[Audience]: Hello, Jack.
Moderator [Mod]: Why don't you tell us your story, Jack?
JT: [Nods] It all started innocently enough.
Audience Member [AM]: It always does!
AM: Tell it, brother!
JT: It almost wasn't a game at all, just a color-learning exercise for toddlers about hens collecting their scattered eggs from around the barnyard, but by six, I was wheeling and dealing houses over a Monopoly board, and at eight, I discovered the diabolically dark liqueur of Chess.
AM: [A few cries of "No!" and "You poor man!"]
JT: I was amazed at how easy it was. Six pieces making seven different moves. It wasn't for a while that I realized that the subtlety in Chess is in how you utilize those seven different moves. The next five years are a muddled blur of studying strategies, replaying classic matches from the Sunday paper, and constantly trying to find that one tiny variation that would make me invincible. [Heads nod in sympathy] But then, at thirteen, the unthinkable happened. [Everyone leans forward in anticipation] One of the neighborhood kids turned me on to wargaming!
AM: [Collective gasp, a man moans, a woman shrieks, and another faints dead away.]
JT: Yes, the most insidious, addicting, mind-controlling format in the entire wretched spectrum of depravity sank its fangs into me at the dawn of my teenage years.
AM: [Various disbelieving cries.]
MOD: Let's try to calm down, people, and let the man speak. There's a message here for all of us. Go on, Jack.
JT: Thank you. For those who lack the personal experience, wargames have a creeping quality, in that what you have is never quite enough. Take the Western Front in the Second World War as an example. The gateway product was a simple operational-level game called D-Day. The trouble was, D-Day quickly became too easy for experienced gamers, who soon had to upgrade to the similar, but far more complex, Fortress Europa. Where D-Day took a day to play, Fortress Europa needed a weekend... Sometimes, a long weekend!
AM: [Sounds of disbelief.]
JT: And that was nothing but the tip of the iceberg! Probably not all of you have ever heard of a game called The Longest Day. This monstrous creation depicted the six week campaign for Normandy following the landings. It would not even fit on a standard dining room table, had twenty-five hundred counters in play at any given time, and could barely be completed by two dedicated gamers in a season! Recognizing their error of alienating the majority of gamers with this monstrosity, the company followed it with Breakout Normandy, basically the same subject, but at a manageable size in which units controlled geographical areas rather than individual hexagons. But on top of that, the same actions were covered at the company level in Panzer Leader, and the squad level in Squad Leader and its upgrade, Advanced Squad Leader, even in a tactical card game, Up Front. In the other direction, scale-wise, the invasion was a possible event during the whole war in Europe, played on a map depicting the entire European continent plus North Africa, called The Rise and Decline of the Third Reich. Naturally, after we had all bought that game, it was "updated" with a sequel, Advanced Third Reich.
So, there are ten games about the same subject, each with a little different focus, and it is worth noting that once they had their hooks into you, the prices never stopped going up. And this is just one company, an outfit called Avalon Hill, producing all these products.
AM: [More gasps, and shouts of outrage.]
JT: Simulations Publications, Inc, Game Designers Workshop, and World Wide Wargamers, not to mention a couple of dozen enthusiasts with rudimentary facilities in their garages, were publishing competing products, and if you wanted to call yourself a serious gamer, you had to have all of them. And this was only one subject. Gettysburg, the Battle of the Bulge, Waterloo, the North African campaign, and hundreds of other battles had to be represented. It never relented. It never improved. I filed bankruptcy in 1981.
AM: [Impossible!... It can't be!... Oh, the evil!... etc.]
JT: Not impossible, my friends, not impossible at all. We began having children in 1976. By 1981, the twins were ready to begin kindergarten. My lovely wife, Bonnie, asked me one day when I wanted to attend to signing the twins up for school. My reply? "What twins?"
AM: Dear God!
JT: If only God had been present! Once made aware of the presence of these children, I took a considerable interest in the course of their lives from that point forward. I hooked them!
AM: [A collective gasp that sucks the air from the room... Two more people faint.]
JT: That's right, my own children! The bankruptcy had freed up some disposable income, and I wasted no time climbing onto the approaching juggernaut that was video gaming. Video gaming. The Atari 2600 was the wave of the future. Pong had been a waste of TV screens, but this new device was nothing short of miraculous! What simple board game could hold a candle to the flashing screen and electronic beeps of Space Invaders or Centipedes? Oh, little did I know! For, coming in on its heels was the wonder of wonders, the Nintendo Entertainment System. Oh, my God! Games were now played as movies in which you, the player, controlled the action! Super Mario Brothers, Ninja Gaiden, Joust, and the greatest game ever released on a game-hungry public, Link: The Legend of Zelda. And these were merely the start, my friends. Title followed title, every cartridge pricey, every program with its own perks and quirks, and each one irresistible, a gem in its own right. It was simply understood that the human mind could not possibly evolve anything that surpassed the diversion to be found on the NES.
But surpass they did. Sega came along to challenge the NES, setting off a technology war. Super Nintendo, Sega Genesis, Sega Saturn, Dreamcast... PlayStation! There was PlayStation's direct competitor, Nintendo 64. PlayStation 2 was released, followed shortly by XBox. XBox 360 and PlayStation 3 were supposed to release almost simultaneously, though Sony chose to delay for many months after Microsoft put the 360 on coffee tables across America. The pundits thought it was a strategy for suicide, though hindsight shows it has worked well for them. We had them all, though PlayStation 3 was left for my younger son to buy after he left California. Each one was a graphic improvement over the system that preceded it, until what we see today is nearly of photographic quality, and exponentially more addictive than those primitive offerings that we thought would never be equalled back in the 1980s. Two of my children remain addicted to this day, thanks to me, and through them all seven of my grandchildren.
