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Video game provided life lessons

By Dennis Minich

Back in the day I spent more than my fair share of quarters in video machines. Unlike today when you can buy machines for your home with realistic graphics and real-time speeds, we had to go to arcades and play machines with glitchy graphics and animation on par with stick figures. Even the sounds were pretty bad. It started with Pong, which was basically two lines serving as goal keepers as a square dot teetered back and forth across the screen. But then something amazing happened, suddenly they could put some more elements into the game and things like Asteroids, Burger Time, Pacman, Frogger and Donkey Kong became all the rage.

My personal favorite was Space Invaders. My college roommate had discovered the mysterious secret shooting sequence and once he taught it to me, we could actually get several minutes of play out of our quarters instead of simply dumping money in constantly. I don’t remember the code exactly any more, but I think it had something to do with 31 shots and then every other 24 shots. Hit the flying saucer at the exact time and you earned big points to build up for more free play. We also played Pacman, again because my roommate had learned the patterns and with those secrets in mind you could extend your play. And you always knew it when you messed up because the chasing ghosts would always taunt you with a “Wah Wah.”

But maybe the most useful game was Frogger. As was featured on a “Seinfeld” episode, the key to the game was getting your frog across the road by dodging cars and trucks on a busy city street. I don’t remember if you were ever told why the frog wanted to cross the road, I guess it was simply so it could be on the other side. Or more likely, nearly crossing to the other side requiring the player to insert more money. The reason I say it was a useful game is it was almost a glimpse of real life.

Take for example, trying to drive through Harrisonville this week. The state highway department has closed down portions of Mechanic, which is for better or worse, the major thoroughfare through town. So, to get from point A to point B, you have to take Mechanic out of consideration. Always keep in mind the streets around the square are one-way, so bypassing Mechanic isn’t as simple as driving a block over, you have to find the streets going the correct direction. But then, work was going on the side of a building on Pearl St., so it was closed. So now you are required to go further north to find a way around the
construction.

But wait, there’s more, if you travel anywhere south of Mechanic, chances are good trucks, which normally would simply drive on Mechanic are now being detoured on to alternative routes. Many of these routes were not designed for trucks and their large turning radius, so it’s a good idea to steer clear of those areas as well. It takes someone like me, used to driving in rural areas, to complain about such details because as I remember such rerouting was a daily occurrence when I worked in the city.

Many times, technology can be your friend and GPS has become an almost indispensable item. But even it has its limits. When thinking about rerouting one of those stories that aren’t funny at the time, but you can chuckle about later, came about 10 years ago. While on vacation we were driving in Montreal, which as drivers in Montreal can tell you, most of the signs are in French with English subtitles. We drove from our hotel to a dining area in the city. That was simple. Coming home, we were on another route and there was road construction going on the highway which required us to detour off the highway. It was late enough in the evening there weren’t many cars to follow so we took the GPS advice. The problem was, it detoured us around about 15 minutes and put us back on the highway where we had first needed to detour. In a sign of pure insanity, we followed GPS again, and again found ourselves as the same detour location. Unfortunately, the road crew had not completed its work so for a third time we exited.

Having learned from our mistake, I intentionally drove the opposite direction from what GPS said and finally at some point the obnoxious female voice told me “recalculating” and sure enough we found a back route to the highway past the road construction and we were on our way. I guess I learned two lessons: first, don’t get lost in Montreal in the middle of the night and the second, now I know why Frogger keeps trying to cross the same road, his GPS doesn’t give him another choice.

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