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The Wilson Manifesto

"Whatever happened to Pong?" - Frank Black

Adam Wilson
filed 07/28/02

research tells me things. Research has given me tons of information on various subjects from black market organ prices (see previous Wilson Manifesto) to what certain wrestler's real names are (Kevin Nash's real name actually is Kevin Nash. Wow).

Today research has told me a name: Ralph Baer

Saying his name won't really tell you anything. It won't trigger some kind of memory surge so you can say something like ‘Wasn't he the yearbook editor in high school?' The answer is no. Well, I can't say for sure. Who knows what Ralph Baer did in high school.

What I can tell you about him is that he is the grandfather (in a way) of geeks and rotten brains. It'll explain itself soon enough.

Kids my age were of a different make than kids today. At least the kids I knew as a child were different. I did know a couple of the "gamers" as I'll call them.

"Gamers" were those kids who spent every living minute playing videogames. As soon as they woke up in the morning, and as soon as they got home from school and right after supper, videogames, videogames, videogames. I knew some people like this as a kid. Granted, they could kick my ass at Blades of Steel, but at least I knew what fun was.

You see, the kids I hung around with had this ingenious plaything. It's wasn't hard to find, but there were a lot of kids who, once shown it, had no idea how to play with it. And trust me, it wasn't hard. It was just that the "gamer" kids had no clue. Unless there were a couple paddles plugged into it, they weren't able to figure it out.

But my friends and I loved our plaything. It gave us countless hours of enjoyment. It was something that "gamers" then and now don't take enough time to stop and pay attention to.

Our plaything was the outdoors.

We didn't want to spend our entire summer vacation rotting in front of a television holding on to a Nintendo controller trying to figure out how to get the 100 free men in Super Mario Brothers or blowing into the cartridges to get the dust out so the games might actually work for once.

Granted, I used to play video games. I owned an Atari 2600, a Sega Genesis and all of the Nintendo products excluding the GameCube. I loved my video games. But I was never a "gamer." I probably play more video games now than I did when I was 10. (After I wrote that sentence, I spent a long time thinking whether or not this is a good thing…)

The point is, everyone played video games. It was just a matter of will power to set the controllers down, call your buddy, and ask him if he's rather go downtown and hang out at the convenience store and eat strange flavoured Popsicles until you puked.

I had will power. Don't ever try the Sour Puss Popsicle. It actually tastes like vomit.

Research told me Ralph Baer was the grandfather of video games. He invented the first video game system in 1972 called the Magnavox Odyssey 1. Research told me some funny stories about the Magnavox Odyssey 1. Did you know that the first video game ever invented was the now classic Pong? Did you know that the first Pong game consisted of only three blips on the screen (the ball and the two sticks that bounced it back and fourth)? Did you know that with the lack of graphics on the Magnavox Odyssey 1, backgrounds were unable to be processed, so the system came with stickers that you actually stuck on the television screen to provide more backing to the games?

Ralph Baer had it all figured out. The Dr. Evil of the 70's. Did he really plan to take over the world, while the world's youth stared expressionless at their televisions playing something called a "video game"? Probably not. What Ralph Baer did was condemn kids to indoors. He sentenced to a childhood of solitude and boredom with the video games.

Time passed and the video game systems got better and better until the time came when I was old enough to play them. I got an Atari 2600 and I loved the Space Invaders and, of course, Pong. But I also loved going outside and wandering through the woods and playing baseball with my friends.

The revolt had begun.

In my youth, I was able to tell Link that Zelda would have to be saved another day. Things needed to be done outside before I would save the damsel in distress.

Today's kids are once again condemned to the indoors. Blame Nintendo. Blame Sony. Blame Microsoft. Half of today's kids will only go outside if they have their hand-held game units in their pockets. Just in case the baseball game gets boring, they can play a little game of Spider-Man to pass some time away.

What's the point of all this nonsense? Kids need to take a look around. Kids need to put the controllers down and look out a window. There's an entire world of possibilities outside that glass you know. The video games can wait. They did for me. Your youth will pass you by quicker if you don't use it properly. Go outside. Ride a bike. Call some friends and play some baseball. Leave Ralph Baer and all of his nonsensical ideas inside.

Define irony.

As of the time I'm writing this, I am a "gamer". Now, I don't spend all day playing video games. But I like putting in some time. Of course, I don't play Pokemon or Resident Evil or anything like that. I'm a strict sports video game fanatic. I say it's a substitute for exercise. I also went a bit retro and still love a good game of Pong or Tetris or even Pac-Man. But I saved the video games for after my youth. Go out and enjoy the world.

Because you never know. Another Ralph Baer might pop up again one day, with something more powerful and addictive and the kids might actually be stuck indoors. Permanently. And that's all the world needs. An entire generation of geeks with rotten brains trying to fight a worldly onslaught of aliens who need human blood to power their spaceships on a battlefield their ancestors once fought a couple of wars on. The fate of the world is in your hands. Don't let us down.

Go to MPOG.COM (http://www.mpog.com/feature/historyofvideogames/) for more info on Ralph Baer and other video games.


Adam Wilson is a writer who would love to make a living writing reviews and novels, because that's what he likes to do.

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