Wednesday, October 11, 2006

FunStation One

There’s a feel to cheapass knockoff plastic that’s somehow delicious. Brittle, light, flimsy... bird bones or insect chitin – the grey delicacy of the “FunStation One” was a stick-insect in my hand, an arthritic old cat, something requiring more care in handling than the fifteen dollars (tax included) I’d handed over to the disinterested old Chinese dude at the Spadina hole-in-the-wall import warehouse would otherwise call for. I wanted to protect the FunStation One; I wanted to tell it everything was going to be OK.

All the FunStation One wanted to tell me back was that it’d been assembled somewhere standards for electrical-equipment manufacture were lax to the point of triviality, a regulatory regime wholly alien to my CSA-coddled way of thinking. The electrical system in my buddy’s Bloor street apartment shrieked as the unisolated, off-frequency transformer made itself known – the TV spazzed into frenzied houndstooth snow, the stereo set up an ear-splitting goat-bleat of feedback, and the satellite receiver simply slipped into NO SIGNAL and waited testily to resume its orbital conversation.

I slapped the FunStation One off the powerbar in a panic; wrecking a pal’s AV setup was one thing – it was all pawnshop-replaceable, and he could probably do without Galaxie Classic County for a day or two – but at that moment I knew FunStation One had enough malice within it to reach outside the apartment, to work its mysterious sweatshop sabotage throughout the building. An image of the eager young Vietnamese who’d just opened their noodle shop downstairs (“Pho’Ever”; clever) weeping over piles of spoiled banh xeo in a defunct cooler flashed through my mind, and I knew I could never live with that on my hands; their girlfriends were too adorable.

This was the latest of the videogaming disappointments in my Toronto excursion, a string of gamey fuckups that began with remembering my DS and PSP but leaving behind the bag of brand-new games I’d meant to review in transit – and then picking up Deep Dungeon in a shabby Queen St. game store, thereby discovering the shittiest portable game I’d played since Mortal Kombat Advance. I was, I thought, fucked for material – I suppose I could have attended the Sony event to which I’d been invited, but… well. You know how it goes; I got sidetracked by the Henry Moore exhibition at the art gallery, and the day just went by. By the time I’d have got up to the distant club where the thing was going down, my vultrous colleagues would have long since snarfled up the last crumbs of Sony’s canapés.

It wasn’t til just this afternoon, as I was despairing for an angle – was I going to have to write about web games again? How worn can that dodge get before editors and audience see through it? – that the reality of the week clarified for me: games-playing, video or otherwise, is as much a part of human life as breathing, eating, shitting and/or making love, and without even trying – well, trying but being falsely frustrated – I’d spent part of every damn day gaming on reflex, in natural flow.

Start with Sunday’s street hockey, the away opener for my time in TO. A grinning gang of Edmonton expats playing on the concrete patch beside a park rink – too few people, in too poor shape, to use the full-sized surface without hearts exploding – dodging light-poles, dirt-piles, mud-puddles and broken glass in pursuit of… mere fun, simple exercise; these are office-sitting and floor-standing people, and a few hours of hardfought road-shinney ass-hockey beat (I’m told) any whirring, clanking machine in some TV-encrusted gym any day. So what if I had to double-dose on Motrin for the rest of my trip, my unconditioned legs stiff as sticks as I hobbled around town? I scored two goals and got two assists! I heartily recommend goals and assists as mood elevators; ask your doctor.

Then there was the little “let’s just have one more pint” pub that happened to have one of those plug-n-play Atari decks up on the bar, where I did a quick level-one speedrun through Adventure, showed off my insane Yar’s Revenge skills and got confused and annoyed (as I always, always have been) by Haunted House before the brick-breaking castle-to-castle combat of Warlords turned one more pint into two more pints, two more pints into two more pints and a round of Jack-n-soda, two pints and a Jack into “Fuck! Fucking Warlords! Why would they put this game on a deck with no fucking paddle controller?!”

And so on, gaming through a long, expensive, boozy, brilliant, laugh-a-minute rumble through Hogtown. When you’re a gamer, you’re a gamer whether your DS is charged or not, whether or not you’ve got electricity and wherever you are – and if you’re human, you’re a gamer. Crib on the bus, I Spy in the dentist’s waiting room, Hangman (clue: “ Awesome record”; C_ec_ _o_r _ea_) in the back seat of the car… even the little, life-changing daily games of people and people… we’re gaming always, everywhere, forever.

(POSTSCRIPT: I guess my electrical system is better than my friend’s, ‘cause I just got the FunStation One to work without assassinating my XBox. Turns out the 9,999,999 advertised games are Super Mario Bros., the ten events of Track & Field counted individually, and what I’m guessing is a Columns knockoff [it doesn’t run] repeated 833,333 times. Caveat emptor.)

photo: D. Martineau

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