Posts Tagged ‘video games’


Old School

   Posted by: Michael Bernier   in Today's Reality, Yesterday's Memories

My two teenage sons are determined gamers, enjoying almost every kind of video game that can be found for a PC or Playstation. From sports like NFL football to WWII first-person shooters to Pokémon, these two dive right into it. Over the years, their gaming tastes have grown more and more sophisticated, pushing their PCs to the edge of their abilities and beyond, resulting in a string of upgrades that have kept me on my technological toes.

Tonight, though, they surprised me. Instead of clamoring for the latest and greatest whatever, they asked instead if they could play with an old game I had bought for my wife several years ago. Actually, it is a miniature game “console” that is programmed to play several popular arcade games from the early 1980s. This device connects to a television the same way as a camcorder, using jacks on the front of the set. Plug it in, turn it on, and you are instantly transported back into the gaming world we grew up with – Pac-Man, Galaxians, Ms. Pac-Man, and so on. The graphics are anything but modern; for example, Pac-Man has a simple grid, a bunch of dots, and ghostly-looking characters chasing the player around the screen.

What made the boys want to play such old games, most of which were taken off the market a decade before either of them were born? At their ages, they aren’t old enough to “wax nostalgic” about anything. I noticed how much they were laughing and carrying on about each old game, and then it dawned on me: they were having fun – simple, lighthearted fun! It is so rare these days to hear laughter when they play games; most of them require a lot of focus and attention in order to keep their character from getting killed. This evening, it didn’t matter when one of the ghosts caught Pac-Man; they’d just press a button and play it again.

I looked at other games they have, and some my wife has as well, and none of them seem to have any sort of carefree fun in them. They all involve some form of strategy, focus, attention, or intensity. I’m not a gamer; I rarely play any sort of video games because I’ve never been very good at them, and I haven’t had the propensity or desire to become better. But yet, I can see where gaming has evolved from lighthearted romps through cyberspace into complex applications which immerse the player into the action. I’m not sure that’s always a good thing, and from the experience I witnessed this evening, I am even more certain of it.

I can’t in good conscience stop them completely from playing games; they’re both straight-A students, so it’s a stretch at best to tie in reduced gaming time with making an improvement in their grades. I suppose the best thing to do is encourage them to step away from the intensity a little more often.

I also need to make sure the batteries in that old game console don’t run down.


Sibling Parity

   Posted by: Michael Bernier   in Today's Reality

I have two sons aged 15 and 13. They’re both bright and talented (I’m not bragging – they get straight A’s in school and both play in the school band), and they are both really big into PC-based video gaming, especially sports like baseball or football, and role-playing games involving a lot of shooting and blowing things up.

Up until a few months ago the boys shared one computer, which seemed to take care of their needs. I’ve had to upgrade it a couple of times so it could run the more complex games they keep getting, but it’s done pretty much everything they’ve asked of it. They would argue over who would play what, and sometimes things would get pretty ugly, but they have always worked out their differences and no bones have ever been broken in the process. The conflict finally came to a head when both of them claimed the need to use it more for schoolwork, and between that and the constant bickering over games it finally reached the point where another machine was needed to restore peace in the house.

I’ve built most of the home computers I’ve ever used. As late as two years ago, I was still using a machine I had built from scratch, while everyone else in the house had a “store-bought” PC. Then, in a very sudden and dramatic fashion my homebuilt machine died, and I needed to repair it very quickly. When I found out it would cost as much for new parts as it would to buy a fully-loaded computer ready to run, I bought a new one; but, forever and always an electronic packrat, I held on to that old box, figuring I could use some of its parts one day to repair another machine.

Two years later and faced with the prospect of buying another computer, I looked at that old box and thought, “maybe I could find some cheap surplus parts and rebuild it.” After some complicated negotiations, my youngest son decided he’d be brave and take on the challenge of working with one of Dad’s electronic creations.

It took some time to find parts, but once I had them I was in my element, my hands deep inside the metal casing hooking up cables to components that would bring it back to life. A few last connections, and voila! The old computer was running again! After some testing, I turned the resurrected PC over to my son so he could begin installing and playing games.

He learned what worked and what didn’t, and fortunately the “didn’t” list was fairly short. But, he started clamoring for upgrades to be able to play those games. With Christmas around the corner, I decided to give him some of the parts he needed as presents. Unfortunately, most of them didn’t work. The new parts would fit, but the older pieces were unable to support them.

By this point, I was committed to getting the PC working. So, I ran to the nearest computer parts store (about 60 miles away) to get the pieces I had tried to avoid buying in the first place. After several more round-trips to the store over the next three months, and some strategic purchases off eBay, over this past weekend I was able to FINALLY get it running the way I originally intended.

But, now that I’ve got little brother’s computer running smoothly, big brother starts to complain that his machine’s graphics aren’t as good, and wants to upgrade his to match.

So, the arguments start all over again. This time, at least, the boys aren’t complaining to each other.