AM: Unbelievable!... It can't be!... Some obscenities are called out.
JT: It is believable, my friends, and it is more common than you might believe. And I want you to note here that I haven't even touched on the phenomena of Role-Playing Games and the Personal Computer. I felt that boardgames and the consoles were enough for you to take in at one session. The number of hours we as a family have squandered on this useless pursuit cannot be calculated, and we would be at it yet, but for the direct intervention of the Almighty.
AM: Jesus be praised!
JT: Call it Jesus, call it fate, call it what you will, the simple fact is this: All three of our game consoles went belly-up within two weeks.
AM: Hallelujah!... Amen!
JT: In the absence of those time-leeches, we discovered a whole world of books, music, travel, and dare I say it, conversation! I challenge you, friends, unplug your mice, put down your dice, ditch that controller, and join the life of your times. You just may have the time of your life.
AM: Sing it, brother!
JT: To complete this story, my oldest grandson, Brian Jr., brought me his old PlayStation 2, so my daughter Nine and I have a few games to indulge in socially. I've been game-free for three days, and that's about how often we get together for a couple of hours of nostalgic enjoyment; we have spent about three weeks on Spiderman: Friend or Foe, a game that a month ago we would have put down in a single ten-hour session. At the end of the day, I have to acknowledge that I'm still a gamer, but what I'm doing now is more like sipping a glass of wine than chugging a quart of tequila. It's a much more pleasant experience, and doesn't leave you with a headache the next day, either. A month ago, we would have spent Saturday in a sunup-to-midnight game session. This Saturday, we're going to a blues harp fest at a local park. I'm taking my wonderful wife who stood by me all those years when I didn't know there was anything for her to endure. Just one example, but I think you can see the difference.
AM: Amen, brother!
JT: So, Microsoft, Sony, you had a good run, but your hooks have been removed. There will be no more sixty dollar game cartridges, no more replacements of controllers and memory cards that are designed to fail, requiring endless rounds of replacement, no more fancy accessories, "custom" controllers with a picture of the Master Chief, for example, for $75.00. No more anything. I hope you got enough, 'cause you'll get no more from me. I guess the message is moderation, people, moderation in all things. Most of you know that I'm a Taoist. I don't believe in a God with a name and a personality, but when my game systems all crashed, I began to think that there must be one, and that he had it in for me personally. A month later, I have money in my pockets and time on my hands, and I feel like I've been let out of jail. That's what I've come here to say to you. If you have an albatross around your neck, and you don't know how to get out of its clutches, cast it off! It only takes one moment of strength-
AM: Amen!... That's right!... Hallelujah!
JT: It only takes one moment of strength to make that trip to the trash can, and once the influence is removed, you will be amazed at what awaits you. Life! New vistas! New experiences! New friends! They're out there waiting, people. All you have to do is make room for them. Well, that's all I've got for you. Now, if you'll excuse me, I have a story to write.
AM: [Lengthy applause]
MOD: Thank you, Jack. Sage words from a former addict. All right, our next guest is a man whose PC addiction was so bad that he had a laptop sewn onto his...
First, it is with sadness that I have taken down my link to The Irish Navy, the site run by my good friend Chops. It has now been over a year since he has posted there, and that is my definition of a site that has gone either dormant or extinct. There is no functional difference for the purposes of my link list, but I will monitor this every few days, and if it lights up again, it will be my extreme pleasure to reinstate it.
Another thing that has gone the way of the dinosaur is the poll for what I should write about next time. As a rule, only one person votes, and it's always the same person. Now, I value his opinion (Bob), but if he's the only one speaking up (and he is), I might as well give him the password, and let him run the blog. So next post, I will honor the last poll, calling for "books and literature," and after that, well, me and my 1D6 are perfectly capable of making those decisions...
Monday, April 2nd, I had to take the puddle-jumper out to one of the Channel Islands and back (work related, so, poo!). Even before the TSA molestation program began, I enjoyed flying about as much as you enjoy wrestling boa constrictors, but San Diego is just so freakin' beautiful, it's almost worth it. The little air taxi only makes a 20 minute trip, and flies at 4000-5000 feet, so I was able to file away some nice vistas that I hope will show up in descriptions of flying if (when!) I get Beyond the Rails back on track. Oh, sorry, bad pun, that... A fairly stiff breeze in the morning provided a ride akin to driving a pickup truck down a dirt road. I've ridden a minesweeper through two hurricanes, and I'm pretty sure that killed my motion sickness gene once and for all, but that still doesn't mean I don't halfway expect a wing to fall off the plane at some point. Coming back that afternoon was much smoother, and the view of Point Loma as we came in over the bay was just breathtaking. The gray whales are headed north with their calves right now, and there was a great view of them, too. Now, if I could just shed this fear of flying... Well, technically, I'm fine with the flying; it's the fear of crashing that kills the buzz for me!
And there you are. This is sort of my "farewell to games" post. I'm looking at replacing it with a "Mysteries and Disaters" category, bringing in everything from the Titanic to the Mary Celeste. I'd like to thank everyone who participated in the rash of comments that were offered on the last post, even though some were not in the warm fuzzy category I strive for here; the post is my forum, the comment section is yours, and let's be fair, Kristine definitely had right on her side! I just hope I hear from her again some sunny day... Maybe that's the approach you'd like to see (based on all those comments), just a long, rambling dissertation every week that wanders all over the landscape without ever coming to a coherent point. That's not the blog I want to keep, but I always say, and I mean it, the chief enjoyment I derive from this is hearing your views, and having these conversations with you, however brief. If that's the blog you'd rather see, speak up. I'll try anything once! Meanwhile, until we meet again,
Get out there and live life like you mean it!