There was a time when I was pretty good at video games. This was approximately 1982 to 1984. Then I started a long, slow decline that continues to this day.
The result is that my kids make fun of my gaming skills, or lack thereof. This actually happened: Jack was playing "Super Mario Bros." on the Wii the other day, and when I asked if I could join him, he hesitated for a second and then said, "OK, but don't be sad when your guy dies."
Slightly offended, I asked what he meant. And he said, "Well, it's just that you're not very good."
Please note that I had never actually played Super Mario Bros. on the Wii before. Jack was just assuming my incompetence.
It turned out he was right, of course. Back in The Day (I find myself increasingly referring to The Day in conversation), I was pretty good at Super Mario Bros. on the old Nintendo NES system. But this new version of Super Mario Bros. is much more complex. Whenever I play, my character must look out of the screen, see that it's me controlling him, and decide it would be just as easy to commit some form of electronic suicide.
Now if we were playing the old Atari 2600, it would be a different story. I could play me some Atari 2600. Didn't matter what the game, I was probably pretty good at it. Combat? Pac-Man? Air-Sea Battle? Basketball? I was The Man at virtually every Atari cartridge.
The main reason for this was that I actually had time to play and practice. You can get good at just about anything if you have time to work at it. When I was 12 years old, I had time for everything. Teachers hadn't yet started doing that thing where they give two hours of homework to elementary school children every night, so time is the one thing we had in abundance (of course, my generation is also functionally retarded when compared with a lot of kids today, so maybe that homework thing would have been a good idea).
Do you remember that scene in the movie "Groundhog Hog" where Bill Murray is teaching Andie MacDowell to flip playing cards into a hat? He tells her, "Six months, four to five hours a day, and you'd be an expert." That's how it was with my friends and I when it came to video games.
It helped that my dad was a Gadget Guy. And by that I mean we had most of the cool new electronic gadgets of the 70s and 80s before anyone else had them. I was playing pong on my TV in 1977, thanks to the Radio Shack console Dad brought home one night. We also had the Atari 2600 long before most of the families in my neighborhood. So I was able to get pretty good at almost everything.
Then came the arcade craze. I spent a lot of paper route money pumping tokens into everything from Space Invaders and Centipede to Donkey Kong and Galaga. My friend Mel and I would ride our motocross bikes up to the game room and blow $3 to $5 (that's usually as much money as either of us had at any given time) in an hour or two. We would be wearing our 80s-style painters caps decked out with metal pins of our favorite New Wave bands like Duran Duran and Flock of Seagulls. We thought we looked cool. In reality, we must have looked like The Incredible Dork Twins.
My favorite game was one called Track & Field. You would participate in a variety of track events by repeatedly mashing a pair of buttons in rapid fashion to make your onscreen athlete run faster or jump farther. I was good at this game. Good to the point that I once played a game of Track & Field for a full hour on a single quarter.
Once I started high school in the fall of 1984, the time I had available for gaming dropped dramatically. There were sports practices, extracurriculars, actual homework assignments, etc. And the video game world quickly passed me by. I lost track of what was new and hot, and sadly the arcades started going out of business. By the mid-90s, video games cost upwards of a dollar to play and could only be found in the lobbies of movie theaters.
Now I'm reduced to the role of Inept Daddy. We'll be playing Super Mario Bros., and when I inevitably fall off a ledge or run into something I thought was friendly and die, one of the kids will give me the ultimate insult: a condescending head shake, a small laugh, and the words "Oh, Daddy." The message being: "We only let you play so we can laugh at you. You're more entertaining than the game itself."
Whatever, you little brats. Once they invent time travel and we go back to the 80s, I'm dragging all five of them to the arcade and I will school them. And I'll make them wear painters caps, too. Then my revenge will be complete.