Wrestling with reality

PUBLISHED : Friday, 20 May, 2005, 12:00am
UPDATED : Friday, 20 May, 2005, 12:00am

My children caught me doing something weird recently. Dazed by the almost real-life kickboxing game fest that they were participating in on their PlayStation, I had slunk off for a furtive moment of fond nostalgia.

Suddenly, my bedroom door swung open, the light went on and I was caught in the act of blasting away a final alien so that I could progress to the next level of Space Invaders on my computer. I blinked, a stunned rabbit in the headlights of embarrassment, as my two sons stared, wide-mouthed.

Finally, the older one broke the silence. 'Wh-what's that?' he stammered, clearly having never seen anything so backward and archaic in his extensive gaming career.

I had no choice but to be honest. 'It's my past life,' I confessed.

They left, shaking their heads, doubtless having silently vowed never to mention this episode to their friends for fear of being ostracised.

I retired to bed knowing that I had at last been proved to be 'uncool'. In the morning, I realised that I no longer had to try to impress them by wearing my cap backwards or having baggier-than-thou trousers. I strode to breakfast, proud to be a member of the long-gone, but not-to-be-forgotten Pac-Man generation.

There is something wonderful about the simplistic. Back in the late 1970s, when computer games first took off, my world changed. The idea of science fiction coming to life through a bunch of computer chips and a television screen was new, and the depiction was crude.

Nonetheless, they were addictive. I wasted hours lasering triangles with legs or munching dots in a maze. My trigger finger grew calloused, my back became arched and I developed tunnel vision. Three decades later, I still bear those wounds.

Injuries aside, the beauty of such games were that they were so basic you could get back to reality with ease after leaving the console. They did not give an interpretation of history or push a political point - they were what they were - games.

That is not what the latest generation of games and their successors are about. They are aiming, as one game-maker at this week's giant Electronic Entertainment Expo, or E3, in Los Angeles, put it, to create a 'truly immersive, living, breathing world'.

In the boardrooms of console manufacturers like Sony, Microsoft and Nintendo, that means packing so much processing power into a box that with the right software, the lines between fantasy and reality will become so blurred you will not notice the difference.

The latest offering from Sony, the PlayStation 3, was unveiled on Tuesday with the billing that it was a system 'to be placed in the centre of the living room around the world'. With high-definition cinematic images in real-time and the computer power for sophisticated programming, it has apparently been designed to be an all-in-one entertainment system.

My children will not be able to get their hands on one until next spring, but are probably preparing their sales pitches as to why we need it. By the sound of the promotion material, one excuse could be that acquisition will allow them to lose themselves.

They already do that with the far-too-realistic machine they have, and it is one-35th the speed of its successor. A game of wrestling usually ends in a real-life brawl, complete with screams, flying fists and feet, just like on the screen.

No matter how fast my pulse was racing after playing Space Invaders, I do not recall being overcome by the desire to attack someone.

Since confiscating the wrestling game, I already have a reputation for being a killjoy. Therefore, I have no hesitation in pleading to game-makers to tone down the realism for the sake of safety. Either that, or each new PlayStation should include a free suit of armour for dad.

Peter Kammerer is the Post's foreign editor