Pinball Wizard

Gaming in the 21st century is the modern, international time-suck. Or it is the bogey-man-du-jour. Or, maybe, gaming is the clear path to creativity (or, instead, passivity). Whatever it is or they are, computer and web-based games attract plenty of attention, heated arguments and passionate participants of every stripe.

But, as Carroll Pursell makes clear in his recently published book, today’s gaming can be traced back to a 1777 party for French king Louis XVI (From Playgrounds to PlayStation: The Interaction of Technology and Play, Johns Hopkins University Press).

The French had lots of problems in the 18th century. But gaming was not likely one of them.

Assisting the rebellious English colonies relieve themselves of their monarch, for instance. This activity doubtless angered royalty of equal status across the Channel.

Too, all the baking and knitting made it unlikely the French found gaming – especially among royalty and wealth – a social cause celebre. (Marie and Madame Defarge, you know.)

For most, the precursors to today’s digital games pass unacknowledged and under-appreciated.

For me, skipping all the antecedents, Gottlieb’s “Royal Guard” was the coin-operated operational definition for gaming. Pinball. Springsteen called ‘em “pleasure machines.”

Upwards of four years, thousands of hours, and untally-able lawn-cutting quarters poured into that machine resting opposite the stools and counter at George’s Luncheonette. At that time, circa 1968, one could still win free games by attaining certain scores or hitting selected randomly appearing pop-up targets.

Until, that is, the moral crusaders put the kibosh on that dreaded form of gambling. One certain to only produce delinquents. (Which it did.) Pursell also explores the gambling connection to coin-op diversions.

All of which accounts for my dismal high school academic record. Though I probably set records for tardiness, class cutting and absences.

As it turned out, my active game life was at the cusp: my “advancement” in gaming ended when circuit boards and digital displays were being introduced, thereby ruining the entire enterprise.

“Pong” arrived shortly after I did at college. I do not suggest cause and effect. College followed a brief educational hiatus and occurred despite my not-so-sterling HS transcript.

Pong, of course, was idiotic. Even back then. And popular, though I didn’t see the fascination.

Today gaming is among the most popular of college majors. Imagine that.

What’s next? Studying movies? C’mon!

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