The Last Man
Chris Chandler invited me to the video game show that was going to be the all-consuming passion of his weekend. Not really knowing the size or shape of the thing, I said yes. So the two of us headed up to the Valley Forge Convention Center at 8 a.m., unloaded a few additions to his 3-table video gam spread, and sat back. There were already four dozen or so nerds dicking around on their game setups, more than an hour before the door would open.
We had two TVs with one Atari 2600 and one 8-bit Nintendo set up beside them. The Nintendo didn’t really work – it took so long to un-gunk the feelers after every game that I walked away and took in sights. Directly in front of us, a small stage was overloaded with speakers and occasionally an elderly man who played accordian. (He gave us a line he’d clearly worked on – “I know, to you guys, there’s nothing special about moving your fingers real fast” – but it didn’t work.) Closer to the entrance was a line of 14 giant TVs hooked up to various systems with first-person shooters – House of the Dead, Duck Hunt, the requisite Japanese game that used a DJ deck as a controller. Rows and rows of used games extended from there, some obvious rip-offs ($40 for fucking Playstation 1 games) and some huge bargains. Toward the back were 25 or so hollowed-out arcade machines with new games inserted – Street Fighter 2 Turbo, Virtua Cop, Pong. And there were more and more rows of independent game companies, paintings based on Tecmo Bowl players, a 3-D version of Grand Theft Auto: Vice City. I’m not a huge game person, honestly. I didn’t look too close.
I got into the groove back at Chris’s booth. The kind of people who come to a video game show on a sunny Saturday are, as you’d expect, fucking insane. Most of them wore cargo pants tight at the waist, gut spilling over beneath their game-themed T-shirts. You don’t have time to do hundreds of sit-ups AND figure out how to beat Mega Man 2 in 29 minutes. It’s one or the other. Weirdly, the celebrity that events organizers coralled for this group was Cindy Morgan, the chick from Caddyshack and Tron. She came on in the early afternoon, crossing her legs and telling her life story to thirty or so nerds. The rest of us giggled about how we’d seen her naked. Well, I didn’t. But I didn’t object, so I was complicit.
Dean showed up around the same time, carting four cases of old Nintendo Power magazines which he’d bought for $5 at a flea market. He sold them for $50, but the effort kept him behind the counter, so I waited until the old Nintendo was switched out and I played the hell out of Super Punch Out. When I got stuck on the fourth boxer, Mr. Sandman, a kid in an Iron Maiden shirt took the controller and beat him in 50 seconds. I left the game in the console, but when I walked back an hour later, the credits were rolling. The kid beat the whole thing.
I think we were all surprised at how interesting the second “celebrity guest” turned out to be. He was unannounced, and I don’t remember his name, but the guy was one of the designers of – get this – Atari’s E.T.: The Extra-Terrestrial. Yes, he laid hands on the worst video game ever made. I actually paused the Contra III for a few minutes and listened to his excuses – they had a few weeks to design the game from scratch, there was no consumer testing, they were busy on other games. It was morbidly fascinating – the geekish equivilent of listening to Ben Affleck explain why he made “Gigli.”