Posted by Jonathan
‘But then we’ve just gone and got a Playstation 2’.
‘Oh, really, young Jack? And how are you finding it compared to the original?’
‘Oh, much better! For a start, it’s much smaller so you can carry it about in your pocket’.
‘So you can play DVDs on the bus?’
‘Well I don’t catch buses- but I can play them in my dad’s car, down the shopping mall- anywhere! And it’s got an integrated ethernet port, you know, and a modem connection for online gaming, and-‘
As my 10 year old cousin Jack breathlessly extols the virtues of his new (and no doubt very expensive) toy I nod in what I hope is a sage, avuncular fashion, while hoping it is not too obvious that not only do I have no idea what an ethernet port may be when it is at home, but that my lifetime experience of video games extends to a brief flirtation with a flatmate’s portable Pac-Man machine sometime in the early 90s- back when ‘portable’ meant anything you could plug into the wall that was smaller and lighter than a housebrick.
Well, OK, that is not entirely true. In the early 80s there was the odd visit to the Plaza Amusements on Fenham’s West Road to feed primitive Space Invader machines with precious pocket-money 10p pieces, and later on, when we had paper-round wages burning holes in our pockets and were allowed to get the bus on our own into the seething metropolis that was Newcastle City Centre, there were a couple of hot, sweaty Saturday afternoons spent fighting for a place at the line of tiny screens up above the badminton courts at Eldon Square sports centre, where you could zap incredibly lifelike 3D spaceships out of the cosmos to your heart’s content, at least until your three lives ran out and you had to hand the plastic gun over to the next set of clammy adolescent palms wielding a 50p piece to push into the slot.
But the truth is I never really got into these new-fangled amusements. In fact we were a bit snooty about them in our house, possibly because we couldn’t afford the bulky technology you needed to play them with. Our cousin Neil’s house, on the other hand, was full of the attendant vulgar paraphernalia, and on one memorable weekend visit we tiptoed aloofly around the assorted green blinking computer screens and tangled wires, while our hosts attempted vainly to interest us in blasting tiny technicolour aliens out of the North Tyneside sky with their personalised joysticks. Back at our spartan, book-strewn home our dad biroed a screen full of spacemen onto the underside of a man-size hanky box and handed it to my sister, mimicking Uncle Stuart’s humourless monotone: ‘Here love, see if you can get ten thousand on that!’.
The cardboard space invaders was the nearest our house ever saw to an Atari set. I contented myself with subbuteo and paperbacks and grew into a pallid twentysomething with a thorough grasp of Sartre but no command whatsoever of a joystick. The advent of Playstation, Nintendo and the X-box passed me by- and now cousin Jack, just like cousin Neil 20 years before him, flummoxes me with his new-fangled talk of ethernet cables and interactive fantasy gaming.
And neither will it stop there. Now I have a child of my own- a darling, innocent one-and-a-half year old named Frank. But just how long can this innocence remain, in today’s hi-tech, gadget-dependent world? Already we have had to buy the little feller his own TV remote control (without batteries in, mind) to stop him grabbing a hold of the real one and turning over to the Welsh-speaking channels when we’re not looking- and he is showing a dexterity beyond his years at the outsize buttons of his various musical baby toys. How long before our precious baby is coming home from school and demanding a Playstation X-Box Five, just like the ones everyone else in his class have got? And will we be strong enough (or like my own parents, just downright skint enough) to stand firm and tell the boy there is no need for such new-fangled, obesity-inducing flim-flammery while there are perfectly good climbing trees in the field outside, and a pile of wooden planks in the back yard that can be fashioned, with the aid of the sort of basic carpentry skills one picks up at the Boy Scouts, into a serviceable go-cart that will be the pride of the neighbourhood?
We’re fooling ourselves of course. Looking out on the back field this summer evening I see the trees are strangely bereft of clambering pre-adolescents, and I don’t suppose any of us have seen a go-cart since 1975. All the local kids, like my cousin Jack, are presumably ensconsed in their bedrooms, little thumbs going thirteen-to-the-dozen at the controls of their Playstation Twos. It seems sad. A loss of innocence.