By Al Greene
My 10-year-old grandson and I were discussing technology and it naturally led to video games.
“It’s a game Gramps used to play,” I explained.
“That’s a funny name for a game,” Austin said. “How many characters were there?”
“Well,” I began, knowing what was coming next would be more difficult than trying to explain the birds and the bees. “There were only three characters on the screen. A circle and two short sticks on either side of the screen.”
His eyes lit up. “Then the short sticks had to fight each other to capture the ball, right?”
“Not exactly,” I replied. “The sticks moved up and down and the ball would move between them. Eventually the circle would get past a stick and that would score a point.”
“Where did the circle go when it got past the sticks?”
“I don’t know, but it eventually returned to the screen so the sticks could hit it back and forth again until someone scored a point.”
Austin’s eyes lit up. “I get it now, Gramps. You got experience points and then you were able to upgrade your weapons.”
“Not exactly, Austin. You see, there were no experience points in Pong.”
“No experience points?”
“And no weapons,” I added.
“No weapons,” he said. “Aha. The sticks probably got more traits as they got points?”
“Traits?” It was my turn to ask the questions.
“Yes,” he replied. “The better you were at hitting the ball, the more your strength increased. And then, when you were strong enough, you were able to cast a spell.” He was on a roll. “I get it now, Gramps. The sticks cast a spell on the ball.”
I hated to disappoint him.
“Austin,” I began, “there were no spells in Pong.”
His big brown eyes looked at me like I was someone from another planet. Or at least from another century. That century part might be true.
“What about lightning bolts?” he persevered. “Did the sticks throw lightning bolts at the ball, breaking it up into a million pieces, each of which the sticks had to destroy by deploying their weapons while avoiding damage points by using their shields?”
None of the books I read on grandfathering prepared me for this. Actually, I never read a book on grandfathering but if I had, I’m sure it wouldn’t have mentioned anything like this.
“Gramps, the sticks moved up and down, right?”
“Whew,” he said. “Now we’re getting someplace. How did the sticks know when to move?”
“The players had circle things called knobs and they were able to move the sticks by turning the knobs.”
I thought I had nailed it.
“Hmm,” he pondered, which I took as a sign that I had explained everything perfectly.
“What about the buttons?”
He explained: “You have buttons on the right and directional sticks on the left and they all do different things to make your character run and jump and avoid the incoming lightning bolts.”
“No buttons in Pong,” I said.
“Castles?” he asked, wistfully. “You certainly had to build castles, right?”
“No,” I said, wishing Pong had castles to build.
Austin shook his head. There was a long pause.
“Lookit, Austin,” I said. “Maybe I didn’t do such a good job in explaining Pong.”
“I sure don’t get it,” he said.
“My fault. “Next time I’ll explain a game you can really get into.”
“What’s that?” he asked.