The answer to the whole problem of video games would be a video game called Rockville.
You could pry the kids away from the TV, wire up the Intellivision or the Atari Video Computer System, and slip in the Rockville Video Game cartridge.
It could be a game:
In which you try to make a U-turn on Rockville Pike without getting totally lost in a hostile land of carpet warehouses.
In which you have to figure out what an endless series of five-letter words are abbreviations for: MEMCO DORCO ZAYRE BERKO DELCO MOPAR K-MART COSCO PYREX.
In which you are bombarded by phalanxes of Sun Lovin' Barbies, Hurricandles, sleep gowns, BuddyL Chips speedsters, Miser Accent Bulbs, and Roy Rogers french fries ("Holster" size) and you fight back with credit cards, buying your way out of the American avalanche, until you've cleared the shelves from Bethesda to Rockville, or your credit rating has collapsed.
A game like this -- just plug into your television at home -- would be the answer. At least it might stop those stupid arguments on the TV ads between George Plimpton and the little kid in glasses, about which is better, Atari or Intellivision.
Of course, it would keep people from driving up Rockville Pike or out to Tysons Corners or Landover Mall or any of these other ghettos of greed across America to buy video games.
Which is what they're doing, more and more of them with fewer and fewer Christmas shopping days left. Atari had estimated revenues of $415 million last year, with financial forecasters predicting $900 million this year. With an estimated 3.5 per cent per cent of American homes having video game equipment at the end of 1980. With 8 per cent predicted for 1981. With Atari executives talking about getting 50 per cent of American households dribbling, launching, punching, skiing, racing, javelin-throwing and who knows what-all on their televisions when they could just as well be watching Brady Bunch re-runs. Or dropping quarters into arcade games.
"My suggestion is, take number five," says the salesman at Memco, yet another monumental hangar of consumption on Rockville Pike.
"Why number five?" says the customer, pushing the button on the Intellivision boxing game for boxer number five.
"Quick hands," says the salesman. Who gets to spend all day demonstrating video games to the crowds peeling off Rockville Pike to snap them up like little else this Christmas season. He studies the screen with the abstracted brio of somebody watching two bag ladies duke it out on the other side of the window. This is what video games are all about -- life on the other side of a window, including sports, dragon-slaying, sinking the Bismarck, learning the bond market, driving up Rockville Pike, you name it, computer people can program it.
(Imagine it: the ultimate life and TV fantasy, a game called "The Tonight Show" in which the player gets to be Johnny Carson, and the machine makes that HHWwaaaaaAAAHaa laugh of Ed McMahon!)
"They dance when they're in the corners," marvels the customer with boxer number five.
They come out fighting, two little figures composed of tiny computeroid squares. You have to admire the simulation. Before they punch, you can see their elbows flare behind them, this being the kind of detail that apparently draws customers -- Activision's tennis game, for instance, has a shadow beneath the tennis ball. Maybe the boxing game's audio track sounds more like somebody putting holes in a cardboard box with an ice pick than punches hitting flesh, but it's the thought that counts. Salesman and customer each get a choice of four different punches, and buttons for ducking and even pulling a punch.
"When a guy gets knocked out," says the salesman, "you see little stars around his face."
Over at Chafitz, which specializes in electronics, an insurance salesman named Bruce McCotter watches his son Doug, 9, work out on the Atari Asteroids game, and says "I'm intimidated by it, to tell you the truth. I think a lot of adults are. My wife and I have discussed where it's leading. First, the kids got sensitized by the arcade machines. That was the first generation. This is the second. It's getting them prepared for the computer age."
Once we made our sons play football to get them ready for life. Now it's Kaboom or Canyon Bombers to get them ready for the computer age.
"And it gets them away from the idiot box," says McCotter -- which is to say watching TV as opposed to playing with it, sitting at the controls with the fiercely relaxed alertness of a master, rather than the awful passivity of people slouched down for an hour of "The Love Boat," melting into that awful mouth-breathing, slope-shouldered, cave-chested posture which gives American youth the muscle tone of oysters.
Video games are a whole different thing, says one Truck Smith, who, in Byte, a magazine aimed at home computer enthusiasts, claims that video games do away with regular TV trance. They induce their own trance, he says. Is this where the meditation madness of a few years back has led us?
"One of the more fascinating states of consciousness a person can be in is the trance," says Smith. "There are phrase-based trances, contemplation trances . . . Hindu, Buddhist and Christian trances. Modern science has added two: the TV trance and the TV-game trance." The best players, he says, "seem to enter a trance where they play but don't pay attention to the details of the game. . . . To play the game well, you must turn a conscious, well-considered response into a subconscious one. . . . Decisions are too complicated to be left to natural reactions."
In short, we have to let the computer program us, so that we can use it.
The success of this arrangement is borne out by the ease with which Doug McCotter demolishes asteroids while carrying on a conversation with a stranger who wants to know what game he'd really like to get into, given his choice.
"An Apple II," says Doug, referring to a full-bore computer for sale in the next room, complete with not only programs for managing businesses, but, yes, playing games. (Planetoids, Appleoids, Bubbles, Raster Blaster, Sargon II Chess . . .)
Says Elizabeth Murphy, accompanied by her 15-year-old son, Ed, "I don't think you want to learn about it at my age, but we have to. Mothers tell each other what cartridges they've gotten. If Mrs. Smith has gotten Dragster, I'll get Freeway."
Freeway! This is a game not unlike the proposed "Rockville Pike."
"Get the feel of how your chicken responds to your joystick," advise the instructions for Freeway, handed out nearby at The Math Box, on University Boulevard. The idea is to move a chicken across a road, the road being, for beginners, Lake Shore Drive, in Chicago, at 3 a.m., or, at level eight for top players, the Long Island Expressway at 3 a.m. (The Washington Beltway at 6 p.m. is at level six.) Eight lanes of death! Trucks and cars, changing speeds while your chicken ducks from lane to lane, a game so peculiar and intriguing that the instructions, from Activision, include a photograph of the designer, David Crane, the way books have pictures of the authors on the dust jackets!
Except for the learning machines, such as Speak & Spell, the handheld games, such as Football, are moving off the market. "They were the top-selling item for Christmas, two years ago," says Avner Parnes, president of The Math Box. "Now you can't even sell them for a loss." The only games in town, now, require investments on the order of $150 for the Atari system ($100 more for Intellivision) and anywhere from, say, $18.95 for Freeway to $29.95 for Intellivision's Skiing.
"Whaddaya think, Roz?" says an unemployed printer from Rockville, checking out Tennis, Breakout, Kaboom and Skiing.
"I dunno," says Roz.
"Will you please pick one? I don't want to spend the whole day here."
Maybe in the future they won't have to pick one out of a store. Mattel, maker of Intellivision, is thinking of combining them with cable TV systems. There's no limit. The last barriers are crumbling between television and life. On the Apple II you can get a game called Soft Porn Adventure. The Atari 400 and 800 home computers already can bring you games on the order of Energy Czar or SCRAM, which is a nuclear power plant simulation. This is fun? These are games?
The question is no longer will we get tired of computer games, but will computer games get tired of us? At Chafitz, out on Rockville Pike, the auguries are not good.
The Reversi Sensory Challenger, advertised as the 1981 world champion at a game called Othello, which is a board game like chess or checkers, "will suggest given countermeasures upon request," according to the instructions. Or, you can "watch it play against itself."
We're no longer necessary! We have seen the future, and it is Christmas with no traffic at all on Rockville Pike, just huge stores full of nothing but video games competing with each other