On the Game Grid

Flicking through the TV channels the other night I came across an airing of the sci-fi classic Tron. Watching it reminded me how immensely excited I had been when it first came out in 1982.

Back then I had a subscription to OMNI magazine, which had run a big feature on the movie ahead of its US release, making it look just about the coolest thing ever. In those days, before the studios got paranoid about piracy, there used to be a much longer gap between a film’s premiere in the States and its worldwide distribution than is customary now, so by the time Tron finally hit my hometown I was in a state of advanced anticipation. I queued to get a ticket for the opening night, lured by the promise of a heavily-hyped laser show, playing in lieu of a supporting feature, which duly blew my mind, despite consisting in its entirety of nothing more spectacular than a small green dot tracing out simple geometric patterns.

With all this build-up the film itself was at risk of being a major anticlimax, but it lived up to all my expectations. The clean lines and blocky aesthetic of the virtual world looked exactly like I imagined the inside of a computer would appear, and the real-life sequences that book-ended the story were quite appealing too. A world where a guy could be popular by virtue of knowing how to operate a computer seemed, to my teenage mind, to be a pretty neat place to live. True enough the hero, Kevin Flynn, had seen his attractive blonde girlfriend leave him due to his obsession with video games, but he didn’t seem too perturbed by this (probably because he looked like a young Jeff Bridges) and anyway she had dumped him for an even bigger nerd, which was a reassuringly life-affirming message at that point in my social development.

(Interestingly, having played my teenage role-model in Tron, Jeff Bridges went on to portray my adult ideal in The Big Lebowski, but that’s another story).

I’ve seen Tron a few times on the small screen since then, and I think that it still stands up fairly well. The angular virtual landscape, which makes a virtue of its artificiality, appeals to me more than the faux-reality of modern online worlds. The plot, an archetypal heroic quest, is presented with brutal efficiency, compressing into 96 minutes a story arc that The Lord of the Rings stretched out over three interminable instalments. And it teaches an important life-lesson – if you’re engaged in an epic struggle with a malevolently sentient computer, take care not to sit at a desk right in front of a huge matter-disintegrating laser controlled by said computer.

This blog is in grave danger of turning into an Abe Simpson-style nostalgia-fest, but just in time I have received a large package from Amazon containing my new graphics card, which, assuming I can get it working, will finally let me get into Second Life, and get this project back on-topic.

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