Movie Diary

Gaming the system

I remember that it was Christmastime in the mid-1970s. I was at the local mall with my mother in the now defunct retail chain, Montgomery Ward.

I liked going into Montgomery Ward because they had a little bit of everything. But during the holiday season, they beefed up their toy section, which made it especially alluring to a young child.

My mother would usually let me loiter in the toy section while she did her shopping (back then, parents were less concerned about abductions, so it wasn’t uncommon to have a group of kids playing together in those designated aisles).

On this occasion, I noticed a group of people gathered around a new display. When I got closer, I could tell by the energy that something interesting was happening. I poked and peered around the crowd until I caught sight of what was capturing all the attention.

There was a small black and white television display with two rectangular blocks, one on the right and one on the left. As the blocks moved up and down, a small square bounced off one and then ricocheted toward the other. Two kids were holding devices that seemed to be controlling the rectangular blocks. If they didn’t align the block to intercept the flying square, a point was register at the top of the screen.

I was

I had never seen a device that gave someone the ability to control something on a TV screen. Apparently, this was also true for others because everyone in the area seemed transfixed.

I never got a chance to try Pong on that first occasion; too many older kids were clamoring for a chance. But the memory has always stuck in my head.

I likely asked for “Pong” that Christmas, but never got it. I’m sure the price-point was out of reach, even for such a rudimentary device by today’s standards. Several years later, however, I did receive the Atari console, which began my inauspicious career in the world of video games.

I loved my Atari console and the multitude of cartridge games that accompanied it. However, like all good marketing schemes, the better the game the more expensive the cartridge. And while I had several games that provided hours of fun, they quickly became passé as the allure for the more advanced games grew.

I rarely could get my parents to buy the expensive cartridges, so I had to rely on any friend who was willing to let me borrow one. Eventually, I grew tired of my Atari when newer, more innovative consoles came on the market.

For many years, I turned my back on video games as sports overtook my interests. However, once I got in my first apartment post-college and bought my first computer, video games snuck back in. This time it was via a game called “Myst,” a single-player graphic adventure game that was all the rage in the early 1990s.

“Myst” was one of those games where, once you started, you couldn’t stop. The conclusion of the game required a combination of patience, observation, and logical thinking to solve a variety of interesting puzzles. I found myself staying up half the night just to advance to the next level.

I eventually made it to the end of “Myst,” but the experience had a profound effect on me when I contemplated how much it overtook my life. I vowed to avoid video games indefinitely.

This held true until my son was born and was old enough to be intrigued by video games. I eventually gave in to the pressure and bought him a Wii console, which came with a copy of “Super Mario.” The game seemed harmless and fun and perfect for rainy days.

But no sooner did I plug the Wii in when my brother and I became instant addicts. We were playing “Super Mario” every evening for months. And after I watched my son turn into a zombie, I knew this wasn’t something I wanted in my household. I put the controller down and never picked it up again (my son, however, is a different story).

This week’s feature is the latest capitalization on that Super Mario franchise with the release of “The Super Mario Bros. Movie,” a computer animated action film starring Chris Pratt, Anya Taylor-Joy, and Charlie Day.

It’s been a long time since I’ve seen adults and children dress up in costumes to go to the movies, but that’s exactly what happened with this film. The love of Super Mario crosses all ages. I can’t say that the film captivated me as much as the video game, but seeing the joy on the kids’ faces who were at my screening proved to me how endearing these characters can be.

A jumpy “B” for “The Super Mario Bros. Movie,” now playing in theaters everywhere.

Got a question or comment for Dom? You can email him at

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