NOTE: This article was reproduced as best I could from an old microfiche my University has archived. The original article consisted of a picture of three Asteroid machines lined up with buisnessmen playing them with a caption underneath, "The latest video rage in Los Angeles: 'It's either this or the psychiatrist'" If I ever get a copy of this issue, I plan to scan this image and post it as well to complete the article.
The Asteroids Are Coming
The West World Games Arcade in West Los Angeles used to be the exclusive preserve of class-cutting teen-agers from nearby high schools. But lately the regulars at the pinball machines have been finding themselves overwhelmed at lunchtime by an invasion from office space. Legions of lawyers, bankers and other white-collar types are ducking away from their desks at noon to lose themselves Luke Skywalking through a computerized video game called Asteroids. For a mere quarter, Asteroids will turn an unassuming cost accountant into the commander of an embattled spaceship. "It takes my mind off work, and it provides a bit of a challenge," says 27-year-old attorney Howard Weg. "Besides, it's a quick diversion - quicker than movie - and it's relatively inexpensive."
Asteroids was introduced just over a year ago by Atari, Inc., which perpetrated Pong, the first coin-operated video game in 1972. Asteroids is now the most popular coin-operated game in U.S. history, with more than 70,000 consoles pinging away in arcades, bars, airports and hotel lobbies around the world. When West World first installed Asteroids last November, recalls manager Sheree Song, "people fought over them. Everybody got hooked immediately." The first two machines, which cost $3,500 apiece, paid for themselves in a few days, says Song, and the arcade had to order six more to satisfy demand.
The object of Asteroids is to defend a ship against an unpredictable combination of rocks and enemy craft by maneuvering around them, firing missiles at them or taking a risky jump into "hyperspace" to hide from them. It demands total concentration and quick reflexes: while a player is taking aim at an oncoming asteroid, an enemy spaceship (controlled by a microprocessor in the game's innards) may be sneaking up from behind. Even worse, the longer a player survives, the faster the game throws new hazards at him.
What inspires Asteroidolarty among the three-piece suits? "Men like to imagine themselves as the Red Baron," says Randall Jone, assistant manager of the Steak & Ale Forum in Houston, where would-be aces line up at the bar awaiting their turns. "A man puts himself against the computer, and it takes out some of his aggressions." says Mary Lou Clark, assistant manager at San Francisco's Ben Jonson Restaurant.
The satisfaction Asteroids offers is genuine. "You're flying that ship," says Steve Epstein, manager of the Broadway Arcade in New York City. "You go back to the office more relaxed, partly because you have been able to control something. It's either this or the psychiatrist." But Atari doesn't intend to let things get too easy. Coming soon is an even more sophisticated - harder to beat - version of the game called Asteroid Deluxe.
Lester Sloan - Newsweek, February 23, 1981 pg 62-63
Back to 1981 Articles