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Los Gatos Weekly-Times, Calif., Dick Sparrer column
[November 13, 2012]

Los Gatos Weekly-Times, Calif., Dick Sparrer column

Nov 12, 2012 (Los Gatos Weekly-Times - McClatchy-Tribune Information Services via COMTEX) -- I have never completely understood the whole video game phenomenon ... more specifically, the fascination young people have for them. And make no mistake--young people are most certainly fascinated by those realistic-looking videos that they seem to be able to play for hours on end.

Oh, don't get me wrong. I was every bit the video guy back in the early '70s when Atari came out with Pong, that most difficult game of all (even if I did have to stay on the slowest level to be competitive). And I was quite the Pac-Man fan in the '80s.

Still, this new brand of video games has pretty much left me behind, even though I have been buying them for my boys for the better part of the last 30 years.

But for those parents who, like me, have been feeding your kids' video game habits for oh, so many years, here's a bit of advice: never, never ever, play a video game with your child unless you're prepared to be beaten into total oblivion.

I made that mistake way back when the oldest was just about 14.

"Hey, Dad, wanna play a game " he asked with that certain childlike innocence I could never say no to. "It's John Madden Football." Well, I was always that kind of father who wanted to spend quality time with his kids, doing the things they like to do--especially when it had anything to do with sports. And this was football, so it sounded like a lot of fun. Little did I know.

"Sure," I agreed "But I have to warn you, I'm pretty good when it comes to football." "Well, just promise not to beat me too bad, OK " he said. (Had I not been so sure of myself, I would have noticed the sarcasm dripping from his words.) "Oh, I won't," I promised as I fell deeper into his trap. "But you know, I played a little ball in high school. Did I ever tell you about the time ... " "Yeah, I'm sure you did," he interrupted. "What team do you want to be " "Oh, uh, I suppose I'll just take those world champion San Francisco 49ers!" I shouted. "Who do you want The Broncos " (A logical question, since it was not long after the 49ers had crushed Denver in Super Bowl XXIV.) "No, I'll take the Chicago Bears," he said. "You kick off." This poor kid. Doesn't he know that the Niners will kill the Bears That the Bears aren't even in the same class as the 49ers That Bears couldn't ...

"Touchdown, Bears!" hailed a voice that sounded vaguely like the computer version of John Madden.

"What happened " I asked in astonishment.

"The Bears ran back the opening kickoff for a touchdown," he said. "Your turn to receive." I was starting to worry a little, but then my guys returned the kickoff to the 25 and Joe Montana threw to Jerry Rice for a first down.

"Hey this game's not so ... " Then John Madden's voice interrupted me again.

"Interception! Touchdown, Bears!" "That's impossible," I screamed. "The Bears could never intercept Montana!" "Well, they just did," he said calmly. "Here comes another kickoff." He was only 14 at the time. Now he's 36 (and the recent recipient of Madden 13 for his most recent birthday). And the record he set that day most likely still stands as the most lopsided score ever recorded in that old version of John Madden Football. He killed me 104-0, and it would have been worse had he not toyed with me for most of the fourth quarter and then missed that 74-yard field goal on the last play of the game.

It's not that kids just love these games, they're so darn good at them, especially when they're playing one of their parents.

I suppose my lack of understanding stems from the fact that we never had such games when we were kids. Our closet was filled with board games like Monopoly, Clue and Life--games that made no noise and weren't very flashy. We did have one game that made a little noise. It was called Operation, and the object was to reach into this cardboard patient with a pair of tweezers wired to a couple of "D" batteries and try not to hit the metal strips around the body cavity. If you did, the light would flash and the buzzer would buzz. It was actually pretty exciting ... until the batteries died and we never replaced them.

Of course, it was nothing like a video game. In fact, we didn't have anything like a video game until Pong came along. You remember, that game where the white dot would slowly move across the black screen and we'd use our controllers to manipulate the paddle so that we could knock it back across the screen. Never heard of Pong Well, you can see one on display at the Computer History Museum in Mountain View (and admission is free Nov. 17-18 for residents of Los Gatos and Saratoga).

And if you look closely enough, you just might find that 1990 version of John Madden Football--with the record-setting 104-0 Bears' win over the 49ers still on the screen! Contact Dick Sparrer at

Copyright 2012 San Jose Mercury News. All rights reserved.

___ (c)2012 the Los Gatos Weekly-Times (San Jose, Calif.) Visit the Los Gatos Weekly-Times (San Jose, Calif.) at Distributed by MCT Information Services

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