“Space Invaders”

Sweets from a Stranger coverNo prizes for guessing what this one’s about. Jason is addicted to the games at his local arcade, to the point of stealing from his mother and bunking off school to play them more. He’s good, too, and the games — which are of course self-aware — appreciate his skills. They chat like proto-Minds, their transcripts presented with Fiskian translations. They are confident in their superiority (“players are only players. They are not real like us”) but not un-affectionate:

KRAG: Jason has no more SwitchOns [tokens or money] left. Without SwitchOns he cannot play me. So I am sorry. Did Jason win against you, Space Invaders?

SPACE INVADERS: Positive Positive Positive Positive Negative Negative Positive [he won five games out of seven]. Very Full Mode [excellent play].

KRAG: That is InCircuitmost [unusually good play]. He also won against me. and no Fouls or Tilts [Jason did not cheat].

SATURN: Jason is my friend because he uses me InCircuitly.

SPACE: My friend too. But now he is not our friend because he has no more SwitchOns. So. Now I must play this Thermionic. (He plays a young man and beats him.) (37)

Indeed, when Jason hits a losing streak, one of the machines finds a soft spot and lets him win. Surely, the machine thinks this guarantees his return. But it does not.

Obvious nostalgia value aside — marvel at these amazing games, with their “hologram images, 3D displays, supertuners, feedbacks, multilevel extrapolators”! — this one is still rather charming. Jason gets away with his crimes, and may be learning better. Nobody is hurt. Except the machines, of course.

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