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Archive for the tag “Pitfall”


I’m an old school gamer. In the old days of Donkey Kong and Frogger and Pitfall, if you wanted to keep your guy ( it was almost always a guy) from dying in the video game, you had to get through the jungle/maze/whatever and grab some sort of “health” pellet. When you did, you’d be relieved to see the blinking remnant of life surge back up to a full length far of lively-lifeness.

For writers, going to a conference is kind of like finding a health pellet.

I just got back from my annual trip to the Missouri Writers Guild conference. It’s a little bit of a drive for me, but I go every year because it’s one of the few times I get to spend time, in groups and one-on-one, with industry insiders like editors, agents and publishers to talk about the writing craft in general and sometimes my work specifically. It’s awesome.

Going to conferences like this are also great at reminders you are not the only weirdo who isn’t content just reading stories. It’s a hotel full of people as obsessed as you with creating arcs and beats and word counts and plots and story.

Last year’s was notable because the hotel we were at was hosting not just writers, but also a child’s beauty pageant ala “Little Miss Sunshine” and a convention of people who make and display miniature doll house furniture. No houses, mind you; just the furniture. Makes sense. Everyone knows doll house builders are dorks. (Kidding! Not kidding! Okay, kidding…please don’t hurt me with your tiny chairs.)

Every year, I’m struck by the variety of backgrounds the attendees come from. This year didn’t disappoint. There was the newspaper reporter who yearns to write fiction, the twenty-something who has pared down his lifestyle to such a degree he can live on what he makes from 2-3 hours a day of work (writing freelance articles) so he can devote the rest of his time to writing tales in the vein of old Norse mythology. I met a retired judge and his wife who travels around showing horses. There was also a cardiologist who quit to be a writer and lots of retirees.

Then there was a college professor and part-time children’s entertainer, who I talked to at the same time as the barbershop quartet singer. The professor, it turns out, has always wanted to be in a barbershop quartet! (Math geeks, calculate me the odds of meeting ONE, let alone TWO, people into barbershop at the same time and place.) They actually started harmonizing right there in the hall between workshops. It was surreal.

That’s the best part of these conferences: you never quite know what you’ll get or who will there. And everyone is supportive of this weird thing you’ve dedicated yourself to. Some of them are already published, some are wannabes, some are never-wills. But all love the written word and those who put those words out there.

Looking forward to 2015!



NPR recently reported about a game development company called Fuel Industries which has gotten permission from the city council in Alamogordo, NM to excavate the “Atari Dump”. In 1983, saddled with truckloads of unsold Atari game cartridges – Remember the “E.T.” game? No. That’s why they needed a dump. – the company literally solved the problem by burying them in the desert, along with a bunch of broken game consoles. Easy-peasy! Problem solved! Let’s get a beer.

Now Fuel Industries wants to make a documentary about all that. Why? Well…well because THEY BURIED A BUNCH OF VIDEO GAMES IN THE DESERT. WITH PERMISSION. THEN POURED CEMENT ON IT. Does there really need to be more reason than that?

This explains so much. Dubious business practices certainly. Disregard for the environment most definitely. But it also explains how, on a clear summer night when the wind is blowing in the right direction, even hundreds of miles away from New Mexico, I hear the voices. well, not voices exactly. The bleeps and boops and boings of all those great, old video games.

Listen carefully and you’ll hear the Tarzen-esque call of Pitfall Harry leaping on a vine over a pit of maggots. Q*Bert climbing stacks of old tomato soup cans. E.T. phoning home on a Reese’s Pieces wrapper. Pac-Man gobbling pellets of…god knows what.

They’re all out there, whispers in the night; quarters plinking in the slots of midnight. Or something. So the next time you’re immersed in the stunning realism of Call of Duty or the gripping power of Battlefield, just remember that somewhere in the New Mexico desert Donkey Kong and Mario are still battling…over rotten banana peels and dead goldfish.



This past week, ATARI turned 40. You remember ATARI, right? Pong? Space Invaders? Donkey Kong? That last one featured a then unknown plumber named Mario who, of course, still lives on in the Nintendo Wii world, whereas the ATARI’s Pitfall Harry is rasslin’ gators down south somewhere for beer money.

ATARI doesn’t do much anymore, I don’t think. After the blockbuster ATARI 2600 (I still have mine) became obsolete in the 80’s – Coleco Vision I suppose crippled it, PC gaming rendered it comatose, and the original Nintendo 64 pulled the (literal) plug – they tried some other consoles, some hand-held stuff. Nothing endurred. Now I suppose they just coast on fandom, licensing characters for the Wii and such. Ever increasing numbers of gamers just don’t remember.

But when ATARI was big, it was HUGE. I was a pre-teen/early teen then. I had never seen, nor ever expected again to see, something so cool. So did everyone, young and old. People would choose to stay home on Friday nights and crowd around the TV to play with these little bloops and blips on the TV. This was sci-fi made real in an era when no one had smartphones, and almost no one had personal computers.

And people loved it. “YOU MEAN I CAN PLAY PAC-MAN AT HOME?!?!?! WITHOUT PLUGGING THE MACHINE WITH QUARTERS?!?!?! OHMIGOD!?!?!” Thanks to the clunky “joystick” controller, you could get tennis elbow AND carpal tunnel without ever leaving the couch.

I was good at Pac-Man, Donkey Kong, and Frogger. I was pretty good at Pitfall and Berserk and Combat. But my game was Megamania. It was an amped-up version of Space Invaders. But where Space Invaders had neat columns of relentless, but predictable, aliens marching from top of the screen to the bottom, Megamania was CHAOS. Aliens swarming from everywhere; or so it seemed until you figured out each invading fleet’s pattern. WHICH I DID. Muscle memory controlled the joystick and I went along for the ride. I routinely scored in the MILLIONS. Twelve-year-old me was saving the universe; better, I WAS SAVING THE UNVIVERSE. Man, I loved that game.

But now, to today’s gamers, ATARI games are antiques. I’ve had lots of PC computer games. A Playstation. A Wii. I appreciate the detailed graphics and intricate gameplay. The games back in ATARI’s day were crude and confined by the limits of the technology. But although they had simpler objectives, they weren’t necessarily less fun. They were easier to learn, but not necessarily less challenging.

If you wanted whimsical fun, there was Frogger (even the little guy getting squished was funny) and that one circus game where the little stick people would plummet comically if you weren’t careful. If you wanted to blow shit up, there was Combat, Megamania, Berserk, and others.

I don’t have a problem with today’s games. I’m just nostalgic, I guess. Today’s video games just aren’t the same.

You never forget your first.

Thank you for all the good times. Happy birthday, ATARI.

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