real life adventure game
Sunday, August 20 2000
Back in 1986 when I was a freshman at Oberlin College, I was doing the nerdy Computer Science dabbling thing, taking the intro Pascal class. In those days, anyone taking a Computer Science course automatically got an account on the CS department's VAX 750, which was running a flavor of Unix called Ultrix. Unlike other students with accounts on bigger, more restrictive computers, CS students had the privilege to play games on the wide-open CS Ultrix machine. (Its default permissions were set up in such a way that I was always able to copy my programming assignments from other students - in flagrant disregard for the honor pledge I had to sign.)
Computationally, things were primitive in those days. IBM PC compatible machines with 8088 processors were just beginning to replace dumb terminals in the computer labs, but not in the CS department. We thought we were styling because our terminals could connect to the VAX 750 at 19 kilobaud. Suffice it to say there were no graphics of any sort in those days aside from what could be depicted with ASCII characters. The game that all the CS people were addicted to was called Rogue. It was a graphical adventure game, one in which players had to equip themselves with things placed randomly in a universe of tunnels, battling increasing powerful beasts along the way. Everything was represented by various ASCII characters. The different species of monsters were upper case letters. I still remember how my heart would start pounding when a dreaded W would start coming towards me. But as long as I had my plate mail and my double-handed sword, I could usually survive such an attack.
Given how little game playing I do today, it's hard to imagine that I would spend hours each day in that ASCII dungeon. But that's what I did with my life. There was nothing much else to do except study, and I certainly didn't want to do that. In those days before that final necessary surge of testosterone I was a shy, awkward, skinny guy with bad skin and bare feet, and no one really cared about whether I lived or died. (A year later two cellist girls would be fighting over me, but I didn't know fate had such things in store.)
Today as I roamed the alleys of West LA it brought back flashbacks of my old terminal-based Rogue adventures. But instead of potions, "food" and plate mail, I was hoping to find lamps, chairs, bookshelves and cabinets.
And also unlike in Rogue, there were others in the alleys with me, also looking for these things. These competitors have different capabilities and exploit different niches.
At the lowest level you have the down-and-out can collectors, the people who have made the least investment in their chosen career. All they need is a shopping cart and the knowledge that aluminum cans are worth something. But I'm not really in competition with these people. They couldn't hope to carry off a couch, even one worth a thousand dollars. All they care about are cans and possibly other small, valuable items such as watches and jewelry.
Then you have your Mexicans driving around in vans or trucks. These people are equipped to take anything valuable they find, and they're sure to grab up good furniture. But this morning I saw some vehicle-equipped Mexicans gathering newspaper. I'd thought newspaper was too cheap to handle, but I must have thought wrong.
As I was coming home empty-handed from one of my adventures, the Rogue metaphor was further enhanced by an altercation with an attacker. Yes, I was attacked, exactly like I used to be attacked in Rogue. It wasn't a very threatening attack, mind you, it was more like the sort of nuisance one deals with in the early levels of Rogue, when things like Centaurs and Kestrels need to be swatted. And indeed, in this case my attacker was a bird, a Mockingbird. I assume she was a mother guarding her nest. She swooped very close to my head and kept dive-bombing me for the rest of the block, bearing an extremely hateful expression on her wedgelike dinosaurian face. I charged at her a few times hoping to get her to stop, but she was too worked up to back off. Back on the farm my brother was forever being attacked by angry mother birds (particularly Barn Swallows), but such humiliation doesn't usually happen to me.
As I awoke this afternoon from a nap, the first nap I've had as a single guy in two long years, I thought, "Wouldn't it be great to have a piss bottle again?" While it's true, you see, that my bathroom is a scant 20 feet from my bed on this same floor, there is nothing so convenient as a bottle a mere arm's length away. I really appreciated my piss bottle back in the days of Kappa Mutha Fucka. It was usually an old half gallon plastic vodka bottle, and it was usually already half full.
