September 30, 2002

analog yardstick

I bought Tony Hawk Pro Skater 3 over the weekend, as Sony recently dropped the price down to a measly eighteen bucks. I figure if I’m going to destroy my academic credibility with video games, I might as well do it on a budget.

Last winter I had a whirlwind session with a rented Tony Hawk, where I played for six hours straight, threw a party, got drunk, played for another six hours and missed the turnover to New Year’s by thirty minutes. Yesterday I beat a lot of those old high scores in my first few hours with the game, and felt pretty proud of myself.

Then Doug came home. “Oh, you got Tony Hawk. I’ve played that a few times.” Doug ravaged every one of my high scores in his first run and made me cry. A record combo used to be around 20,000 points. Doug raked in 150,000 and signed his name ‘Poo.’ I now sign my initials in lowercase as an act of submission. I figure I no longer have a right to capitalization.

But the bloodletting was beautifully direct, and there was no question I had a lot of necessary training ahead of me to vindicate my name. Video games offer such a clear evaluation of one’s skills. Points. The more points, the more l33t j00r m4d 5k1llz. No questions. Whiners lose their turn and are tossed out in the rain.

Video games are addictive because you can see your progress clearly evaluated. You get points. You get more points. The levels always get steadily harder, and soon you find yourself wondering what the problem was with the zombie robot Nazis on level two. All you need to do is shoot off the cybernetic arms and smear the head against the wall. Done. Zombie robot nazis are nothing compared to the frankentanks of level six, but hey, there’s a reason they’re only worth 200 points, not 50,000.

Life needs to offer such clear goal accomplishment.

Last night I got wrapped up in a raging session of Monkey Battle. I started with a pathetic little chimp that does cartwheels. He went up against my two friends who chose apes with bazookas. As I figured out the controls I discovered that the chimp has bombs and uzis, and shortly thereafter my little chimp cleaned up the apes. The victory screen played lots of monkey music and ooking. It fit the atmosphere of the party so we jammed the dial up.

But what’s the point of life? To get as many damn points as possible, of course. But where are my numbers? Yesterday I called up Sky Harbor to see what the wind was doing. A computer responded: “Wind is at…1… “ahh crap-” 7… gusting to…3.” WHOO HOO! I grabbed my board and trucked on down to Park Point. The wind was insane. It was cloudy and 45 degrees. I put my rig together, went back into the car to warm up, retrieved my rig from the shrubs it had blown into, put on my wetsuit and climbed into the frigid deep. The wind was so squirrelly it was damn near impossible to stand up, what with the sail pitching a fit and all. I realized that gusting to three probably meant gusting to thirty, and gusts are not a windsurfer’s friend. Gusts are the cranky neighbor that calls the cops for some dumb reason like you forgot to mow the lawn or are building a meth lab in your basement or something.

I just now remembered that Sky Harbor measures wind speed in knots. It wasn’t seventeen miles an hour, gusting to thirty… it was much, much more. How much more I will leave deliberately vague, so you can insert your own insane numbers to illustrate how crazy windy it was! Don’t blame me for the ambiguity, blame life for not being a video game. Even lousy golf games have real-time wind speed readouts. Is it asking too much to have the same information scrolling across my retina?

The cold water was cold for some reason, and after sailing out a few hundred feet I felt it prudent to head back to shore before I died of an incurable bout with ice lung. I was able to sail half way, but the rest needed to be taken up with some paddling. While paddling I noticed how bloodied I had become. Cuts and scrapes embraced my hands like a lover. I managed to get my hands back to shore, but not before they had become two frozen lobster claws that argued over how to take apart my rig. No! The sail goes in the car first, then you take it apart! No! I need to take tension off the outhaul! No! Rinse off the blood, stupid!

I eventually got the rig apart and stowed in the wagon, but I felt strangely unfulfilled in the day’s journey. I braved the cold, the wind, the meteorological inconsistencies, but what was my score? Did I lose all points for failing to defeat the kraken, or did the lobsters and blood add up to a new high score for the level? How is one to evaluate his worth in this crazy swirl of moving colors when he has no digital yardstick?

Scars. Good old, analog scars. Looks like we’ve got six on the hands, three fresh. A more thorough evaluation of my existence may take awhile, but I know I’ve got a nice one on my arm from rock climbing last year, a doozy on my leg from grade school, and a light spot on my side from failing a four foot jump on my bike and jamming the handle bars into my gut.

What’s your score?