Although I have earlier memories of gaming,
some of the most vivid centre around a squalid corner-shop that
was only a hundred or so metres from my school. I guess that makes
the year 1983, and I would have been 12 going on 13 and in my
first year at high-school.
The shop was simply known as 'Steve's' and was
so-named in honour of its Greek owner (whose name, undoubtedly,
was not Steve but Stamos or another perfectly good Greek name
that everyone refused to even attempt to pronounce). It was the
last in a row of eight or so shops and was hands-down the seediest
of them all. The row started with a hairdresser, then a butcher,
a fish-and-chip shop with great potato scallops, a general store
with a massive display of pick-and-mix lollies, a post office,
a toy-shop which stocked some excellent lead figurines, a bakery
(mmm… cream buns), a hardware store, and then ended on the
corner with Steve's.
Once all games were played to the accompaniment
of crackling fat.
Outside, Steve's was plastered with the usual
posters for cigarettes, various soft drinks, and ice blocks. There
was also a lot of graffiti, which was always done with a texta
in those days and never with spray paint. The posters were enclosed
in glass/perspex cases with aluminium frames. You used to place
the top of an unopened soft-drink bottle against the sharp metal
corner of the frame, and give the bottom of the bottle a quick
whack with your palm, resulting in a triangular hole in the cap
through which you'd drink it. Why we didn't just open the damn
thing instead of running the risk of slicing off your tongue on
a pierced aluminium cap I'll never know…
On entering the shop, the first thing that greeted
you was a pinball machine. Despite racking my brain for ages,
for the life of me I can't remember what machine it was. But I
definitely played it from time to time. Why that particular machine
has faded from memory I can't explain. I can distinctly remember
the Playboy machine that I used to play in Primary School. (A
ten-year old kid playing a Playboy pinball machine didn't seem
odd to me at the time - but having written that it definitely
seems weird now. And what was with the saggy-breasted old granny
on the back display?) I also remember the Kiss machine from my
holidays in Ballina a few years earlier.
This is how the game really looked. Honest.
Next to the unknown pinball machine was Asteroids.
This was the main attraction. I was never very good at it. I think
it had something to do with the fact that it had left/right buttons
instead of a joystick. But I loved to play it. There was something
about the vector graphics that just suited the game. It was simple,
clean, and effective. Not being much of a player, I seemed to
use hyperspace a lot more than average. Did it really just spontaneously
kill you on re-entry occasionally, or is that just my memory?
David Harris was the local asteroids champ.
His three-letter gamer tag was 'WOK', which came from his nick-name
of 'Wok-eye'. I don't know who labelled him that but it was obvious
why. He had a droopy, lazy, left eye which gave him a slightly
sinister look. Actually, it matched his slightly sinister personality
perfectly. He didn't seem to mind being called 'Wok-eye', even
though it was a pretty cruel name for a kid. (He would, after
all, only have been a year or so older than me). But kids can
be cruel sometimes. (A case in point - there was another kid at
my school who had a withered left arm. Across his locker someone
once wrote David Williams' only got one arm, doo daa, doo daa…)
'Wok-eye' had perfected the art of squeaker-hunting
in Asteroids. He would destroy all the asteroids except for a
last, small, stray rock, and then wait for the UFOs to appear.
His usual method began by rapidly moving vertically upwards, re-appearing
at the bottom of the screen as he exited the top. I gathered that
this was to ensure that he was a constantly moving target because
the squeakers were pretty accurate with their firing. As each
squeaker appeared he would pick it off seemingly at will, racking
up thousands of points in the process.
Occasionally he would have to face a new wave
of asteroids because he, or more likely the squeaker, would destroy
the last rock. But this just served as a minor annoyance and he
quickly dispatched the new wave except for that last, small, squeaker-attracting
rock, and resumed his annihilation of the squeaker race.
Although I was in awe of his points-scoring
abilities, and I enjoyed watching his skilful play, I was also
offended by his strategy. It seemed like cheating somehow. Maybe
it was jealousy. The rare occasions I tried squeaker-hunting usually
ended in me hurtling into the last rock. Whatever it was, it didn't
seem right. Surely the aim of the game is to destroy heaps of
asteroids and not just rack up the points?
One for Sir Sid James?
During his marathon games, and waiting for my
own (20 cent piece tucked into the corner of the screen), I'd
sometimes wander about the shop and see what else was there. There
was the usual collection of crappy products stocked by crappy
shops. Washing powder boxes with the words ‘brilliant colour!’
stamped across them, with the accompanying image mellowed to that
peculiar powdery blue-grey sun-faded colour. Boxes of pick-and-mix
lollies, which were always old, hard and stale. Copies of plain
black-and-white covered magazines with labels such as Ribald Issue
364 (which I later found out were hardcore porn). Greasy, dirty,
deep-fryer from which emerged horrible, soggy, oily chips, as
though the oil was never quite hot enough. It really was a fucking
The only reason I was there at all was for that
unknown pinball machine and the thrill of a thirty-second go on