This evening while my housemate John, his sister and yet another of his sister's friends were diligently cleaning my entire condo, I went on another one of my walks, mostly just to further acquaint myself with the sociology of my neighborhood. I walked east down Santa Monica all the way past the 405 to Sepulveda, north to Wilshire and then west back home.
I rather like the stretch of Santa Monica Blvd about midway to the 405 from Bundy. It feels more legitimately urban, in a Manhattan sort of way, than, say, my neighborhood. The restaurants have more of a mom and pop community feel, with people nibbling on token purchases and hanging out in front, hollering hellos to other regulars as they get out of their dook-dooking cars.
As I crossed Stoner Avenue, I was amused to see that the City of Los Angeles had taken pains to integrate "Property of the City of Los Angeles" in tiny print into the white border around the edge of the street sign. Evidently "Stoner Avenue" signs are popular targets of larcenous college kids hoping to decorate their dorm rooms with cool marijuana-positive icons.
In the evening I talked on the phone with my parents and brother for the first time since my breakup with Kim. They (particularly my Dad) were genuinely sad about it, as if they'd actually thought Kim was the right woman for me. I think they were touched by how kind Kim was to my brother during our Y2K visit. That's a definite prerequisite for parental approval of one of my girlfriends.
My brother and father were telling me how amazing cool the summer has been in Virginia, with daytime highs rarely exceeding the low 70s. Most mornings it's brisk enough to require a jacket. My father can't remember any summer this cool, not even in Wisconsin or Canada. But the weather has evidently been good for agriculture; sweet corn growing conditions are perfect this year. There aren't even any worms.
It's also good weather for black snakes, one of whom my father enountered swallowing a hen's egg the other day. Since the chickens have been stingy with their eggs of late, he couldn't just let the snake swallow it. So he got down there and actually pried the egg out of the snake's mouth. "Boy, the snake was mad after that!" my Dad chuckled.
There was something on 60 Minutes tonight about California's draconian "Three Strikes and You're Out" law. (If it works in baseball, it'll probably work in real life too!) The host was interviewing some hapless drunk with a penchant for petty larceny who is now serving a life sentence for stealing a bicycle. Interestingly, while I was watching this broadcast, I was actually contemplating stealing a bike myself. There was an old one-wheeled yellow Schwinn dumped in the weeds behind a nearby condo complex and I thought I might be able to salvage some useful parts off of it. But back to the "Three Strikes" law. I remember as a kid listening to a radio reading of Victor Hugo's Les Miserables and being appalled by the injustice of Jean Valjean being sent to prison for - what was it, ten years? - for stealing a loaf of bread. The only comfort for my naïve little brain was the knowledge that we no longer live in such dismal, barbaric times. But that was back in the 70s or early 80s. Now here it is 2000 and in full technicolor there was our 60 minutes host at Fulsom Prison interviewing a group of prisoners whose third strike, the act that had put them away from life, ranged from stealing a slice of pizza to shoplifting a couple AA batteries (the sorts of things I myself have done too many times to count). How can a nation consider itself free when it so eagerly locks up its members until they die? After we, as a society, get perfectly comfortable with performing this particular injustice on a regular basis, I wonder, what's next?
I also watched a rerun of Walking With Dinosaurs, the show that seamlessly integrates nature photography with nearly flawless computer-generated dinosaurs. In so doing I saw two segments that I'd previously missed, including the one where the Pterodons are shown mating. It's such a crazy tangle of wing flaps and plucked-turkey necks and limbs that its hard to tell that anything pornographic is actually happening. But still, it was definitely pushing the edge for a G-rated broadcast. Hey BBC producers, a little word to the wise: here in America, home of the brave, it's illegal to show our kiddies anything related to sex. We're funny that way.
I didn't watch the final segment in the series. That scene where the asteroid arrives is just too depressing.
Do you think we should be tougher on criminals?.
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