Tuesday, May 1, 2012

Aimless Reading: The S's, Part 19.1 (William Shakespeare)

The Tempest
Shakespeare, William
The Tempest

Naturally, my earliest memory of The Tempest has nothing to do with Shakespeare. You may recall that in the late seventies-early eighties there was a video game called Tempest. They had a machine at the Pizza Hut about a mile from my house. I think it was one of those tabletop machines where two people could sit. I don't remember much about the game, except that it attempted to create depth by using vector graphics that converged at a horizon point. Geometric figures hurtled towards you out of this abyss and you had to shoot them. It wasn't my all time favorite game, but I played it a lot.

I have a memory of listening to Def Leppard on the jukebox while sitting at that table.

I don't think I have so far on this blog delved into my childhood video game addiction. It was powerful and it lasted several years. I can remember the first time I saw a video game that wasn't Pong. My friend J., who always had money because he ran a paper route, went to a bowling alley in Fairfax, VA. Inside they had an arcade filled with pinball machines, skeeball, air hockey, and various other pre-digital entertainments.

On this occasion we entered the arcade on the way out to the parking lot to meet his mother. We had just called her on the payphone, so we had a few minutes to kill before she arrived. J. wanted to play a game of pinball, so we wandered over to one of the machines. My mother had only given me money for bowling, so I was going to have to watch him play. He never offered to give me a precious quarter.

Before we got to the pinball machine, we noticed a gang of kids gathered around a tall, blue, upright machine that we couldn't see clearly. Everyone and oohed and aahed and cheered and in between these sounds of excitement we could hear strange beeping sounds we had never heard before emanate into the arcade.

We approached to discover a small kid, about our own age, standing before the console, slapping his fingers repeatedly against a plastic button. He held on for what seemed like dear life to a red ball attached to the end of a small rod. His hed bobbed back and forth, as if her were dodging punches. We pushed our way through the crowd of onlookers until we could see what was causing the commotion.

There, glowing on a kind of TV screen embedded in the console, we could see rows and rows of stacked digital figures hovering in a grid over a black background, dropping small projectiles towards a solitary figure at the bottom of the screen that slid horizontally back and forth, firing upwards at the hovering army. Between them stood rhomboid shapes that seemed to protect the solitary figure from falling projectiles, which slowly ate away at the barriers when they made contact.

Above the TV set, two words: Space Invaders. My life was changed forever.

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