Friday, July 07, 2006

The Garagecade: Super Dodge Ball

Coming home from a long summertime trudge around the city, I find my upstairs neighbour shirtless and soaking wet in a folding chair, the sparkling comb of the backyard lawn sprinkler oscillating over him, his lady and his buddy.

“Grab a beer! Grab a chair! Get under the sprinkler!”

I kind of didn’t want to. The sun was far off its midday peak, and even at the hottest of hot times I’m not one to enjoy intermittent soakings. But there was something frighteningly insistent in his manner – I knew there was no way I could get away with slinking into the cool, dry downstairs; we have precious few house rules, and NO PARTY-POOPING tops that tiny list. Dutifully, I retrieved a beer and feigned comfort in the least-sprinkled area I could find.

“The fuckin’ arcade at the bus station sucks!” he informed me as icy water washed over us. Just the day before, he was telling me how bus stations had the best pinball tables and videogame cabinets; I guess he’d done some disappointing downtown recon that afternoon. “Fuckin’ Stargate pinball, and it didn’t even fuckin’ work! Everything else was fuckin’ Big Buck Hunter or whatever! Fuckin’ bullshit!

I’d seen him like this before – sunshine, liquor and low blood-sugar working madness together. The glucose-stabilizing salmon steaks looked a long way in the future; he needed to get up and get focused. Also, the shadow of the house was falling over us, and something needed to be done to get him off this sadistic sprinkler kick or the four of us’d all be turning blue with beers in our hands.

“Dude,” I said, “what do you care about the bus station? You’ve got almost the best videogame in the world right there in the garage. Why don’t we plug in Super Dodge Ball?”

“Yeah… yeah…” he muttered, his energy fading; “That’s what it’s there for…”

“You want me to start the babeque?” his girl asked, gently; we were all in this together.

“Yeah… yeah… Gotta get the salmon on…” He wobbled up out of his sodden lawnchair, fumbled the sprinkler off and disappeared into the house. Mission accomplished – with all the ‘80s style arcade dodgeball action we could stand lying ahead.

The pleasures of a home arcade can’t be overstated. There’s just something so totally rad about having an cabinet or two of your very own, something that touches the essence of what it is to be a game nerd. The arcades are long dead and gone; besides the random Galagas and Ms. Pac-Mans scattered in bowling alleys, pizza parlors and Laundromats, collectors’ home galleries are the last remnant of the old days… and the truant schoolkid in everyone still gets a naughty cheater’s thrill flicking the wire for scores of quarterless credits.

This particular three-unit garage arcade isn’t really set up yet – I fear my neighbour’s dreams of some kind of manly man’s lounging lodge are some ways off – but buddy and I managed to shove enough camping equipment out of the way to get Super Dodge Ball up and running. Super Mario Bros. and Top Gunner we’ll leave for another day; Technos’ 1987 masterpiece of volleyball violence is the star of this show.

Barefoot, sunstroked, stoned and giddy we manned the cabinet, starting out awkward but building quickly to that level where the game becomes what it is: the spirit of gym-class viciousness, re-imagined as an international professional sport, projected into videogame reality. Swearing, screaming, button-mashing, controller-slamming, laughing power of pure play. Massacres and routs alternating with narrow at-the-whistle victories decided by a single perfect spike.The distractions of hoser-arcade play – cigarette smoke stinging the eyes, unlocked coin-slot door banging the knees, miscellaneous garage debris potentially painful underfoot – only made things better.

Eventually my neighbour, revivified and de-drunkened by food and fluids, joined us in the garagecade. By the time we’d gone through countless rounds-robin of dodgeballing it was after midnight; I went happily to bed with my first honest case of Gamer’s Wrist in months. You can play Super Dodge Ball – shit, you can play any game ever made – via computer emulation, but you know it’ll never be as good as beating the shit out of three hundred pounds of particleboard and circuitry. The only thing lacking was a sweaty old burnout with a beer belly and a change belt threatening to ban us for whaling on the machine.

He wasn’t missed. Much.

No comments: