Article: 288538 of talk.bizarre From: "Nikolai Kingsley" <firstname.lastname@example.org> Newsgroups: talk.bizarre Subject: game Date: Sun, 1 Dec 1996 00:53:48 +1100 Organization: anarchartists Lines: 82 Message-ID: <email@example.com> 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.