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Video Games Killed the Pinball Star



YES, I admit it. I was a video game whiz-kid in high school. I could vaporize little green monsters, blast space rocks, and shoot up giant space ships better than anybody.

Sometimes I thought I was in the exploding spaceship or crashing car. I would transplant myself into the reality of the game. It made me work harder.

In college, however, my tastes changed. I didn't want to try every new game that came along; they were too complicated and they cost too much money. So I gravitated toward pinball, a game you can control instead of having it control you.

Now, I'm a college pinball wizard. I'd be a valuable addition to the Adams House intramural pinball team, if there was one.

I long, however, for the days when I could go for high scores on my favorite video games, and get them. But they're no longer around. No Pac Man. No Space Invaders. All are now being replaced by "realistic" video games.

YOU see, as technology has advanced--sound-sampling, high-resolution graphics, better microprocessors--the "realism factor" in video games has increased.

But in some cases, realism means more than sounds and graphics. Sega has made a motor-cycle racing game in which you must lean your life-sized bike to steer through the turns. There's also an automobile game in which the steering becomes difficult if you drive into the grass--and the wheel shakes violently if you crash.

One day when I went to Down-town Crossing to buy a pair of cheap sunglasses, I popped over to the old Paramount Theater--now a dusty video game parlor--to try my luck at playing pinball games.

But they were all either out of commission or cursed with weak flippers, so I decided to find a video game.

I settled on After Burner, one of the many fighter-plane games of the Top Gun type. The game cost a dollar. I said to myself, "Oh, well, if it's the only game I'm playing, I might as well go for it."

I was wondering why a seatbelt was in a video game when the plane rose from the aircraft carrier, taking me with it. Or so it felt.

I panicked, fumbling with the throttle controls and hitting the afterburners. I was slammed into the back of my seat. I tried to steer the plane against the oncoming tide of planes and missiles and I banked the craft hard to one side. I tried to steer the other way and the plane began to do about 123,000 barrel rolls. And then I got shot down, and it felt like an earthquake hit the machine.

Then I grasped what was going on, with the game's real-life movements of the seat trying to augment the action on the screen. I was then left to fly wildly in this low-scale amusement-park ride.

I failed to see the point of trying to "get into", the game, flying the machine as if my life depended on it. The built-in-reality of the game was just too overwhelming.

I emerged from the game very woozily and stumbled to Filene's where I knew there was some subway that would take me back to Cambridge.

I never did get those sunglasses. And it'll be pinball from here on in. There's no sense in being controlled by a machine.

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