Please insert one quarter

Is it just me or does time fly faster the older we get? Now that I am 30, it feels like Christmas is next week and after that I should be getting ready for summer. When we were kids in school, I remember a quarter, which was only 9 weeks, always felt like an eternity. A school year, which was around 9 months, always felt like 2 years. Now you have to have a baby inside you to slow down time like that. We also couldn’t wait to be older. Maybe that was why time felt so slow. We were so eager to be “grown up”. How else do you explain, “I am 6 and a half”. Can you imagine meeting someone and saying, “I am 32 and a half”? They would think you were out of your mind. But maybe it would slow down time, because lately I feel like when I blink my eyes, 6 months passes. One minute a friend tells me they’re pregnant and the day after I am attending the kid’s High School graduation.

Yesterday I was watching my friends 9 year old son play video games. He was playing Harry Potter on the Sony Playstation and as a spectator, it was like watching a movie. The graphics and the motion are so realistic and so far advanced from when I was 9 years old. To me, Donkey Kong, Frogger and Ms. Pac-Man were revolutionary. I owned a Vic 20 Computer which was the ugly step sister to the Commodore 64… the precursor to the MAC and PC. (side note: Ugly stepsister syndrome has followed me my whole life as proved by the fact that in the mid-nineties when everyone began driving VW Jetta’s, I was driving a VW Fox. “What is a Fox?”, people would ask. What is a Vic 20? I owned one and I still don’t know.) It was essentially a keyboard you could hook up to any TV and turn it into a computer. But I doubt you could actually type an online journal or print anything. You certainly couldn’t have a website.

To add insult to the ugly step sister syndrome, I would get these gaming magazines that would have pages and pages of codes that you could type into your computer (it was MS DOS based) and when you would “run” the program, you could create actual moving graphics. By graphics of course, I mean flying commas and asterisks… but still after three hours of data input, at least I had something to watch and feel accomplished. They also had a few actual games that you could build… those could take up to 6 hours to input. And in the end you were thrilled if it appeared to be as advanced as “Pong”. Two bars on each side of the screen that moved up and down while a ball (again the asterisk) bounced between it. Think of it as a very slow, poor man’s, air hockey. I often wonder why I gave up… I could’ve been Bill Gates had I continued to learn computer codes. Now I know my computer lingo about as well as that three years of German I took (nicht gut).

My relationship to video games always came in specific spurts of obsession. I have never been a “gamer”, but when they were around, it was always hard to look away. I would spend hours at the quik mart down at the corner watching others spend their paper route money plunking in one quarter after another just so they could be knighted “High Scorer” in the neighborhood. People would line their quarters up on the front of the machine to determine they were next in line. Sometimes there would be up to 5 quarters up there and I would wonder, “how would you know which one was yours”? I remember a boy on my little league team, Todd Albu, owned an Atari AND an Intelevision. Going over to his house may as well have been going to Disneyland for the amount of excitement I felt. In 1988, my friend Matt had a Nintendo. Weeks would come and go of us playing Super Mario Brothers. I never cared much for the fighting games or blowing things up, but mazes and jumping and flying I could do for days. Case in point when Stephanie got “Super Mario World” for her birthday (which I still think was more for Joe than her) in the summer of ’93. We were so determined to get to the next level you would have thought we were curing world peace if we actually made it to the end.

At a friend’s house a few months ago, I discovered Karaoke Revolution on Playstation 2. You sing into a headset and your tone and pitch determines how well your character dances and performs on screen. It is sheer genius. A couple of Christmas’ ago, I received a Playstation, my very first machine I have ever owned. It came with all of these hip new games with graphics similar to the Harry Potter game. I was too confused and ran out to the store immediately and for $9.99 I bought an Atari disc. On it were Frogger, Ms. Pac-Man, Asteroids, Centipede and the original Donkey Kong. They called it a retro bundle. I don’t play them often, but when I get in the mood… watch out! There is just no beating the originals no matter how great Hermione, Ron and Harry look fending off Lord Voldemort.

Eating all of those dots before you get eaten by Pinkie the Ghost. Or getting your frog across the high paced lanes of traffic and onto the logs that are rapidly floating down the river. Poor Mario jumping over those logs that the damn monkey won’t stop lobbing at him. Call me sentimental, but with time going by so quickly forward, it is nice to escape into a video game that takes me so quickly back to my youth… and that’s not always a bad thing. I just wonder what it will be like in 20 years when kids are able to play the next wave of video games and the Harry Potter game is considered primitive and “retro”… Will they even know who Pac-Man was? Perhaps if I become more anxious to find out, time will actually slow down and I will have more time for playing Centipede…

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