Beep, beep, beep, ka-boom

 The latest video-arcade games
By HOWARD LITWAK  |  January 5, 2007

This article originally appeared in the December 22, 1981 issue of the Boston Phoenix.

Consider, for just one minute, the number 36 billion – all 11 digits of it. In seconds, it amounts to more than 1000 years. In humans, it amounts to the earth’s population 12 times over. In miles, it amounts to triple the diameter of the solar system. In dollars, it amounts to approximately one-third of the projected federal deficit for the next fiscal year. And in quarters, it amounts to the number of video games that were played in America in 1980. Lets amend that: it amounts to the number of video games that were played in pinball parlors, video arcades, drug stores, movie theaters, and other public zones. Once you start adding in the number of games people (some would say sissies) are stocking their home-entertainment centers with – well, there’s just no counting. Probably exceeds the Federal deficit.

Let’s be honest. The Phoenix certainly didn’t anticipate this kind of response when, a little more than two years ago, we first reported on the increasing popularity of the then new Space Invaders and Asteroids. We didn’t even expect this a year ago, when we caught up with the latest developments in video games, brining you, for instance, first word of Missile Command. But by God, we know it now. What once seemed like little more than the contemporary equivalent of pinball – fun and games for kids looking for ways to blow their allowances – has now become a full-scale cultural phenomenon. There’s records and competitions and living legends and write-ups in highbrow mags that print on glossy paper. There is no time during the day when the better-stocked video emporiums aren’t jammed, and I don’t just mean with junior-high-schoolers cutting class and looking for a place to smoke cigarettes and act tough. Authentic adults with authentic jobs, dressed in three-piece suits and carrying attaché cases; bored stay-at-homes; professors looking to fill their time now that there’s no more grant money to be had. You pays your money…

Since the Phoenix last (officially) idled away the better part of an afternoon surveying the latest games, there’ve been some real technological breakthroughs in vidfun. A year ago, Missile Command was the only game on the market featuring psychedelic colors; now all self-respecting new games have better color than a Sony Trinitron. Image resolution is better than it used to be, the sounds the games produce are artier, the challenges are more complicated to master, the names are cleverer. In a word, progress.

To evaluate this progress, we recently idled away another afternoon at our local video parlor. It quickly became apparent that many of the new games require an investment of a buck or more before you even understand the rules, that the best players are below the age of 15, and that most of the newer games are modeled on Asteroids. Oh yeah, we noticed one thing more. There, in the corner, alone, forlorn and unplayed, was a Space Invaders game. Once a trend-setter, now a prophet without honor.

A final note: we don’t get around much anymore. These observations are as accurate as we can make them, but if there’re any 12-year-olds out there who know better, please don’t snicker.

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