The Line to Atari


The year was 1990; David was 11.

There is a certain quality in life David had that none of his classmates possessed: boredom. Entertainment costs money, you see. His family can afford free terrestrial network TV, so that was what David leaned onto to pass time.

From time to time David would hear his friends talk about an entirely foreign concept. Things on TV react to their finger presses, that is fascinating. How are such things even possible? He later learned it was called video games.

David wanted some of that. It was a desire pure of wanting to fit in, he intrinsically wanted to experience something novel. Maybe someday he can think about making video games when he grows up. His folks wouldn not buy him toys a tenth of what a video game cost, so he did not even ask.

One day, the school decided to run a carnival. It is a strange thing to do, David was thrown into confusion as what he is supposed to do about it. It later became obvious that the school was trying to raise money; every student was supposed to sell or consume a minimum amount of cash coupons.

"That's great," David thought, "more money for the school, less for me."

Sometime later David heard from his classmates they were going to set up a booth in the carnival. They were going to bring video games to school, anyone with coupons gets to play.

That shocked David to his core. What games are they gonna have? How much are they gonna cost? David did not care, he was going to spend every little penny he got on it.

The carnival-day was drawing near, his friends were busy planning their 'business'. David had no part in it but he knew his place, he was just eager to play the games.

It is carnival-day. David arrived at school with his folks. The place was packed with more people than he anticipated. David was wondering if his parents were proud of what they saw. He did not even know why he cared what they thought.

Many classrooms were rearranged to house multiple booths. Some places offered food, some offered funfair-esque games. David did not even bother looking at what the rest were offering, they were lame. He knew exactly what he was looking for.

He found the room. There it is, his friend Josh was manning the booth. In the booth was a TV with an Atari console and joystick. It was running a racing game.

And then reality hit. The line towards it started far outside the room. It was a gangbuster.

David held onto all the coupons he had. It was the minimum amount but it was something. He had to line up now or it'll all go to waste.

So he lined up. His parents went off, he wondered what else in the carnival they saw.

The line moved. Bit. By. Bit.

David looked at his watch. No he did not have a watch. There was a clock on the wall. Ten minutes went by, twenty, thirty.

He felt like going to the toilet. But he has come this far he is not going to give up.

Fifty minutes passed. The game console is within sight. David continued to hold his bladder in.

Hundred-twenty-minute mark. "Hey Josh", finally David reaches the console. David gave him all his coupons. Josh has always been nice to him in class, David appreciated the familiar face.

David was given the joystick, there were two buttons at the side he did not know what to do with. David did not know his way around the game interface, Josh set him up.

The game threw him on a racetrack. It was not a Mario-like platform game he expected but that's ok, he knew he was not good at those anyway. Driving, that he can do.

The race started, immediately David crashed his car.

Game started again, obstacles were rushing in fast. David tried reacting as fast, it did not take long before he crashed again.

Race began another time. David cruised through other vehicles and kept moving forward. But Before long he skidded and drove off track.

David started to wonder what this game was about. Are the failure patterns immitating his real life?

Josh looked at the clock on the wall. The game started a new round, David crashed, and this time Josh stopped the game.

Time was up. "Wait what?" David thought.

Five minutes passed since David started.

Josh said that was how much he paid for. David's coupon was good for five minutes. "Thank you very much."

David was numb, he needed to process this. There must be more to this but there was a line behind him, better not hold it up.

He walked out of the room thinking "What just happened?"

He was hungry, it did not take him long before he found his parents. They bought more coupons to get him lunch.

While eating, he contemplated spending more money to play more. But the thought of lining up again, asking for more money and making his folks wait, he could not stomach that and called it a day.

David got back home. He was watching poorly made network TV shows but not paying attention at all.

The anticipation he built, the time he spent lining up and the money he could afford all came together and got him five minutes of a game he kept losing at. Something about this was not adding up.

From there on David decided video games were something he cannot have.

If he cannot have it, he would not want it.

David went back to watching TV.

This piece was prompted by the writing group Desk Drawer.

The substance was autobiographical. It's structuried with Dan Harmon's Story Circle, it's delightfully effective but this is by no means a display for mastery. It does work to free me from doing 'architecture' and focus on crafting the voice.