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When my 10-year-old son and I ran through a heavy downpour to stand, dripping, in the center of a local video game retailer, a wave of nostalgia came over me. We were there to download a heavily-advertised "free Pokemon character" for his handheld Nintendo DS, but I instantly took my own little memory trip.
As a high school senior, I worked in the 1986 version of a software store, stacked floor to ceiling with book-size boxes hawking everything from shoot 'em-ups to basketball simulations to SAT preps. The Hollywood blockbuster-quality images on the front cover were always more enticing than the heavily-pixelated screen shots hidden on the back.
Those games came in two physical formats: a small disk encased in a plastic case (MAC) or a big, thin, floppy disk, roughly the size of a square dinner napkin (PC). They only played on computers. In those days, a "hand-held game" was a heavy plastic case featuring a small grey screen on which tiny dots could be configured in a variety of ways (and by that I mean up, down, and sideways) to simulate action. Batteries were required, along with a very active imagination.
Five minutes after we entered the store, my son announced he was done.
"Done?!" I said. "You didn't even connect your game to anything."
"Wireless," he replied simply, pointing upward at nothing. I realized we never had to leave the dry car.
We spent some time looking through the stacks. A modern video game store looks very much like a video rental store, with nearly every hit movie represented. Why watch Avatar when you can play it? And these days, the exciting front cover image is an actual screenshot from the game. You can give your imagination a rest.
I spotted and showed my son a cool-looking Star Wars game.
"WAY too violent," he said. (So much for my being the protective parent.)
When we got home, my three kids played a head-to-head-to-head go-cart racing game with that irrepressible Mario character -- perhaps the most famous kid-friendly Italian since Chef Boyardee.
Watching them play -- their tiny fingers darting instinctively from button to button -- I realized that kids' electronic games have not just advanced; they've evolved. (Even the word "electronic" seem antique, heard only in Radio Shack and our parents' condos.)
Our children have evolved too. Like early amphibians, they've stepped out of the primordial kiddie pool and into the nearest WiFi zone.
While the rest of us are left eating Mario's virtual dust.