Saturday, October 17, 2009

Evolution Doesn't Always Work, I Guess

When I was a young fellow of 7 or 8, I used to visit my older cousin from time to time. While he's only 3 or 4 years older than I, he didn't have much use for a little kid back then. So I'd usually spend my time there being half-ignored while my cousin would play with his friend.

But this story is not about that - it's about this.

My cousin had an electric football game, and I thought it was the coolest thing I'd ever seen. It was a table-top metal field painted to look like a real gridiron. A small motor underneath the surface would cause the field to vibrate - with the rate of vibration controlled by a tiny dial. Each contestant would arrange their little plastic football players in formation, with one team controlling a small, felt football. With the application of vibration effects, the plastic players would move around the field and, fate willing, someone might get a touchdown.

Being the little kid in the corner, I always had to watch as my cousin and his friend would play their football games. I loved to watch the players run their patterns and I'd wish just a little bit that I could play, too.

One day, it happened. My cousin was out for the day and my aunt, bless her, brought out the football set for me to play with. My hands almost shook as I set up the field and arranged the men. I flicked the switch and, with with the faint smell of ozone in the air, I watched the players come alive. Glory!

It only took me about 10 minutes to realize the whole affair was a sham - total bullshit. While my cousin would protest otherwise, there was no skill involved, no Great Oz behind a curtain. It was just little pieces of plastic moving in spastic, random circles on a sheet of vibrating steel. I wasn't disappointed. Rather, I was empowered with the knowledge that my cousin was too easily amused by what must have been the stupidest game ever manufactured.

For reasons I cannot remember, this story came up at the office a few days back. As is usually the case during these sorts of useless conversations, a co-worker and I Googled 'electric football' and discovered that, to our total surprise, electric football games still exist! Not much has changed by the looks of them. In this age of silicon chips and immersive gaming, one can still find a game that has not changed very much since its birth in 1947.

The only appreciable evolution of electric football seems to be in the plastic players, themselves. Instead of figures on a stationary base, the state-of-the art includes a settable dial in the player base that - allegedly - introduces a bias in the direction a player might travel under vibration.

I still think it's all bullshit, but obviously others do not. The game has persisted in the market a very long time (although I have never noticed it on a shelf at any store I frequent). These days, one can purchase teams that are painted in authentic NFL uniforms or, if so inclined, purchase unpainted players and paints for a more custom job. There are even websites devoted to customizing the field, itself.

Thanks to the Internet, there are chat boards and fan sites devoted to this game-come-hobby. And there are leagues - electric football leagues. This, I find, a most astonishing thing that people would devote that much psychic effort into what is, essentially, the worst game ever made.

Makes me wonder what my cousin is up to these days. But I probably don't want to know.


G. Harrison said...

lovely post CL. under the heading 'crappy games,' do you remember a hand-held football game in which the players were a single dash or cursor? during the game a person would attempt to dash through other opposing dashes to gain yards or score. simply amazing that it sold at all.

just got home from Fenelon Falls, where Inside the front door of an antique store/flea market on its main street I spotted an early hockey game; wooden surface, crocheted nets, hockey players that looked like they were made from clothes pins. I was sorely tempted! Gosh I'm old.

picked up Dino Ciccarelli's early hockey cards instead. less fun but easier to wrap for one son's Christmas gift.


Crazylegs said...

Thanks, Gord. And, yes, I do remember that hand-held football game. It was Mattel Football, and I thought those were pretty cool, too - right up until I got to try one. 'Tedious' is the word that comes to mind. I also remember (years ago) spending 7 hours on a flight from Paris to Toronto sitting beside a kid with a Mattel Football game and fresh batteries. We almost didn't survive.

You should have snapped up that hockey game! Table-top hockey in all its forms is Fun Incarnate.

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