“What’re videogames like in the future?” I am sitting on the bottom bunk, a lanky twelve-year-old deftly transforming Soundwave from casette recorder, to robot and back again. He is missing an arm, a badge of honor earned nobly during a rooftop battle with no fewer than three Autobots, though really I’m not sure if Jazz actually counts.
I am wearing a dingy t-shirt I got at Six Flags Over Texas with Bugs Bunny on it, and a pair of cut-off shorts my Mom made after my legs stretched impossibly over just a handful of months as if my feet had crossed the event horizon of some slow-acting black hole. I have the kind of tan you can only get by being a kid playing in the backyard under the North Dallas sun or by being George Hamilton. Within the next year I will find out I am getting a brother, enter the Eighth grade and then finally move to a 100 year old farmhouse in Southwest Wisconsin entering into a phase of my life I like to call the Epic Culture Shock 1986, but for now life is on autopilot.
Right now, however, I am sitting on my bed, somehow not at all surprised that an older version of myself has suddenly stepped from a crack in the Fabric of TimeSpace (TM) and wants to chat about videogames. He is me from 25 years in the future, and I ask him this simple question.
He shrugs his old-man shoulders, scratches at his wiry salt-n-pepper beard and responds disappointingly, “they’re pretty good, I guess. Not that much different when you get right down to it.”
This poochy, beardy me is unsurprisingly tall, soft around the middle somehow appearing simultaneously dense and just a little bit doughy. He is wearing glasses with frames not quite like any I’ve seen before, a hat with a gold M on a maroon background, and blue jeans that either accentuate nothing or do a good job of disguising that nothing is worth accentuating. He sits down on the floor with the kind of exhausted effort that only grown-ups seem capable of. One knee crinkles out a muffled protest like a bag of ruffles shifting under a couch cushion.
“Do you still use joysticks?” I ask. He eyes the beige Atari 800 amid the clutter of toys in front of the television, and smiles an odd smile. It’s kind of annoying, actually, as if he is secreting away knowledge for fear that my tiny brain might simply dissolve under the weight of its haughty sophistication. It’s probably the kind of irritating self-superiority space aliens would have if they landed and analyzed a record player or Buick.
“Well, yeah. Sort of. Our joysticks have a lot more buttons, and most of the time they don’t have wires.”
“Oh, and do you like play the games in holograms or what?”
Another friendly adult smile, the kind they get when you ask a perfectly legitimate question about how tough it might be to build a robot to clean my room or why there are no kid astronauts. “No, we still use TVs?”
“Really?” I ask, clearly disappointed. “Just TV games?”
He stiffens his shoulder. “Well, they’re really cool TVs!”
“Oh, do they do something cool like holograms then?”
“No holograms,” he says, now clearly annoyed. “They’re wider, and they have better pictures.”
There’s a long moment of silence as we consider each other across the room. Soundwave transforms to a robot, and I imagine him saying “that’s stupid” in his cool Soundwave voice. I’m about to ask if there are flying cars, sure that I can’t possibly be disappointed on that one, when he pulls a black rectangle from his pocket. It’s about the size of a blackboard eraser, but shiny with what looks like an Apple logo on the back. I recognize the logo because I have been actively petitioning for a IIc.
After a few moments of sliding his finger along the face of the machine, he hands me the device, and on the screen with clarity and colors like I couldn’t have possibly imagined is a game in which I am apparently supposed to fling birds at wooden and stone structures. My skepticism and disappointment at the future is instantly dispelled.
He-me shows me-me how to drag my finger along the piece of glass, and my breath catches for a moment as I realize the machine is reacting to my touch. In an instant, the games of River Raid, Pitfall, Dig Dug and Telengard I’ve been playing over the last few years seem like the kind of crappy games cavemen must have played with rocks.
“Are all videogames this good?” I ask.
“Well, actually that one’s not all that amazing. It’s kind of hard to explain, but the games from my time don’t quite look like reality, but they sorta look cooler than real. And, you can usually play them with people online,” he stops suddenly, like he has just said something he wasn’t supposed to.
“It’s hard to explain. In the future ... people can ... there’s this thing called the Internet and ... have you seen War Games yet?”
“Ok, you remember how Matthew Broderick -- the main guy of the movie -- hooks his phone up to the computer and connects to WOPR?”
“Yeah?” This sounds like it’s going somewhere really good.
“Ok, so everyone’s computers are kind of connected like that all the time, and so are most of the games that you play on TV.”
“That’s amazing! What all can you do with that into-not?”
“Internet.” He pauses, looks oddly ashamed, “Lots of stuff.”
“You must play games there all the time.”
“Yeah, well sometimes.” I can not begin to imagine why old-guy me doesn’t seem to grasp how great this future he comes from sounds. And just as I begin to go from being impressed to a little annoyed for reasons I can’t quite define, old me somehow suddenly seems slightly less there. He is like a picture plastered onto reality, not quite flat in two dimension, but like a three-dimensional projection of himself incorrectly pasted to the world. He reaches out quickly and takes back his black game rectangle. Disappointment washes over me.
“Look, the thing is that Atari would be just as amazing to someone from twenty-five years ago, and you know how you kind of take it all for granted like it’s stupid and boring even though you’re working with the kind of technology that could probably help send a guy to the moon?”
“Well, it’s like that in the future. It’s always like that. No matter how amazing a thing is, once it’s just a part of ordinary life it stops being amazing. I bet once we get flying cars, that will seem boring and stupid too.”
“Wait, there aren’t even flying cars in 25 years?”
But he’s gone, and suddenly I’m not sure he was ever even really there. I sit for a while kicking my legs up and down off the edge of the bed, look at Soundwave and sigh. I spend quite a while wondering how I can never turn into that guy.