As a kid, I wasted a lot of time hanging with an odd schoolmate whose mother taught bellydancing and father looked like Mike Brady mostly for the opportunity to play Pong.
I must have been ten or so and already blowing the little coin I had at that age on pinball and air hockey at the bowling alley, but Pong had all my friends boggle-eyed and hooked.
A cursor batted back and forth between two other cursors on the television screen in the den at Tony’s house had the same effect on us as that monolith had on the monkeys at the beginning of 2001: A Space Odyssey.
We were all twelve or thirteen when the first wave of major arcade games – Space Invaders, Asteroids, Pac-Man – began to arrive and. like certain songs or albums, each of them would help define a period of months.
We all eventually had an Atari system at home and even a town as small as ours had an arcade that was a social hub for junior high and high school kids.
It all kind of ended for me in ’83 or so, around the time when we got our driver’s licenses. Cable and home video were also becoming available, so there were more options for entertainment.
And music had become my dominant interest.
By college, video games seemed like something from another era (even if it had only been five years since Pac-Man had become the Jaws of video games)
There was a brutal stretch of winter in February of ’89 when three housemates and I surrendered, embraced the weather-induced malaise and vowed to not leave the house unless no option existed to blow off work or class.
Instead, we hunkered down, ordered a lot of pizza and played computer baseball ’round the clock. Each of us had two teams and we played much of an entire season before March arrived.
One of my last brushes with videogames happened about a decade ago, coinciding with my first office gig. Though it was a relatively casual job, it was still a disorienting experience and I remembered what an escape videogames had once provided.
So, I snagged a copy of The Sims, “a simulation of the daily activities of one or more virtual persons (“Sims”) in a suburban household near SimCity.”
For a week or so, I was enthralled with the game as I attempted to maximize the happiness of my avatars. I was spending a lot the time when I wasn’t working sending my onscreen Sim to work so that it could acquire a home, pay bills, and buy stuff.
It quickly became exhausting.
I was spending my free time doing the very things in a virtual world – working, paying bills, cooking, taking out the trash – that I found mundane and unappealing in the real world.
Soon, the entertainment value of the game was simply when something went awry – the Rain Man-like behavior of my Sim when something caught fire or the Pig Pen-esque cloud that would develop when I’d neglect to have a character shower.
It was then that I realized that I had enough trouble being a human being in real life and, if I was going to escape from that world, I’d rather be blasting space rocks or eating a maze of dots.
Here are four songs which address the idea of being human…
White Zombie – More Human Than Human
from Astro Creep: 2000 – Songs of Love, Destruction And Other Synthetic Delusions Of The Electric Head
Science fiction fans recognize the title of White Zombie’s best-known song as the motto of the Tyrell Corporation from the classic flick Blade Runner. I’ve always found the supercharged track to be the sonic equivilant of a shot of adrenalin to the heart.
I met Rob Zombie at a record store where I worked and he seemed like a good guy – very polite, very soft spoken.
Michael Jackson – Human Nature
You only get to discover fire once, but, apparently, Jackson was obsessed with trying to recapture the unparalleled success of Thriller for the rest of his life.
Personally, I always thought that the lush, dreamy Human Nature, despite being a massive hit in the late summer of 1983, was the most underrated song on the album.
Rick Springfield – Human Touch
from Living In Oz
Even in 1983 – which, technologically speaking, now seems as advanced as 1883 – Rick Springfield was lamenting the disconnect between man and machine in Human Touch.
At the time, I was unaware that actors weren’t supposed to sing (and, usually, with good reason). Of course, I doubt that I was aware that Rick Springfield was a soap opera star aside from a DJ or Casey Kasem mentioning it.
But Springfield had a string of hits in the early ’80s that were undeniably catchy and still sound pretty good all of these years later.
Björk – Human Behaviour
I find Iceland’s finest export to be utterly charming and completely fascinating while, at the same time, being respectfully terrified of the former Sugarcube.
It was impossible not to be drawn in by Human Behaviour‘s strking video, but the hypnotic song – which contains a sample of Antonio Carlos Jobim’s Go Down Dying – is as equally arresting.
“If you ever get close to a human
And human behaviour
Be ready be ready to get confused.”
Yeah, that pretty much sums it all up.