Flicker flames and haunted faces
Shuffling feet find empty spaces
Moving shadows, someone's hurting
Huddle closer, campfire burning.

Sunday 12 May 2013

Game Saved: The One That Got Away

The one that got away. The one you didn’t buy. The one you wished for on Christmases and birthdays, or just because. Mum, dad, I’ve been good, you know I have.

The one you asked for and never received.

The one that sat in WH Smith, first floor, home computer department, on a shelf just high enough you had to stand on tip toes to reach it. The one you never had enough pocket money to afford, but that you pined for every weekend for months. You’re out on a Saturday trip to the town centre, and Dad says: ”Before we go home, are there any shops you want to visit?” You make a beeline there, straight there, no distractions, no diversions. You take the escalator up and pull down the game. Flip the box over, examine, pore, drool over screenshots doubtless taken from a format you didn’t have--but did any of this matter when it was a game you couldn’t buy? Watching footage on a monitor, among a number of similarly slack-jawed kids gawping at video games played by unseen hands. How long was it you stood watching for? An hour? More? Long enough for the tape to hit the end, rewind, reset and start all over again?

The game you read reviews of, but never bought. The game you played but never owned--and didn’t that make it all the more appealing? Brief glimpses at end of level bosses, brief turns on unfamiliar controls. Brief moments on another kid’s floor, waiting to play, staring at a loading screen, urging it on. Then: It’s my turn first; or: It’s getting pretty late. And the controls are wrenched away while you are sent home for tea.

The game you saw in amusement arcades, on the last day of summer, quarters or ten pence pieces burning holes in your pocket like shrapnel still hot from the barrel of a gun. One coin, one credit, one game, over too soon. The game you’d have to be a millionaire to buy, around which you plan your future mansion. When you’re rich every staircase will be a waterslide, every bathroom a plunge pool, your kitchen will be a KFC and there at the heart of it all, one room: the arcade room, and at its centre: this game, your first purchase when you’ve found the pirate treasure surely buried in your back garden.

The game that only ever appeared on home formats as a pale shadow of what might have been. The one you pleaded, begged for--and got!--but that turned out to be . . . disappointing. The one you discarded a week later. The one that turned out to be bad.

The game with the exciting adverts, that everyone in class had played except you. The one your parents said would rot your brain should you ever play it. The one too gory, too mature, too expensive--far too expensive for anyone to ever play.

The one the rich kid had, the kid everyone hated but who you decided couldn’t be that bad, and maybe you could be friends, and maybe he’d invite you around on Sunday, and maybe you could play the game he just happened to have.

The one you lost, that was stolen--thief! The one you unwrapped the morning of your birthday, that you took to school in case a burglar broke in and stole while you were out, the one someone took all the same, pushing you down, skinning your knee, taking the game, breaking it in front of you. The one you still remember being ground to splinters beneath the heel of a shiny Clarke’s shoe. The one spooled out to ribbons, tape fluttering in the wind.

The one that simply stopped working one day through no fault of your own. The chewed tape. The disc that became corrupt. The cartridge no amount of huff or puff would ever bring back to life.

The one that came out in the final days of a dying console, just a little too expensive to buy on day one, so you waited for it to come down in price, just a little more, just a little further. The one whose price and stocks dwindled until one day, cash finally in hand, you realise it’s gone, forever.

The one that--even now--you hunt for second hand. But what was rich at sixty dollars costs far too much at eighty, one hundred, two hundred, and more. The price skyrockets. Soon it costs too much to even think about.

Yet you still think about it--why wouldn’t you? It is, after all, the one that got away.

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