We’re in the midst of a long weekend here, with the 26th being Australia Day. And I fucking love being Australian.
Not in the boorish way that seems to typify over-use of the recent “oi oi oi” chants of Aussies overseas; no, I grew up when Australia had no impact on anything. When we were crap at cricket, rubbish at rugby, soccer was still publicly called wogball and the Olympics were a glum television event; when we were politically inconsequential. Those days had a massive influence on me; the idea of the Little Aussie Battler, the support for the underdog, the respect for the people who just get the job done – and appropriate injections of Tall Poppy Syndrome for those who get too big for their own boots. There’s no braindead chants in my vision of Australia – just a thrill when the battler gets up, and an accepting grunt when the other team excels.
But what’s that all got to do with gaming?
Allow me the luxury of a few more words to explain.
I grew up in a country town, population 2,000. As a male kid, you played cricket or tennis on a Saturday morning; graduating to an adult, you did the same in the afternoon. Social time was Saturday night, at the larger pubs in the area, and Sundays would see the young men work through their hangovers at Apex gatherings & working bees; it just seemed to be the natural progression of things.
One of the Apex regular tasks was the organisation of the Australia Day breakfast, where a huge chunk of the town would dawdle in to the lawns by the side of the Town Hall for a plate of deliciously greasy bacon & eggs, with the eggs later being fried in Australia-shaped holes in slices of bread. Sloppily served with a smile and good cheer, it was always a great morning event; we’d wander around, watch the Young Australian of the Year award, then maybe bugger off to the beach later in the day. And there’s so much of the spirit of those Australia Days that make me proud.
But I haven’t explained anything yet. A few more words…
Between the gorging at breakfast – the smiles, the enthusiastic catch-ups across the rows of trestle tables – and the beach, there was a necessary stop-off at home (Mum made certain we had at least an hour break between eating and swimming). One year, long ago, I wandered via the Main Street, stopping by the newsagent – one of the few shops open on this most sacred of public holidays. And a shiny magazine caught my eye – the Home Electronics Yearbook. I was just entering my “interested in electronics” phase; I bought it in a heartbeat. I flicked through it while I walked along the sea-wall home: it wasn’t an “electronics” magazine at all! Instead, it was a consumer-oriented mag highlighting exciting new products – hi-fi, television, and something new – home computers.
I looked at these machines with wonder, with lust – I couldn’t quite understand what they were, but I knew I wanted one. Within those glossy pages, I compared the unknown features – numbers, really – of the Apple II (expensive!), Atari 800 (surely a gamer’s paradise!) and the VIC-20 (but it’s only got 5 RAMs!). That one magazine, that one Australia Day, somehow triggered a love in computing that would see me get my C64 soon thereafter (64KB! under a third of the high school’s new Apple’s cost!), and hence an introduction to gaming.
Fast forward a few years – I’ve got my C64, I’ve got my 1541 disk drive, and it’s Australia Day again. My oldest friend and I drop by my home between the breakfast and the beach, avoiding the worst of the midday sun. To while away the hours, we fire up the C64 – “any new games?” he queried, looking over my small collection of hookey floppies.
We started playing one game – a game I’d briefly looked at before, but hadn’t bothered trying to figure out. He, on the other hand, was made of sterner stuff, so we started digging, figuring out the rules, discovering the game.
We played and played that game. Our intended afternoon at the beach became a quick dip at dusk (not too long, though – the jellyfish get a little feisty on balmy summer nights). I went home and played Archon for hours; my mate returned the next day, we played it a lot more. Once we’d sussed the impact of the red/green squares, figured out the meaning of “power points are proof against magic”, we were set – and then the real fun started. Challenging each other to nutty battles – “knight versus dragon on white!”, “shapeshifter versus phoenix!” – and setting up the most shameful of victories – imprisoning the opposition’s final piece. Endless debates about whether the brute force of the Dragon, combined with the uneven Shapeshifter, favoured the Dark Side over the Light’s powerful Djini and crapulent Phoenix. The hot Sorceress versus the cool Wizard; my preferred Unicorn over the Basilisk; the wimpy Valkyrie, or the annoying Banshee. So much depth, so much fun.
We kept the “traditional” Australia Day bouts of Archon going but, as you’d expect, we started getting older, and after a few years I was tackling the game solo. And so it will be again this year – Australia Day, greasy breakfast with a grin, and two solo games of Archon – one against Light, one against Dark.
I love being Australian, and I love my Australia Day.