Truth be told, my favorite part of the new Tron movie is the brief glimpse of a 1980s video arcade. Our hero walks into a long-shuttered arcade and flips on the power, and dozens of vintage games spring to life, blinking and tweeting and blipping and binging.
It made me tingly all over, like I was 16 again.
On the drive home, I regaled my son with tales of the Very First Video Games.
It was 1978, my junior year of high school, when It first appeared in the campus snack bar. A tabletop game called Pong. There’s no telling how many quarters my friends and I dropped in that Pong game, all to move a little white bar up and down, trying to hit a little white ball back and forth.
Yes, children, in the beginning, the games were in black and white, and the graphics came in two shapes: square or rectangle.
A year or so later, I got a home version of Pong that hooked up to the TV. It had advanced to the point where the paddles were colored.
I still remember where I was — Gina’s Pizzeria, Highway 174, Burleson, Texas, 1979 — when the first Space Invaders landed.
Whoa. You could SHOOT stuff. My high school buds and I had entered a brave new world. Suddenly, there was something to do in our small town.
The video games quickly took over the bowling alley. (Yes, children, in my day, you had to leave the house to play the video games.)
When my son and I got home from the movies, we sat down at the computer to continue his history lesson. And there they were, all the classic arcade games I remembered, most of them playable on the computer, right there in the comfort of my own home.
Missile Command. Pac-Man. Centipede. Asteroids. Battlezone. Pole Position. Dig Dug. Frogger.
Look, son, there’s Donkey Kong! This particular game is a milestone in gaming history because it marks the very first appearance of a certain short guy in a red cap and a big mustache. Donkey Kong came out in 1981. Yes, children, Mario is 30 years old.
And there’s Joust! I’d forgotten about Joust, a rather silly game in which knights fly around on ostriches trying to unseat each other. The original angry birds.
We even found my personal favorite from the golden age of video arcade games: Tempest. I still don’t know the plot of Tempest. I think it involves aliens. Basically, you zip around the edges of various geometric shapes shooting at stuff that’s coming at you from the center of the shape. I liked Tempest because it didn’t require as much hand-eye coordination as the other games. To aim, all you had to do was spin a knob. To shoot, just hold down a button.
Really, children, it was way more fun than assassinating Castro.
I challenged my son to a game of Tempest. It was always my best game. I figured I could school the boy.
I went first, got the high score, and painstakingly entered my initials: MOM.
My son beat my high score on his first try.
Kids these days.