but I rarely play it anymore. Video games in the home are something that probably mean more to adolescent boys than anybody else. And that’s as it should be, I guess.

But a few moments of recaptured youth, in the form of the Atari games and its signature joystick, felt pretty good on a Sunday morning. The games themselves haven’t changed, and there’s something reassuring about that.

The early teenager that I was when Atari held its sway over me is long gone, but I was pleased to get some help from him in my living room today. That Yar can really be a handful sometimes.

On improving my verbs

I’m a big fan of verbs in language. They are the most essential of all words, because without them there is no language. “My dog” is not a sentence, in and of itself, but when “My dog goes for a walk,” that’s a sentence. People and things can’t just exist all by themselves, although “exist” is a pretty good verb. Those people and things have to actually do something to make our language function.

I say this because I was looking at the News Channel on our Nintendo Wii yesterday. We’ve had a Wii for many years now, and while it rarely gets used anymore, it’s just fine for whenever the urge to play video games strikes. When I was younger, video games were all I wanted to do, and that involved having quarters in hand and journeying out to a local arcade. But the games on our Wii are probably better than the most advanced early 1980s video games ever were, and I like having the option to play them whenever I want to.  Or to reset them when I’m not happy with the way a game is going. I’m probably a few years behind the curve with my Wii, but I’m perfectly happy with it, all the same.

But back to the Wii News Channel for a moment. As I scrolled down the list of stories, some of which were news to me, and some of which were not, I noticed the verbs that appeared in the headlines. And I wrote them down, without any context of what the stories they describe were about. And here they are, from top to bottom:

dies; stumble; reject; ordered; sues; wants; smuggle; drops; block; snatching; restricted; accused; threatened; break into; descended; feared; ordered; survived; reject; blasts; killed; drops; exposed; appeals; defends; improving; decrying; avoid; pleads; cull; die; falls; fighting; and projects.

That sure is a depressing list. Many headlines had no verb at all, but they were typically about death and injuries and other unpleasant things. In fact, I found only three verbs that seem like they would be uplifting: inspires, welcomes, and born. If I were to write a headline about the headlines on the Nintendo Wii News, it might say something like “Negative headlines overwhelm positive news stories on video game channel.”

Even the verb that I would use, “overwhelm,” has a negative connotation to it. These verbs are good at grabbing our attention, if only for the wrong reasons. So going forward, I will do my best to put a positive spin on things in this space–both the headlines and the subject matter–because the old adage about “becoming the change you want to see in the world” definitely applies here. And my use of “improving” in this post’s title seems like a good place to start.