While we never had an arcade, several locations in my hometown when I was growing up had video games. Off the top of my head I can name six of them, although I am sure there were more. I made my rounds between those locations on foot and by bike almost daily. Not just to play the games, but often, when I was out of money, just to observe the gameplay and study how I might get better.
It was a big deal when a new game showed up and the news would rocket through the kid grapevine. I prided myself on being up on the most recent games, I especially liked being the first one to see and try a new game, and I dropped every extra quarter I could into games to try to get decent at them. When Konami’s Track & Field appeared at the newspaper store near the bank in the early summer on year in the 1980’s, I was out-of-town for the week, having gone to stay with my Uncle in the “country” or what passes for “country” in New Jersey. When I returned it was all people were talking about and I rushed downtown to check it out.
The corner of the store was absolutely electric. Kids were lined up to play Track & Field and the ones who were playing it were pounding on the buttons with an intensity I had never seen. Observing from a distance, I tried to gauge how to play. It looked pretty straightforward. You hit the buttons quickly, then you hit another button. How hard could this be. After waiting in line for about a half hour, I finally discovered how hard it could be. I was terrible. Terrible enough that it was embarrassing.
The first event in Track & Field is a race. All you have to do is hit the buttons in rhythm and go fast. First I couldn’t anticipate when the race should start, so I kept getting false starts. Then even when I got going, I just could not get a rhythm down to get my mustachioed athlete moving.
I went back early the next morning, before anyone else was there. I burned through a dollar in minutes and quickly realized something. I cannot keep rhythm.
I always knew that I was not musically talented, but this game confirmed that I had a real issue with it and even after years of trying to play the game, I still can’t maintain a beat that will drive me to victory.
As someone who prided themselves on their ability to at least get decent at video games, this has always stuck in my craw. Just this weekend, I was at a video game show and Track & Field was set to free play. So I parked myself in front of the game and attempted time and again to master the game. 90% of the time, I fail and when I don’t it is mostly just dumb luck. Video Games require different skills and in the case of Track & Field, it is a skill I just don’t seem to able to foster. Because of this, I find this game above all others, makes me fill like a kid again. Sitting there, studying other players, trying to master the very basics of the game until my hands and wrists are sore and red.
I will probably never master Track & Field, but that’s okay with me. Everyone needs their unattainable goal – their white whale. For some it is a mountain they just can’t climb. For others it is a fear they need to conquer, but for me it is a quarter guzzling percussion game from 1983 featuring sports I don’t care about.