Todd Levin begins a series on video game systems he has known. He starts off with a Radio Shack Pong knockoff and the Atari 2600. As you may remember, there were some differences between the arcade version of Pac-Man and and the Atari version:
But most disorienting of all was the hero: Pac-Man had been re-imagined as an octagon with a constantly chomping, greedy slot for a mouth, and designed so large he could scarcely squeeze through the maze. Because of Pac-Man’s macrocephalic condition, he was incapable of rounding corners, but Atari found a brilliant workaround: Pac-Man would always face west. When pushing the joystick to the right, Pac-Man simply backed into dots and energy blocks, his mouth still opening and closing rhythmically, as if crying in pain from shoving things into his rectum. Underscoring Atari Pac-Man’s overall cognitive disorder, the home game replaced the familiar rhythmic dot-munching soundtrack with a flat, repeating “bonk” note — its own digital Tourrette’s bark.
Guide for how to win at Pac-Man. “Pac-Man is the game which represents everything that’s good about gaming (any kind of gaming) and nothing that is bad.”
David argues for more variation and serendipity in video games. “…games overcompensate for their lack of variance in game play with over-the-top psychedelic graphics and sound effects. This is not a new problem of course with Pac-man and Super Mario Brothers often held up as classic examples.”
Today was a maintenance day around kottke.org. Some long-overdue backups, upgrading the OS and some applications, cleaning up the desktop, getting rid of some unneeded files on the web server, trimming my newsreader subscriptions, going through my spam, the kind of stuff that gets put off because it just doesn’t sound that fun and you can get by without doing it over the short term. I really don’t mind it so much…there’s a certain satisfaction you get in completing such tasks. The crossing off of todo items from a list, bringing structure to a messy situation, tidying up.
A friend of mine (who I can’t link to because he got cross with me the last time I did) has a theory that most modern sports are about tidying up. Put the ball in the goal, all the balls in the pockets, clear the tennis court of any balls, etc.:
Explaining to [an acquaintance] why I like watching snooker on tv so much (she doesn’t: it’s slow and boring), I realised that snooker is rarely tense, and it’s not enjoyable to watch at all: it’s extremely satisfying, relaxing almost. Snooker is a game where you have to make a big mess at the beginning with the break, and then you’re never going to get them all neat like that again, so it becomes a process of cleaning the balls away into the pockets very very carefully. First you put away the red, then the black, then the red, and, oh, I did that one wrong, so now I have to do the pink, and the red again…
Lots of video games are like that as well. Pac-Man, Katamari Damacy, Dig Dug, Quake, Space Invaders. Chores too, of course. Two chores I find extremely satisfying are bagging groceries and (especially) mowing the lawn. Getting all those different types of products — with their various shapes, sizes, weights, levels of fragility, temperatures — quickly into the least possible number of bags…quite pleasurable. Reminds me a little of Tetris. And mowing the lawn…making all the grass the same height, surrounding the remaining uncut lawn with concentric rectangles of freshly mowed grass. Despite the gigantic blisters I got on both my thumbs last time I cut the grass, I finished with a euphoric giddyness (perhaps akin to a runner’s high) that was simultaneously calming.