Orphaned Computers & Game Systems

Vol. II, Issue 8    February 1999


When Short Tempers Turn Make-Believe Into Reality

by Chris Federico

"My high-school friend and I rented Archon for the Nintendo," says Adam. "I didn't have a high opinion of it compared with the C64 version, but we played, and I basically kept kicking his ass. I spent the night at his house. The next time I went over there, the Nintendo was making noises and acting strange. The computer had kept beating him at the game, so he'd jumped up and down on the cartridge and the system it was plugged into. The cart case was definitely broken, and he'd kind of taped it together. It rattled because of the loose pieces inside. I don't know if he ever returned it."

Now read another tale as it appears in a Digital Press Collector's Guide:

"I played and played [2600 Solar Fox], but couldn't get the 's' in 'Helios' [the 'hidden message' awarded to players who complete all of the bonus waves], and at some point, throwing the controller down in anger wasn't enough. Yup. Out came the game, game flew at wall with unbelievable velocity, game shattered... At least a year or two passed, at which point, yes, I bought Solar Fox again... This time, when the temper tantrum resulted in a hurled cart, it didn't break. Hmmm..."

I'm sure you've heard, seen or even been involved in similar incidents. Why are tempers and vicarious heroism so related?

That latter phrase actually provides us with an answer. When you think about it, how couldn't irrational rage and onscreen self-incarnation cross paths? If someone really loves to play video games -- simulations of invented reality -- he allows himself to get involved in the scenario being engaged by his onscreen counterpart. In certain parts of his mind, he is actually doing the things that the displayed hero is doing. It therefore means something to him if he does or doesn't achieve the game's (next) goal; it crosses over into reality, especially in the heat of the moment, before the scientific presence of the player in the real world manipulating a make-believe recreation occurs to him.

Everyone swears at a gaming loss or gets otherwise angry; but unreasonable, physical tantrums defy one's common sense and can really make him examine his own impulses, his own involvement with the fantasy-land he's voluntarily challenging. The only time I've been truly guilty of such a physical-world crossover was in 1983, at Uncle Cliff's Amusement Park. I was 11. There was a little game room there, and after losing all of my lives in the second tank phase in Tron, I hit the controller in frustration. It wobbled alarmingly, but didn't break. I wondered to myself, "Am I a stupid person? You can't 'get even' with a machine!"

So what's the solution to this? The only one I can think of is to buy a few used Microsoft-driven machines. When you get angry at, say, an Atari game, vent your anger by turning just a bit and smashing the PC instead of the Atari. You'll thank yourself later. -- CF

(The second quote above is from an article by Dave Giarrusso, contributor to Digital Press: Classic Video-Games Collector's Guide, 4th Edition. (C)1993, 94, 95, 96 by Joe Santulli. Excerpted by permission. Digital Press is published bi-monthly; there are six regular issues per year. The subscription rates are $10 (US), $12 (Canada) and $16 (outside North America). A single issue runs $2. Visit www.digitpress.com.)