Until I saw today’s Google Doodle, marking the 82nd anniversary of Jerry Lawson, the electronic games pioneer, I had always been convinced that I had been born far too early to ever be adept at electronic games. Now, I realize that it is not a question of age but ineptness.
My first encounter with such games was the game where you played table tennis with two controllers connected to your television, which you could obtain cheap with vouchers from Corn Flakes boxes it came out when I was at school. There was great competition to use it at first, but after a while it seemed slightly absurd to try to play table tennis with an electronic controller, when it was much more fun playing with a table tennis bat in the games room.
By the time I was a student, Space Invaders proved beyond any doubt that I was not cut out to save Planet Earth. I stuck to the pinball table if I wanted to waste 10 pence pieces, it was much more mechanical and responded directly to physical force, usually with the “Tilt” light coming on, resulting in the loss of one of the three balls.
By the mid-80s there had been a revolution and I had been left a long way behind. The kids for whom we occasionally baby sat roared with laughter at my attempts at Donkey Kong. By the mid-90s there was Gameboy and the like. There was no prospect that the Super Mario brothers would ever rescue the princess under my guidance; they rarely got beyond the first level.
Once the children had gone beyond the age of playing Gameboy, electronic games disappeared from our household. There was still an online role-playing game played by the older of the offspring that demanded a few dollars a month, but it was not about the frantic pressing of buttons in order to zap virtual enemies.
What has been astonishing in more recent times is that electronic games have extended their grip into the lives of adults. People, particularly men, can spend hours on Play Stations and X Boxes. People who in former generations went to the pub and played darts and snooker and pool with their mates, or did DIY stuff in their houses, or worked in their gardens, now sit in front of a screen pressing buttons, in a quest for what?
What happened that real living came to be replaced by a virtual existence, that people who might have been out playing real soccer became content with a version on a screen; that men who in former generations might have been fighting actual wars, came to think that an electronic simulation of gore and blood and death and slaughter was somehow a worthwhile leisure activity; that reality became replaced by something virtual, something very far from reality?