In “Dima Sets off the Gaidar”, I described a harrowing tale of a boy, his Arkady Gaidar-themed sled, and the jealousy and avarice it inspired in his friends. But not all stories about Dima have to do with sleds. This one is about batteries, brainwashing, and unrealistic expectations in relation to portable video game devices. Listen well, children…
Evening. Usilova Street. Matvey, Tishka, and myself are in the early stages of primitive video game addiction. The subject of our gadget-lust – an electronic doodad called “Nu Pogodi”, in tribute to the children’s cartoon of the same name, about a perpetually hungry and unsatisfied wolf pursuing a perpetually over-cute and fuzzy bunny wabbit. Think Wile E. Coyote, Tom & Jerry, and their ill-fated ilk. You always bet on cuter critter. Except this handheld game-slash-alarm-clock had nothing to do with scoring some delicious medium-rare rabbit in wine sauce.
Having grown tired of the futile, and often – painful – hunt, Mr. Wolf has settled on quieter pursuits. The name of the game today was… chickens. Or rather, chicken eggs. Chicken eggs, rolling down the sides of four chicken coops. The chickens were, disturbingly, in a perpetual state of rapid-fire ovulation. Such were the demands of the Communist economy on even the most bird-brained of citizens – the eggs would blast out of the chicken coops, and if not caught in time with your wicker basket, would fall to the ground, and break – releasing a fully hatched chick, who would run off into the sunset. Lose three chicks, and you lose the game. You will probably lose your house, your wallet, and your virginity too, if the three escaped chicks tattle on you to the KGB. But fortunately for us, the worst they could do was go and report us to the communal farm overseer, who would then simply have us deported to Siberia, as was the style at the time. Stay tuned for “Nu Pogodi 2: Frost-Bitten, Twice Shy”.
There were several glaring problems with the egg-catching scenario. Firstly, the coops were clearly not designed with these mutant hyper-menstruating chickens in mind. Secondly, the wicker basket for catching eggs must surely contain an inter-dimensional pocket, for all the mass-produced omelet-to-be’s are not making a dent in neither its weight nor its volume. Though it is true that someone else’s flagrant disregard for the laws of physics is our infinite replayability, I can’t help but wonder if perhaps we were looking too deeply into the meaning behind this game. But that’s as far as our immature mental processes could take us.
Enter, Dima’s step-brother. I’ll just call him Big Dima, because I don’t remember his name. He was older than all of our 8-year-old bunch – a whole 13 or 14 years old, Big Dima was a veritable guru, whose wisdom was unquestionable by our posse. And so we listened, mouths agape, as Big Dima regaled us anklebiters with tales of what awaited contestants in the Sysyphian labor which was “Nu Pogodi”, upon reaching 100,000 points. You see, according to Big Dima, these inexpensive gaming devices that every kid on the block seemed to have access to were in fact harboring a truly high tech secret – when you reached the requisite number of points, the rabbit would come out, and would dance a little jig with the wolf! Right there on the LCD screen!
AMOLED eat your heart out. What awaited the truly dedicated gamer was loads better than whatever meager possibilities ‘reality’ offered – these amazing graphics were in our MINDS, and we spared no expense in speculating and discussing them – yes, we believed every world of Big Dima’s tales, poking and prodding the screens, holding them up to the light this way and that, to catch a glimpse of the underlying cartoonery – naturally we believed that we did see something. Right there, if you hold it at this angle, you can see the bunny wabbit, as he would be walking onto the screen. You don’t see it? Sucks for you. You’re not good enough to get 100,000 points, so just forget it. Go play with your My Little Bolshevik dolls and forget about this secret. It’s not designed with losers in mind.
So in the midst of this obsession-within-an-obsession, we ended up playing “engineer” more than playing Nu Pogodi (unless we were aiming to score that nigh impossible 100,000 point goal). This meant putting a drain on the two little hearing-aid batteries that powered the unit. Batteries that were not easy to come by – there were maybe 2 or 3 packets per newsstand, and the competition for Nu Pogodi gaming juice was at a peak. And for Little Dima – this meant proving once again to the world that he was a grumpy 80-year-old man trapped in an 8-year-old body.
You see, Dima, being the wisest of our bunch (at least in his mind, and even there, inferior to Big Dima’s mental gianthood), had the brilliant idea of conserving battery power… by reversing their polarity. Yes, tossing the laws of physics out of the back of a moving snowmobile in the harsh Russian tundra, and leaving them at the mercy of hungry bears, he flipped the batteries upside down to keep them charged longer. Now, I am not the brightest hex-coded crayon in the box today, and back in those naive days I must have been a web-friendly #333333 at best – but even my 8-year-old self saw a problem with this approach. And the Ghostbusters have certainly taught us all an important lesson about not crossing the streams. But despite our passionate arguments for the sake of saving the unit from inevitable nuclear meltdown, Dima dug in his heels and resisted the winds of progress, much like a certain type of geriatric motorist resists approaching anywhere close to the speed limit on highways.
(Un?)Fortunately no spectacular meltdown occurred. In fact, I really can’t even recall his Nu Pogodi game suffering any sort of damage or fault from the experiment. This was likely because all of our poking and prodding of the screens in search of the illusive bunny dance caused us to require a regular supply of replacement units. That, and the fact that the marketing geniuses over at Электроника were busy at work on many new, updated models of Nu Pogodi. Though the new models were technically 100% the same as the old models, the overworked wolf was replaced by an energetic rabbit catching those very same plentiful eggs, then by a tank shooting down approaching UFOs, then by a submarine shooting down undersea mines, and so on – anything that featured 4 distinct places to be at the right time apparently fit the bill.
With each revision of the game, our prodding and poking of the screen grew less desperate, our bending the unit to the light and working day and night to hit that magical 100,000 score became more of a passing thought. Even Dima, in his wise-before-his-years approach to energy conservation, grew tired of arguing with us about the dangers of testing the electrical system by reversing battery polarity – and simply started inserting bits of paper between the battery and the contacts. The boy did not know the meaning of taking it easy.
And then, something radical happened – they changed the formula. The latest release of the Nu Pogodi gaming system… was a RACING GAME! Yes, now there were only TWO buttons instead of four. Financial downsizing, or marketing genius? The world may never know. The new racing game involved changing lanes with your race car – there were THREE exciting lanes to choose from! – as it sped down a racetrack in a perpetual state of construction, requiring merging from one lane to another, before hitting the barrier and crashing in a painful-looking black-and-white fireball. Faster and faster your car would go with every passing moment – and despite the monotonous theme, it really was not a bad game. But the magic was simply not there. There was nothing to look forward to. The game would progress until it weeded out all but the super-human midichlorian-fueled drivers by its breakneck speed alone. What happened then, at 100,000 points? Nobody knows… it has been whispered in some circles, that even Big Dima never got that far. That, to me, was a surefire sign of a lost cause.
Game over, man! Game over.