Sunday, 23 May 2010


Dear Google,

Thank you for today's interactive doodle - your way of paying homage to the great Pacman. I wasted two hours when I was supposed to be working and now have the theme bleeps stuck in my brain. I am ensconced in happy nostalgia, with a reminder of my obsession with retro gaming that has made me download a ZX spectrum emulator onto my computer and given me the urge to search ebay for a DDR mat. I feel myself turning back into the stroppy anti-social teenager I once was - but I do not fear for I know that the geeks will inherit the earth. Seriously though, it was genius. I am almost at the stage I can forgive you for the Vista toolbar that keeps trying to usurp my position as system adminstrator in some sick electronic terminator-style coup. Almost. But not quite yet.

Yours sincerely,


I adore Pacman. It's so simple, so iconic and so much fun. I have visions of him now in an electronic nursing home sharing food with Inky and Clyde and talking about the fact that they were the trailblazers of electronic gaming. If it wasn't for them there would be no Quake, no Doom, no Sonic the Hedgehog, no Mario, no Lara Croft - nada. There would be no multi-user dungeons, no 3 am raiding parties with people halfway across the globe. There also wouldn't be any Animal Crossing or any Civilisation which means I would have a life and I wouldn't have RSI. Not a bad legacy for something that looks like a half-eaten pizza. They helped opened the flood gates thirty years ago. They caused the flood.

I have wasted a large amount of my life gaming, only natural for someone of my age with an obsessive streak. I grew up with it as it evolved from the Neanderthal space shooter arcade machines to the first home consoles sold just for gaming. Before the advent of the home gaming machines, games were basic and normally written in BASIC by kids like me on the clunky keyboards of things like the VIC20 and C64. They usually involved navigating blocks of pixels through mazes or were entirely text based. I'm a puzzle person through and through with particular fondness for kawaii platformers of the early 1990's. I will play them obsessively until I find all hidden doors and all the secret worlds. I will play them until my hands freeze up. I will play them until it's 3 am in the morning and I've fallen asleep on the sofa with the electronic pipping lulling me to sleep.

One of the things I feel these days though is that although the graphics are now almost photographic in quality, the games themselves are getting easier and easier. It's not that I am getting more practiced, if anything I should be getting slower and the youngsters should be able to beat me down as the technology gets more advanced. The DS thinks my brain age is 68 as it can't read my handwriting, but it can't take me out at Mario Kart. Professor Layton gets a C minus for puzzle setting. It should not be possible to wipe it out of challenges in 48 hrs. Must try harder. The most fiendishly difficult games for modern gaming platforms are the rewrites of the retro.

I wondered if a lot of this was partly to do with the culture of people liking to win easily and partly that gaming now is more mainstream rather than the domain of pale-skinned geeks in heavy metal t-shirts it was when I was a kid. I like computer games I have to work at, I want them to win; at least at the start, so I can come back later and wreak revenge. I want them to make me think, I want the ups and downs of emotion, the frustration, as it makes the sense of achievement worth so much more. I need to understand that what I want can only be accomplished through practice, skill and hard work. I want to learn something; even if it is just how to navigate the kill screen and how to rage against the machine. Retro games are perfect social programming - rewarding dilligance, rather than their easy-come easy-go easy-win modern counterparts where money and your subscription to the maufacturer's site will hand you the Easter eggs on a silver platter. It's like comparing the discipline of martial arts to the highly sponsored and commerical world of professional sport. Beating a computer on level one of anything is like cheating at solitare. What's the point? Why would that make you feel good? You're only cheating yourself. Gaming has lost it's purity with age. It has sold its soul to a society with no work ethic.

Tetris, another wonderfully simple concept yet still painfully addictive, is the ultimate for this as it's not about winning, it's about losing as slowly as possible. It is a perfect life lesson. It teaches you that you cannot win, but more importantly that it doesn't actually matter. It is a journey, a process and even without an end-point, proof that the journey itself can be fulfilling.

I want to play my part in the celebration and create something tiny to wear to work tomorrow.

Small ball of red clay to start with.

I can shape this then cut it with a fine blade to give two roughly equal discs.

A bit more carving with a fine blade and they start to take shape

Pierce hole in the top and bake in the oven.

I do find simple clay shapes actually more work than really detailed ones. Flat surfaces aren't very forgiving, and really benefit from a going over with fine emery paper.

A quick coat with the fastest drying craft varnish in the world (it is really warm today!). Application of little googly eyes

...fixtures and fittings.

And we're done.

Sometimes the simplest things make me smile. And teach me so much.

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