Thursday, January 28, 2010

Gaming, and the lessons you learn...

I installed MAME(a game console emulator) recently on my iphone.  One of the first games I put on it was called “Solar Warrior”  It’s always the first game I play anytime I install MAME on a machine.  It takes me back to some of the best times of my life. 

My father used to run a large trucking company, and every day or so he would slip out of the office for an hour just to get away from the stress.  Typically he would ride to town, grab a coke at the local store, say hello to everyone he met and then ride back to work.   Around 5th grade my father began to “drag” me along with him.  At the time, I could never understand why he wanted to drag me all the way to town just to turn around and go back.

So one day we go to the store and there is this new game there called “Solar Warrior”.  My father gave me a few quarters and shortly thereafter an addiction was born.  I’d look forward to anytime I could sneak away with the old man to play this damn game.  The funny thing is my father got addicted as well.  You see it was a really hard game and he really really wanted me to beat it.  We used to play for hours trying one strategy after another.  Probably the best strategy was a co-operative one with  my father hitting the “fire” button as fast as he could,  while I managed they joystick and the “jump” button.  Try as we might I just couldn't get very far in this game.

Then one night after I graduated 5th grade my father pulls me aside and we go for our regular gaming session.  My father gives me $20 in quarters, a lot more than usual,  and off we go… As I’m nearing the end of the money I look at my father and I say. “Dad, we just can’t do it… this game is just too hard.”  

“Oh yeah?  Wait right here just a minute…” and off he goes.

About 5 minutes later he comes back with $100 in quarters and we start playing.  Now that was an obscene amount of money for a game machine back them.   Heck, with that you could buy an Nintendo gaming system, which was all the rage among my peers.

Two and a half hours later we beat that game.  It was a great day, and my father and I were really pleased with ourselves.   I never met anyone else who beat that game, and frankly I don’t think the developers even expected anyone would.  You could see the later levels were missing graphical elements and looked thrown together.   

Now I learned a really important lesson that day.  That lesson is that when you can’t beat something with skill you can almost always beat it with brute force.  I’ve found this to be true regardless of whether I am writing computer algorithms, competing in the business arena, or repairing a computer.  (yes, I do realize this isn’t always true… but understanding any rule and knowing when to apply it is half the trick)

I also learned another important lesson that day, though I didn’t realize it until just recently.  It’s that the most important part of being a parent is just showing up.  So thanks dad… for all the quarters… and for taking the time to show up.