Article: 288538 of talk.bizarre
From: "Nikolai Kingsley" <fendre@melbourne.net>
Newsgroups: talk.bizarre
Subject: game
Date: Sun, 1 Dec 1996 00:53:48 +1100
Organization: anarchartists
Lines: 82
Message-ID: <01bbdec5.e954e840$7e8610cb@kolya.warehouse.net>


It had been a while since I'd been inside a video game parlour. Today, I'd
only stepped inside to get some change for a telephone, and I saw that
things were very different now. For example, the machines didn't accept
coins any more; they had slots, keypads and screens for EFTPOS cards. So
much for my getting change for the phone.

I'd seen them evolve from the physical shoot-em-up games, cousins to the
more complicated pinball machines; puppet-booth shooting galleries with
moving backdrops, spinning targets mounted on rods, complicated
arrangements of racks, cables and electric motors. Then there'd been the
first video-games; "Asteroids", "Space Invaders", "Defender", "Pac-man". I
even remembered when they'd gone sixteen-bit  the graphics had improved
drastically.

They'd gotten better; more memory, faster processors, housed in larger,
more ornate boxes, but still just presenting shapes sliding over other
shapes; two-dimensional. Personal computer games like "Doom" had made
inroads into the market  there was a brief vogue for games with
three-dimensional rendering systems, then a fad for videodisc games with
clips of live-action film; then direct sensory stimulation had taken over
and they'd all been subsumed. I'd read about it in the weekend newspapers,
recalled concerns that some people had over possible deleterious
side-effects, but the whole fad had passed me by. Or I'd passed it by. I
was too old for that sort of thing, anyway.

Or so I'd thought. The crowd in here seemed closer to my age than the
twelve-to-twenty-year-olds who usually frequented these places. It was
unnerving to see them standing before the machines, hands placed flat on
the contact plates, eyes staring off into space; vague grins, some of them
drooling, some of the men with obvious erections, every face with a
sinister vacancy. The place looked messy, too; litter was scattered around
the bases of the machines, scraps of clothing and detritus that looked
like old twigs and leaves and dust.

I wandered around trying to get some idea of what was going on. The
machines were all uniformly grey, tomb-stones without the gothic appeal,
lacking the splashy trash-comic-art decorations in primary colours that
used to be a trade mark of video games  an institution as far as pinball
machines went. I'm sure someone had published a coffee-table book of
pinball machine art. Direct sensory machines didn't need to advertise, I
supposed.

A woman standing near me made a whimpering sound as her machine clicked
and extruded her card; she'd run out of credit, cut loose from whatever
fantasy was being ram-rodded into her brain. Glowing green text appeared
on the EFTPOS screen and without reading it, she punched a long series of
numbers into the keypad. The screen cleared and a short sentence appeared
with two blocks underneath  obviously a "yes/no" question; she jabbed
another button impatiently and put her hands back on the plates. Her
idiotic grin returned as the flow of simulated sensation was resumed.

I was about to leave when I noticed her face. It was seamed, wrinkled; the
skin loose, shadows under her eyes. She hadn't looked that old the first
time I'd seen her, and as I watched she was getting older.

I examined her more carefully. She was smiling, eyes closed, but this
machine wasn't just playing sense-information into her  it seemed to be
sucking energy out of her to pay for the game after her money had run out.
I wasn't imagining it  I would have guessed her age to be near mine when
I'd first seen her, and now she looked old enough to be my grandmother.

I had the horrible thought that perhaps these people were the
twelve-to-twenty crowd, or had been until they'd come in here.

As I watched, the woman aged even further, slumping onto the side of the
machine and then to the floor, her hands affixed to the plates as if they
were her only source of strength, as if she was praying. Skin tightened
over her bones; her hair twisted, became brittle, strands breaking off and
floating to the floor; her hands became claws, fingernails like slabs of
splintered glass clawing at the plates. She drew a final, wet breath and
then fell to the floor. The machine didn't even dignify her demise with a
bathetic little "game over" message; it just waited for the next victim.
The woman's body  dried out like an Egyptian mummy  started to crumble
into pieces, a sack full of broken biscuits, and I realised what all the
rubbish on the floor was. I stepped back from the machine involuntarily,
glancing about at the others. No one had noticed her die.

The most frightening part was that for a moment, I was tempted to try one
of the games. Just to see what it was like.