High on the Plains: Retro gaming, the Jimmy Buffett mentality and the angry cat


Chad Christensen, Columnist

It’s late here in the sleepy hills of Ponca, and I’m banging my fingers on the keys. My cat is extra mean tonight. He was in a showdown with the neighbor’s cat and apparently sh*t is on.

Cats are ruthless creatures and they rarely forget when they’ve been wronged. I’m worried I may have to throttle him if he keeps this up. And I will… but I don’t want to. Deep down I’m really a reasonable person.

This weekend I witnessed an odd gathering of Star Trekking-video gaming-Dr. Who types all hunkered down in the basement of a Holiday Inn. It reeked of body odor and bad anime. All sorts of strange Leonard Nimoy stuff was happening.

And I was there because my 10-year-old step son had his heart set on winning some Atari tournament. The prize was an authentic Atari 2600 gaming system and, as he so clearly put it, “had to have it.”

Of course, he had never actually played on an Atari before, but I could see his confidence was strong. He knew it would just come naturally. He’d been working towards this day since in utero. His fingers rapidly moving inside his mother’s womb to sounds of a Yamaha YM2151 FM sound generator.

This tournament was his 8-bit destiny. It’s hard to stand in the way of something like that. He was like the Wright brothers, all smooshed into one. The boy just knew he could fly.

When we first arrived at the hotel, we fumbled through a side entrance and got confused as to where the front desk was. We found a conference room and decided to peek in, hoping to see this retro gaming stuff in action. But when we got in there, all we could see were conservatively dressed women huddled together in groups talking.

Most of them turned to look at us. I finally located a sign on the door which read THE LADIES OF OUR SAVIOR LORD. Ah, yes. These were not our people. My stepson was still trying to come to grips with the idea that this is what a retro gaming tournament looks like. I grabbed him, and we quietly backed away and shut the door.

When we finally found the basement, right away tiny people with foam swords threatened us and then all sorts of bizarre conversations were forced upon me by fast talking geeky gurus. Some old. Some very young.

A child no older than five explained to me how jet propulsion work. I was impressed. I told him one of my own theories, but I felt as though the feeling had not been reciprocated.

Outside the gaming room, large-breasted women dressed as Xena the Warrior princess were serving lime margaritas. They were giving them away to anyone who would take them and, of course, I was one of those people.

“Come what may,” I thought. Just another child raised and shipwrecked on the Jimmy Buffett mentality.

It was late in the evening when the tournament finally started. The game was “Warlords.” Released in 1980, the premise of this four player game is to protect your fortress from other players blasting it away with a tiny fireball.

I found it surprisingly fun in its simplicity. And so did my stepson. He was the youngest person in the tournament by 30 years. And I was proud to watch him as he talked trash to the 45 year-old man who appeared to be wearing a hospital mask. I wasn’t sure if it was a costume.

When the tournament ended (which actually only lasted about 20 minutes), he had come up short with 4th place. But he took it with great stride and, like a true gentleman, he proceeded to take out his anger by playing duck hunt on another TV in the back of the room. I eventually finished my margarita, and we both took a relaxing swim in the pool.

I learned a lot that day. And I’m still learning, even tonight. To do the best ya can and to do it well. But also… Not to take things too seriously.

Hell, Buffett’s been doing this for years. And maybe my cat will figure this out too, so I don’t have to throttle him. Cause it’s late now. Very late. And, as my grandfather once said, grinning, when he came to breakfast and grandma’s kitten jumped up into his lap: “Who doesn’t like a little pussy in the morning?”