Originally published in
ER #43 (Fall 1995)
current debate over the Internet's allegedly
easy access to "cyberporn" and
the spectre of pedophiles luring innocent
compunerds into disrobing via video-conferencing
has all too familiar a ring. With anything
new comes the inevitably raised voices of
concerned parents and then politicos
who are aghast at the perceived filth
and perversion that Bobby, Cindy and Susie
are poisoning their minds with. Luckily,
my parents never knew what type of dementia
was being created for that harmless electronic
babysitter, The Atari 2600.
Wish I Had BACK ALL THE MONEY I Spent at
Quite frankly, I don't think anyone
was aware of the impact the Atari 2600 would
have on our generation (I'm talking about
those of us pushing, or already over the
wall into, The Land of 30). After the numbing
monotony of PONG and competitive systems
like ADVERSARY, the masses of children raised
on "Schoolhouse Rock," the Ralph
Bakshi-tinged SPIDER-MAN, and post-nuclear
Japanese fightfests like ULTRA-MAN and JOHNNY
SOCKO needed a more universal outlet for
their pre-pubescent rage and suburban angst.
Luckily, the Taito Corporation was listening
and Space Invaders drew us to movie theater
lobbies and local convenience stores like
flies to a dead squirrel.
By the time we turned Pac-Man
into a national obsession, the coin-op videogames
and their mutant offspring had rung us out
like so much dirty laundry. In fact, at
the height of its popularity, Pac-Man and
its spin-offs alone were generating about
$6 billion dollars (that's 24 billion quarters!)
from the sale of records (the obsequious
Top 10 single, "Pac-Man Fever"),
two bestselling tips books, and a Saturday
morning cartoon show...as well as jeans,
lunchboxes, pajamas, toys, drinking glasses,
and feminine deodorant spray. Well, that
last one was actually a Ms. Pac-Man product.
And, like anything that grips
the nation, the voices of our national conscience
arose with concern. No less an authority
than the surgeon general warned that children
were becoming addicted, and a Stanford social
psychologist went so far as to warn that
Pac-Man "fed into masculine fantasies
of control, power, destruction." (Is
this starting to sound familiar?)
Of course, had we actually
been addicted to Pac-man we wouldn't have
gone looking for cheap, sick thrills in
the seamier parts of town. And game companies
were happy to satisfy the sensational tastes
that would come to earmark our generation...
SAW IS FAMILY"
After all, what fun was there to be had
in games like Pac-Man, Space Invaders, Missile
Command and Asteroids? Sure, some of them
allowed you to let loose with the pent-up
childhood rage that would spill over into
the occasional case of patricide or matricide,
but most of the games were defeatist blows
to our fragile teen egos.
Pac-Man devoured his enemies, but he lived
in an "eat or be eaten" world
that he couldn't truly conquer. Missile
Command was the perfect government tool
to make nuclear proliferation seem like
a gas! We identified with the desolate,
black & white spacescape of Asteroids,
but it taught us the lesson that "the
longer you stand still, the longer you'll
survive...those that stray from their set
position are quickly crushed." And
the encroaching foreign "invaders"
of that first arcade hit could be beaten
back, but they inevitably squashed hopes
for rebellion under the weight of their
The fine folks at Wizard were
obviously aware of the void left by these
games when they sat down and drew up the
plans for The Texas Chainsaw Massacre, a
game based on one of the creepiest horror
films ever made. A company truly in touch
with their customers, Wizard realized that
a game that positioned you as a helpless
victim was again sending the wrong message
to the populace. So, what better way to
lash out at the authority figures that got
under your skin than to assume the guise
of Leatherface and chainsaw your way to
Armed with your trusty chainsaw
and three fuel tanks, your sole goal is
to flay, slice and dice as many cowering
victims as is (in)humanly possible. Pausing
only to avoid the rushing thickets, fences,
cow skulls and wheelchairs (in honor of
Franklin), Leatherface hunts down his prey
and splatters them all over the tv screen
with a guttural roar from the saw.
Unfortunately, the inevitability
of failure creeps in and Leatherface's ability
to torment is limited to three fuel tanks.
When they expire, a lone survivor is allowed
to trot onto the darkening screen and give
the misunderstood killer a swift kick in
the ass. Yet the ending maintains the spirit
of the original film, and lets you fire
up "reset" for as many sequels
as you desire.
Few cinematic mass killers have had the
silent charisma of Leatherface, though one
wonders what a game featuring the early
version of Freddy Krueger might have been
like. So, what's a game designer to do when
bringing the lumbering, unstoppable visage
of HALLOWEEN's Michael Meyers to video life?
Well, in the case of Halloween:
The Video Game (Wizard again, 'natch)
you concentrate on the concepts that made
the film such a screw-your-butt-to-the-seat
- Unstoppable, knife-wielding
- Gutsy babysitter.
- A house fulla pre-teen
rugrats just waitin' to have their bodies
- And that goddman music!
"Ladies and gentlemen,
I think we've got another hit on our hands!"
Exchanging the saw-toting
maniacism of Leatherface for the scaredy-cat,
knees-bent, running-about sheer terror of
"the babysitter" isn't an easy
transition. (I heartily recommend an ass-kicking
game of NHL '95 with penalties off to get
the remaining aggression out.) But once
you accept the premise of the game
"There's a killer in the house...save
the kids without losing your head"
- you're golden.
Brilliantly rendered as the
cross-section of an old house where you're
babysitting, Halloween fills the hallways
with terrified little kids (few game companies
are secure enough to put children in peril
from the word "GO!"), places the
odd knife at your disposal, and lets Michael
Meyers defy the laws of time and space by
materializing behind you... then in front
of you! It's no wonder that one round with
this twisted cartridge leaves you a sweaty
mess contorting yourself and screaming at
the rudely animated babysitter to "run
Ultimately, the game achieves
its place among the classics for the superior
deaths dispatched on you, the babysitter.
While the kids/pawns are "spared"
a horrid death and just get knifed in the
gut (with as graphic a blood-spurting as
an Atari 2600 will allow), you don't get
off that easily. One false move or misplaced
jab with the knife and you're literally
running around like a chicken without a
head... arms akimbo and your life's juices
streaming out of your freshly opened jugular.
As a bonus, the entire game
is scored to John Carpenter's trademark
theme, which takes advantage of every tiny
sound processing capability the 2600 has.
OUTTA THREE AIN'T BAD"
Unfortunately, not every 2600 games based
on a classic horror flick achieves it's
limitless potential. In fact, 20th Century
Fox's insulting Alien cartridge can be summed
up in four words: Pac-Man Meets Frogger.
The first screen insults your
intelligence by placing "Ripley"
in a dot-filled maze guarded by a group
of roving "aliens" (that look
amazingly like Audrey from the LITTLE SHOP
OF HORRORS musical), but the second is even
worse. Your "Ripley" must cross
a multi-lane highway of "aliens"...again
looking like, ah what's the point?
Shame on you 20th Century
Fox... you should've had Wizard create the
game! Then again, how would the chest-burster
have looked on a 2600?