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Closed Rooms

August 12, 2021
Here’s another thing folded in a way that I could never open it-
a message that was never translated
symbols that simply became themselves and encysted their messages like closed rooms
I can’t ask my momma now why the red ground in grandma’s driveway was sparking like flint as I hit it with a rusty hoe all day because she’s folded even more solidly, an unread letter with pages fused together from a flood.
“Thank god for Pac-Man,” was what my grandma had said about this time
but “Pac-Man” was a word for all videogames,
like “Kleenex” or “Frigidaire” or “Coke”.
She’d live until the time when all videogames went from being “Pac-Man” or “Atari” to being “Nintendo”
a huge amount of time and focus folded up into a single word which is changing.
I can't remember anything outside the little room with the Atari that Christmas. I remember my grandfather taping my cousin and I performing little shows on a reel-to-reel recorder and then his absence
My mother was his step daughter and I know she had to do things that his daughters couldn't
to clean
pieces from floors
and the cracks in furniture. Grandpa’s note just said “sorry for the mess”.
My cousin and I played Swordquest,
Swordquest was special because if you did something right you would supposedly win a real treasure.
This made play a sort of work.
I think I remember playing it not on Grandma’s Atari, in the "mud room" that connected the garage to the house, but on Uncle Ron’s Sears Atari clone.
At Ron's funeral when his college roommate told a story about him my Aunt started laughing hysterically and couldn’t stop.
The preacher was a southern Baptist and our family were all lapsed Catholics
He clumsily talked about suicide, but tried to catalogue Uncle Ron's qualifications as a good christian to offset it. Then he fell back to recruiting. I turned to my cousin afterwards and said “don’t let them pull any of this Jesus shit at my funeral.”
Swordquest was obstuse enough to be frightening to me. I wouldn't play it with the lights off.
I think people don't really understand
that there was something sharp and ungentle and immediate about those games to a child
like an emergency broadcast system alert in the middle of cartoons
or a fire alarm deep in the night
or a hard metal thing found with fingers in the dark among a cluster of teddy bears. The barest attempt at theater was made to phrase dangerous electricity.
The Swordquest games were filled with meaningless clues and impossible tasks
I learned later that the keys to the games were in accompanying comic books that I never saw
But for hours I would attempt to make sense of what was happening there
Each room in the Swordquest games had a sort of primitive user interface with objects
we could only guess at what they did.
But I understood that these were containers where things could be hidden.
A changing word for time spent trying to solve a problem
other than the problem that can’t be solved. and which has a name that cannot be spoken.
(we played Sneak 'n Peek too, trying to force stick figures to slide into invisible cracks)
Sneak 'n Peek seemed especially cruel
A game of hide and seek for children, who for whatever reason
cannot play outside
If you had a friend you would take turns trying to find precise points
where the player character would slip between pixels and be hidden there
then the other player would have to find the same exact spot,
and approach it from the right direction
A child playing alone could only look and look for the computer player and often would never find anything
over and over.
It was never your turn to hide, because the computer knows already where everything is hidden.