“Game Off”

dobie_basketballBy Dobie Maxwell

I sadly admitted technology passed me by years ago, but now it’s getting ridiculous. The last straw was broken last week when my neighbor invited me over to sample some of his barbecue –another area in which I lack severely but that’s another tale for another time. One crisis per day.

My neighbor has two teenage sons that think I’m extremely funny – I think. It’s either that or they are constantly laughing at me instead of with me. I’d like to give myself the benefit of the doubt but a recent incident made me start to lose hope. I think I need to pack my bags and move to an Amish colony immediately. I could use a fresh start, and the beard would help hide my shame.

The event in question started innocently enough. I walked into the house and saw a basketball game on the living room television screen. All I did was ask who was winning and was informed it was the older son Jeremy. When a quizzical look occupied my face even more quizzical than usual, younger son Ryan dropped the crushing blow. “Uh…it’s not the TV. It’s a video game.”

Excuse me? The graphics on video games are now so well developed I actually mistook it for a real game? I was so embarrassed I wasn’t able to maintain eye contact with the boys. I felt like a puppy that had been caught pooping on the carpet and all I could think of was how to slink out of the room and act like it never happened. I was half expecting the boys to rub my nose on the TV.

Thankfully there was no mention of it at dinner, but I still felt like a total jackass. Video games have never been my thing, and I don’t really know why. It’s only the biggest explosion of fun in the history of humankind, and I was born into the generation that was able to watch it all happen.

dobie_footballI can still remember when “Pong” was the talk of the neighborhood. Everybody thought it was the second coming of George Jetson, and expected cars to start flying shortly thereafter. How did they manage to pack all that fun into one game? Blip. Blip. My heart can’t take it. Stop already!

That was about sixth grade on my personal time cycle, and my whole generation got hooked on the concept of video games at once. Nobody could have predicted then just how huge it would all eventually become, but one thing for sure is nobody would have mistaken Pong for a real tennis match. It was all so laughingly primitive, and shows just how close to monkeys all of us still are.

Next up in my generation’s techno play world was a hand held football game made by Mattel, the fine folks who brought us Hot Wheels and Barbie. The football game wasn’t really football but rather a new series of blips on a smaller screen. They also had an auto race game, but at least in my neighborhood that never really caught on. The football game did, and it was a huge hit.

The reason it likely became so widely popular is all it had to follow was the highly forgettable “Electric Football” game by a long out of business company called Tudor. Boys my age all recall having to take ten minutes to set up their team of tiny plastic football players on a metal “field.”

Then when both teams were in position, a switch was flipped and a “play” allegedly happened. The field vibrated and the players all went in separate directions – usually headed for the sideline out of embarrassment that kids had to suffer through this miserable excuse for actual football.

To top off the realistic experience of it all, the “football” ended up being a piece of lint stuck in between the arm of a running back. If we really wanted to go nuts we could have our quarterback attempt a forward pass by flicking that piece of lint in the direction of one of the other players.

All it had to do was hit the player anywhere and it would be a completed pass. I know it sounds funny now, but this was the cutting edge of sports for millions of kids that now have kids of their own who will never be able to commiserate. We are the generation that has to suffer in silence.

dobie_hockeyAnother stinko sports spoof was the hockey game that was played with a series of rods that had to be manipulated to make the players move. The “puck” was a magnet that got whacked around the “ice” and maybe once every month or two the magnet might actually find its way into the net for a “goal.” There was no electricity involved, but this was just as useless as Electric Football.

Probably the worst of all the sports games was “BAS-KET” by Coleco. This was an insult to our intelligence and consisted of a cardboard “court” and two baskets where an ordinary ping pong ball would land in one of several holes that had a lever that would flip the ball up to the general direction of a basket. There was no defense, and stopped being fun after five minutes.

Every kid I know got this game for Christmas, and we all grew weary of it simultaneously. It would have been more fun to throw snowballs at moving cars – which we eventually did. That’s the ultimate thrill…when an old man that looks like Fred Mertz’s father threatens to kick your butt.

As my high school years arrived, so did Atari and video arcades in the mall. Alladin’s Castle was the ultimate hangout for the video game clan, but that’s when I started to lose interest. I did enjoy a pinball game now and then, but I didn’t let it take over my life like so many of my friends did.

Pretty soon I was out of high school and then I had to play the ultimate game – how to keep my bills paid every month. That’s a lot harder than Pac Man or Frogger or Tetris or any of the games that hooked millions and became the gateway drug to the games of today. Who’d have thunk it?

I sure would hate to be a video game designer today. How can anybody top what’s out now? My generation was easy to fool, as we had never seen anything before. Those two little blips on a Pong game were an out of this world cosmic mystery, and it grew from there. Every game was a new adventure, and it blew the minds of those playing. Now, five year-olds are bored with it all.

Eventually it will have to come full circle, don’t you think? There will be a video game that has an attachment of a real ball or something and two kids will actually have to get together to throw it around in the yard. Then before long some other kids will join in and who knows, maybe some actual baseball or basketball or football will get played. There’s a novel concept for the future. It doesn’t help now though. I still feel like I got cheated out of fun, and I’m not thrilled about it.

Dobie Maxwell is a stand-up comedian from Milwaukee. To find his next hell-gig visit

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