A World of Pure Imagination
When I was two years old, my family had the Intellivision game console
manufactured by Mattel, competitor of the Atari 2600. I remember being allowed
to play with the weirdo controller that resembled a remote control and killing
many a frog on it's journey across the road.
Our Intellivision died before I was five. After its demise, my parents did
not allow us to own another game console. We already had a computer that we
could use to play games like Q*bert, Dig Dug, Kongo Bongo, and the ever popular
King's Quest. We could even draw naked people on Sketch 16.
To own a Nintendo or Sega, however; was a pipe dream. They were grossly
expensive, especially for a family with six kids. Console games had to be played
secretly at friends' houses. My brother Samuel was especially creative at
subterfuge. He and a friend, Frank, once took over a friend's paper route and used
the money as well as the excuse to be up at vampiric hours to play arcade games.
Frank's dad woke up at two in the morning and noticed Frank out of bed.
He instinctively drove down to the corner 7-11 and found Sam and Frank battling
it out on Street Fighter. Both were forced to give up the paper route.
With video games out of the picture, we were forced to use our imaginations
and innate resourcefulness to entertain ourselves. Nintendo may have had
role-playing games like Dragon Warrior, but we had table top rpgs like Star Wars
and Shadow Run.
A standard Star Wars campaign would last for weeks. Friday nights and
Saturday mornings our dining room table was dominated by adolescent boys
clutching root beers and jeering through cheeto orange teeth at each other to "roll
their strength!" You did not want to roll a mishap with this crowd or your
character could wake up from a coma in a pile of Dewback manure with the
bottom half of an R2 unit for legs. Poor Frank.
It took over a year to convince Sam to let me play, and even then I had to sit
silently through several campaigns so as to get a feel for it before I was allowed to
create my own incredibly short lived and thoroughly abused characters.
As I discussed the games we used to play as children with my mother, one
of the first things she said was "Oh, man, the never ending game on the stairs with
the Little Men." Little Men is my mother's name for action figures. I have five
brothers, and therefore had about five million Little Men.
I vaguely remembered my younger brothers spending hours on the stairs
with their figures, but I had no recollection of its significance, so I consulted one
of my younger brothers, and received the following synopsis:
"A universe involving over four hundred action figures. Staircases were
converted into fortresses. There were elaborate histories, and house rules.
The most powerful action figure was a DC comics Jason Todd (Robin),
which became super powered with the addition of a Batman vest.
The game usually reset when the reoccurring villain, 'Omega Head' (the
Darth Vader face off a broken Micro Machines play set) would initiate the
climactic 'final battle' involving all figures in a massive Armageddon, Ragnarok,
The details of the last universe had to be remembered as they were involved
in the next. The game usually lasted two to six hours."
I think it's safe to say there wasn't a single boss in Final Fantasy that could
compete with Omega Head.
In the action adventure genre, Nintendo sported Castlevania and Legend of
Zelda, but our bunk beds beds became pirate ships. Power outages turned the
house into a musty dungeon haunted by the dreaded Pink Nightmare (a really
gross cotton candy pink blanket). Our backyard became the setting for sweeping
epic quests that involved mages and buried sacred objects.
There was another extremely popular action packed game that took place on
the long staircase in our house in Virginia. Our father had taken a trip for work to
New Zealand and Antarctica, and brought back these fabulously huge plush seals.
When our parents were out we would ride our loyal snowy steeds down the
staircase at full speed with nothing to stop us but the antique upright piano.
That eventually got boring so when my older brother Sam was sure our
parents would be out for a long time he dragged the twin mattresses out of the
bedrooms. He laid them end to end down the staircase, setting up a third against
the piano so we could ride our blankets, seals, and a neighbor's boogie board
down the stairs at breakneck speed and ricochet off the piano to safety. Our
mother walked in on us once, but I think she found the whole set up too ingenious
to punish us.
