Tag: Gaming

Day 994: The Game Of Milton Bradley’s Life

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I confess: I am but one week away from commemorating my 40th year on this planet, and I have yet to ever play The Game of Life. This is not due to some ethical or existential objection to simulating the course of one’s existence upon a square slab of cardboard, but rather due to my friends and I having spent our youthful recreation time with Star Wars toys and kindly ol’ Super Mario. I never got around to playing Candyland either.

As beloved as this board game may be, with its plastic minivans, its cruel cash-drains and generous paydays, buried deep within its roots is a transformative story. The original version of the game, concocted by Mr. Milton Bradley himself, elevated the concept of gaming from prescriptive quests for moral elevation to a more practical and modernized measure of success. More importantly, it came packaged with choice.

The Game of Life as we know it (well, as you probably know it, since I’ve never played the thing) features one early decision: go to school or get a job. After that, each soul is subjected to the whim of the spiteful spinner, suggesting that life is but a cavalcade of random collisions, and that we are always at the mercy of the fickle flick of fate. Mr. Bradley’s outlook on destiny was far more empowering.

Milton Bradley, 1860s

Tracing the Bradley lineage would suggest that a rather dreary definition of “life” could have taken center-stage in his outlook. The family tree was planted in America in 1635, and since then its bark shows the hatchet-marks of murder, Indian attack, kidnapping, and at one point hot embers being poured into an infant’s mouth. When Milton finally squeezed his way onto the planet in 1836, the Bradleys were a little less prone to being butchered, but far from being economic titans. Read more…

Day 891: Dungeons & Dragons & Eternal Damnation

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Any responsible parent already knows that their children are but a wayward blink away from an eternity of fiery evil. It seems that every fad, trend or popular pastime of the past half-century has fallen beneath the dusty scrutiny of some religious group or another, damning the activity as Satanic, amoral or corrupting (or all three for the really fun stuff). Your kid’s into Pokemon? Those monsters are an affront to God. He likes reading about Harry Potter? Just a bunch of liberal brainwashing with a firm footprint in the occult. Really into chess? Only God can steer horses along an L-shaped path.

But Dungeons & Dragons was an easy target. You’ve got a cast of creatures from Tolkien’s nightmares dotting the landscape, and children who immerse themselves into a godless world of fantasy and imagination. Since the game rose toward the mainstream of geekdom in the 1970’s – back when geekdom was a truly excluded sub-clique and not the faux-aspiration of every duck-faced twit looking for chic value because they’ve seen a Marvel movie or two – it has been under attack by the ever-threatened right.

I’m not certain why there appears to be a significant link between the devout adherence to religion and the desire to protest and/or ban things, but it’s there. Gary Gygax and the creative team behind Dungeons & Dragons had to see this coming when they first hammered out the game’s rules. But they probably didn’t expect a response like this.

Any game with Super Punchy Lion-Dude must be an insult to God.

Any game with Super Punchy Lion-Dude must be an insult to God.

When young Irving Pulling shot himself in the chest one day in 1982, it was nothing short of a tragedy. Teen suicide leaves a wake of anguish and confusion, and often a heap of unanswerable questions that will plague his or her surviving friends and families for decades. Patricia Pulling – the grieving mother – felt she had the answers she needed. Irving was an avid player of D&D, and Patricia believed his suicide had something to do with the game. I’ll point out here that Patricia was also a fundamentalist Christian, though I think that will become evident as I tell the story. Read more…

Day 781: The Classic Time-Wasters

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If you are fortunate enough to possess a job of such little consequence that you can while away your clocked hours with fanciful amusements and digital distractions, then you have probably logged a lot of hours with Microsoft’s built-in activities. Myself, I prefer to devote my daytime downtime to writing kilographs and memorizing TV theme song lyrics. When the fancy strikes for some blips, bleeps and computerized explosions, I head online to one of the vast repositories of Flash games like Kongregate or AddictingGames.com.

I should point out that I get a lot of downtime in this job. Had I been so blessed in the 90’s I would have poured much more of my time into the mundane clickery of Minesweeper, FreeCell and the other games that had found themselves woven into the fabric of Windows 95, 98 and XP.

These were the freebie games that everyone played. Minesweeper is as much a collectively shared experience as any global recession or Olympic games. These games are the common denominator no one uses as a conversational connection. But we could. We have all been there, mired in the scrutiny of robot card-backs and simulated pinball bumpers.

Solitaire

Wes Cherry, an intern at Microsoft in 1989, made untold millions of dollars for designing Solitaire. Or he would have, had he been paid in commission. Or at all.

Yeah, Cherry got nothing. Perhaps the most-played game in the history of computers, and Wes Cherry handed it over for the price of a handshake. His girlfriend at the time designed half the card-backs as well, and her work was also treated as a donation. The cards themselves were designed by Susan Kare, a one-time Apple employee who had designed the Chicago typeface that was used on old Macs and the first four generations of iPods, as well as the Happy Mac that greets users when they boot up. Read more…

Day 342: Shooting The Light Fantastic

When the Nintendo Entertainment System was released in 1985, it was more than just a way to play video games in one’s home. There were accessories, dammit – the truly lucky kids got the optional robot (which, it turns out, sucked) and the light gun.

The light gun. Formally known as the NES Zapper, this thing was magic to a 10-year-old who had grown up believing the Intellivoice was the greatest gaming innovation he’d see in his lifetime. Now my television had become an input device. Conquering these new games meant having skill, marksmanship, and – for an added challenge – the ability to hit a target bang-on after having rolled tactically from behind the sofa to fire off a quick shot from the family room floor.

Nintendo had invented the future. Well, actually they didn’t. Light guns had been around since the Great Depression.

This is the Seeburg Ray-O-Lite, the closest thing to a first-person shooter game outside a carnival in 1936. The duck would move back and forth, a little light-sensing vacuum tube embedded in it. The rifle would emit a ray of light when the trigger was pulled. Hit the target, the duck flopped over. Miss it, and feel that cold chill of shame, because it was the 30’s and manly pursuits like wrasslin’ and shootin’ were the only ways a man could prove himself back then. Read more…