OK, to finish this little technology tour, the funniest thing I read in the past week: a review of Martin Amis’s early-80s guide to arcade games. Yes, Martin as in Kingsley Amis, Martin as in Money, The Information, London Fields Amis. He actually wrote a book about Space Invaders, Pac Man and all sorts of other beeping, blinking machines that they had back then. The review linked, by Mark O’Connell at The Millions, is incredible as well. Apparently, Amis has essentially disowned the work, refusing to speak about it in interviews. It’s out of print, meaning copies fetch hundreds of dollars on eBay.
So what’s exciting is not just that Amis wrote this awkwardly uncool gaming bible, but that he brought the full Amis in doing so. O’Connell’s review delights in this, examining it on both the level of its prose and its subject matter. This extract captures some of the glory to be witnessed in the combination of book and book review:
It’s as though Kingsley Amis’ youngest son had shied away from the family business and wound up making a living as a games reviewer with a weakness for the high literary style. Here is one of the great aesthetes of the sentence offering tips on dealing with Space Invaders’ descending alien infantry:
The phalanx of enemy invaders moves laterally across a grid not much wider than itself. When it reaches the edge of the grid, the whole army lowers a notch. Rule one: narrow that phalanx.Before you do anything else, take out at least three enemy columns either on the left-hand side or the right (for Waves 1 and 2, the left is recommended). Thereafter the aliens will take much longer to cross their grid and slip down another rung. Keep on working from the sides: you’ll find that the invaders take forever to trudge and shuffle back and forth, and you can pick them off in your own sweet time.
For what it’s worth, this is actually very solid gaming advice. I tested it out on one of those classic arcade websites, and the man knows what he’s talking about — it is all about phalanx-narrowing. (If I ever happen to pass Amis on the opposite side of the street, I’m not sure I’ll be able to prevent myself from shouting across at him like one of the garrulous yobs who populate his novels, “Oi, Mart! Narrow that phalanx!”).
Funny thing is, this is forcing me to reconsider not just my view of Amis (OK, it’s not, he’s still a git), but also my Space Invaders strategy. See, back when I played it on Dad’s computer I would start out with a mighty right-to-left sweep that eliminated the first two rows in their entirety, then gradually work on picking off the rest of them. I can now see that it would probably have been wiser to adopt the vertical elimination strategy that Amis advocates (the cunning bastard!). I would genuinely love to get hold of a copy of this tome. Let me know if you hear of one! Goodnight.