If war games and first person shooters were more your style (think Castle
Wolfenstein), we had the poor kid's version of Laser Tag, commonly referred to as
Manhunt. Manhunt was a neighborhood-wide game that, as far as I could tell, was
just an excuse to beat each other up in the dark without fear of retribution until the
Beatings were commonplace in most of our recreational activities. These
were the sorts of games where often only one person was having fun. "Gladiator"
involved duct-taping one of the little boys to a plastic chair and pushing them back
into their pile of toys and clothes. Over and over.
Sumo Boppers was invented by my brother well before those novelty sumo
suits came about. Sam and his friend Brad would stuff every inch of their clothing
with pillows and cushions. Our living room was then transformed into an arena
for obscenely obese violence and couch crunching chaos.
There were also nightly wrestling matches until the evening when Sam
popped Dad. Literally. We heard a pop. I guess it was a rather explosive fart, but
my father has never truly recovered. Now that I think about it, farts were
commonplace in most of our recreational activities as well.
Some of the games we created in childhood are still ongoing, and defy
genre. My youngest brother Ross created the Butt Touch. The butt touch is
similar to tag, but you can make yourself immune by crossing your fingers. If you
try to to give the butt touch to someone who's fingers are already crossed you
My mom eventually had to outlaw it from church because we were making
too much noise during the service. The butt touch is so dreadful because if you
are the last one infected and can't get rid of it before midnight you will wake up
with a butt for a face.
We have played this game for at least eight years, and it has gone global.
One of my younger brothers is currently in Germany. His first letter to me ended
"Love, Mitchell. P.S. You have the butt touch." I keep reminding myself to cross
my fingers when we go to pick him up from the airport.
Now that I am an adult my friends and I still find a need for inexpensive
homemade games. Movies are between ten and twelve dollars a pop in Los
Angeles, and not only is going out for drinks expensive, but is also incredibly
boring and repetitive. Nightclubs tend to be too similar to our household game of
Dungeon, but instead of fighting the Pink Nightmare you spend all night fighting
off Mr. Touchy Touchy Pants, not to mention the unebbing wave of women in
pushup bras and body glitter.
My roommates and I make up games on a regular basis. There is the Simile
game, where you match verbs with surprising nouns. For example some of our
favorites were "you kiss like whiteout," and "you smell like square dance." Not
many other people seem to enjoy this game, but we once spent hours in the dark
screaming with laughter. The only thing that unsettled me was that no one
checked to see if we were being murdered in our beds.
Another popular past time is our amped up version of MASH. MASH,
which stand for Mansion, Apartment, Shack, House, is the game that girls tended
to play in sixth grade, where you write out the names of various boys, cars, and
numbers of children. Then through the process of randomization and elimination
you find out your destiny.
This falls a little flat as a twenty something, so we added and modified the
possible answers. For example, one of my destinies involved me being a dolphin
trainer that meets up with Ryan Seacrest in Cleveland, Ohio, where we live out our
scandalous relationship that just barely survives finding a dead body in our hot
tub, and then I die by being locked in a room full of cats. My epitaph was
inscribed "Beloved Pirate."
We play all sorts of fortune games involving mix cds, impossibly small tarot
cards, and various foodstuffs. My best friend and I once took a long meandering
walk where we based our directions entirely on the commands of our magic eight
There are performance art games where we do things like make up songs or
poems. Then there is my personal favorite, Butoh. This is where my roommates
pick different topics or phrases, which I then express through the art of butoh, a
Japanese dance form that is very very slow, uses grotesque faces, and traditionally
covers topics like mortality and disintegration.
It is never too late start making up your own games, and you might be
surprised who is tired enough of their luxury cars and Platinum Gamecubes to
come outside and join you. My roommates and I are still working on our city-wide espionage game that may end up getting us interrogated by the CIA, but is
sure to be a hit regardless. In the meantime feel free to join the universal game of
tag - you're it.