Wednesday, February 24, 2010

Two Years and Ten Days (Arkanoid and Arkista's Ring)

I do not know for certain that I have ever played Arkanoid before. And yet it is as familiar to me as anything. It's a classic Breakout clone - a genre of games that constitute an almost primordial stage of video games, the barest sliver of content separating them from Pong. It's the default game on the Blackberry, for God's sake. I can play it like I was born for the task. I don't remember the first time I played a Breakout style game. There is no trick to it for me. There is no lag of unfamiliarity, or feeling about for my way. There are only my fingers twitching out their already known moves.

Arkista's Ring is more complex - a sort of action puzzler based on clearing monsters out of an area, grabbing the key, and exiting. It is a game I had never heard of, little yet played. This too, however, eases down to a familiar patter - a few minutes of finding a rhythm and I can work my way through the levels. I cannot express this rhythm through any means other than play. It is known only by my fingers. But I slip into it easily enough, my body inhabiting this external role.

This is more than muscle memory. My nervous system becomes the completion of an entire circuit of processing and strategy. Well below the level of thought I dance my thumbs along the buttons. Change controllers, change levels, the result is the same. My nervous system is as programmed as the cartridges themselves, circuitry wired into a lump of flesh instead of plastic. The particulars of the game barely matters. I can thumb out the rhythm of a new game as easily as I can walk down an unfamiliar street. My nervous system plays games, the same way it walks, eats, and sleeps. My eyes see paths of movement and timing like they see social situations or tools. I play games with my genetic memory.

I cannot have been born doing this, even if I do not remember a time when I did not play video games. But I may as well have been. Arkanoid's paddle may as well be a mastodon thundering over the horizon, scattering avenues of escape across the landscape. The ball bounces off the paddle, and I dutifully kindle fire for my dinner. I did not write myself. I am Player 2 in my own body.


  1. The brain is one well-tuned machine : after years of playing, yours has become accustomed to recognizing classic video game mechanics in their numerous forms, and mastering them in the nick of time. Based on the challenges it has faced in the past, it is ready to combat similar threats in the future.

  2. Largely my point. But this is a strange and surreal sort of muscle memory.

  3. Arkanoid is an amazing game even though it's mindless. It always reminded me of single player pong.