Meet the (deeply flawed) king of Asteroids, circa 1981
With arcade games making a comeback in pizzerias, our editor recalls his days as an Asteroids master who couldn’t stand to lose.
I’m a flawed individual, and one of my glaring flaws is a hair-trigger temper. It runs in the family; we Hynums are a red-faced, impatient and combative clan, and we’ve got the heart disease and hypertension to prove it. As a kid, I was a skinny runt who charged blindly into fights with bigger boys at the slightest provocation. By my teen years, however, I’d found a new outlet for my ill-advised aggression: video games.
This month’s article, “Ready Player One,” brings back memories both fond and embarrassing. My buddies and I wasted countless quarters on video games at Uncle Moon’s, a convenience store that doubled as a teen hangout in our little hometown. I became absurdly proficient at Asteroids, whipping and zipping my spaceship through a barrage of hurtling asteroids and marauding saucers. You started each game with three spaceships, but you won more ships by scoring a certain number of points. I could play for hours on a single quarter and easily vanquished all challengers in two-player games. And yet, every time I lost a ship—even if I had 20 more socked away—there was a very good chance I’d explode like Mt. Vesuvius. I’d kick the machine; I’d throw my hat at it; I’d yell and give it a good, thorough cussing. I’d really give it what-for.
And my friends, quietly playing their own favorite games (including the much harder Defender), would snicker and snort, whilst unsuspecting customers who’d just dropped in for a Pepsi and a bag of Fritos ducked for cover as my hat went flying through the air.
My friends still tell the story of how I let loose with a hailstorm of curse words just as a bevy of well-dressed church-goers, clutching Bibles to their chests, filed into the store one Sunday evening. I’m not proud of it, but I can’t deny it.
If this sounds like a warning against adding video games to your pizzeria, it’s not. I was hardly your typical player. More importantly, my friends and I spent most of our spare money—and all of our free time—at Uncle Moon’s, and Asteroids, Defender and Pacman were the main attraction. Today, these games will likely draw an older, more mature crowd anyway. Nostalgia is a powerful emotion, after all; to this day, just thinking about Asteroids makes me smile—and laugh at myself…and cringe just a little.