So the ritual is this:

It is evening. I walk to Tappers. I order one beer that I will sip on for as long as the session lasts. Or, more accurately, I do not sip more than once or twice until the session ends.

I make my way to the Asteroids machine. It is the only game I actually care about. It is the perfect video game in some respects, brutal in its execution and subtle in its controls. The machine at Tappers is the real deal, it uses a vector display which predates the implementation of CRT monitors that most games use. The concept of hit boxes seems crude and unnecessary in the face of this display. You can turn that ship and avoid these space rocks and have them skate right past the window. It is a thing of beauty.

I put on my headphones and turn on Tristan Perich’s 1-Bit Symphony every single time. In some respects, the piece matches the game in its simple premise and elegant design, it is a conglomeration of square waves that are heard as a myriad of textures and tones.

I crack my knuckles (almost entirely for a sense of determined nostalgia, I have seen the movies), do a quick body scan, and RELAX. I lean my forehead against the lip of the machine, and at that point I am sufficiently immersed to blow some rocks to hell.

The irony of Asteroids is that the asteroids are very rarely the cause of death. The causes of death in Asteroids are hubris, inaccuracy, and those fucking little UFOs that want to kill you. UFOs aside, most of the time, you will see your death coming from a mile away. You can fire in four shot bursts, and if you just burned your quartet a second before one of those little bastards runs into you, its already over. Trigger discipline is everything.

I play the same way every time. I refuse to move until I absolutely have to. (This is almost certainly mappable to other dimensions of my life, but that’s for another day.) But, in all honesty, that first move is when the fun actually begins. Everything starts to click. That hunter part of my brain starts to actually fire. I have thoughts like: The reason game hunting is so unappealing from an intellectual perspective is that you don’t fucking MOVE. Once movement is happening in two dimensions, parts of the mind start to light up in a new way. All of those science fiction movies I watched as a kid start to kick in. I know what it’s like to thrust and drift. I was never destined to be an astronaut, but I’ll be damned if all those documentaries and books covering the mechanics of spacewalks and navigating zero-g is going to go to waste. Thrust and drift, thrust and drift.

Let’s talk about those fucking UFOs. So there are two types: 1) The big ones that are just asking to get destroyed and more or less shoot at random, just baiting you to panic. 2) These little bastards that use a totally different algorithm and can see your movements. In the case of the latter, the progress through the game becomes a zen experience. You have to be the person who stays calm while people are yelling in your face. Thrust and drift. Thrust and drift. You have to starve those little fuckers of data. If you try to decidedly evade them, they will fucking kill you every single time. What you do is tap the thruster and gently glide while frantically shooting everything you have at them. They can see you try to move in a direction but can’t tell which way you’re facing. Fuck those dudes. Their frequency, which is determined by some prankster demigod living in the machine, is often what determines the length of a run.

I don’t know how often the score gets reset on that particular machine, but I do know that I’m back up on the top ten for now. My score in a long term sense is weak sauce, but I did knock some dummy off the scoreboard tonight and I’m going to enjoy that for the moment.

High score.