Dan Conradt Losing the Atari war to a 6-year-old
I hadn’t heard from Grant Peterson for 20 years until the day he called me at work.
"I heard you on the radio talking about video games," he said. "I’ve got an old video game I want to get rid of. If you want it, you can have it."
He gave me directions, and I hopped into the car and drove to his house. We talked about his years as librarian at Southland Schools, and half an hour later, I left his house with two plastic grocery bags containing my "new" video games — a control box the size of the Minneapolis phone book, half a dozen games and a jumble of wires and other goodies.
The game ended up being tucked away into a corner of my closet for more than five years.
Until last weekend.
And thanks to Grant Peterson, my 6-year-old son Steven now thinks that Pong and Space Invaders are the greatest games ever created.
Everything old is new again.
It was just a matter of time before Steven discovered video games. But when I spent a recent car ride listening to him explain in vivid detail how Mario uses the magical properties of mushrooms, flowers and stars to defeat the evil ducks, I decided that it was time to break out that 30-year-old Atari and show Steven what video games looked like "in the olden days."
I rigged a connection to the back of the television, flipped the "on-off" switch on the console, and the game sprang to life, with the kind of elementary graphics that video games outgrew a quarter century ago.
Steven thought it was the coolest thing he had ever seen.
In his role as a kid, he was ready to dive right in. But in my role as a father and teacher, I asked him to be patient so I could show him how the controllers worked. Honestly, there’s not much to remember about Pong — no hidden tunnels, no mystical keys to open the doors to a second or third or 15th level. No princess to be rescued from a dungeon. Just two tethered controllers to move short, straight lines back and forth to try to block a little square "ball" from getting past you.
All accompanied by those familiar electronic Pong sound effects — be-doop, be-doop."
Steven said he understood how the game worked, and he wanted to play. I told him I’d take it easy on him.
I attribute his 21-13 victory to beginner’s luck.
But it did make me wonder where hand-eye coordination ranks on the list of things that start failing when you approach 50.
In an effort to save face, I suggested a game of "Battle Tanks." If I do say so myself, I was pretty good at "Battle Tanks" in my younger days.
But unlike riding a bicycle, playing "Battle Tanks" doesn’t "come right back to you." I managed to spin my tank in a tight circle while Steven blasted away at me, giggling the whole time.
Steven 21, Dad 4.
I don’t even want to talk about "Missile Command."
I’m not a sore loser, but I’m a better winner.
Tonight after Steven goes to bed, I’m going to switch on the game console, turn down the sound so I don’t wake him up and practice.
I have a feeling Steven won’t be saying "Gee, dad. I won AGAIN!" tomorrow.
But if he does, maybe I’ll ask him if he wants to arm wrestle, and just hope that arm strength isn’t the second thing to go when you approach 50.
Dan Conradt, a lifelong Mower County resident, lives in Austin with his wife, Carla Johnson, and their son.