Andy Phelps writes about how, growing up in California, near Edwards Air Force base, he had to deal with the constant reminders of the possibility of nuclear war. To cope with the existential dread, he found comfort in an arcade game: Missile Command.
But in that moment, playing Missile Command was transformative: it provided a way for me to process my frustration, my fear, and my anger. It offered an outlet for my grief, and it also, amazingly, provided a sense of agency and control over a situation in which I had none of either. While the hopelessness of my plight was being reflected in the press covering the Cold War, in popular music on MTV, and in the comic books and action heroes of the day, Missile Command did a unique and (at least to me) profound thing: it didn’t offer some escapist view of the situation — everyone that plays the game eventually loses — but it did offer both a way to trivialize and compartmentalize the fear (it is, after all, an arcade game and you can play it again with a quarter so there is always another life) — while simultaneously holding out the idea that you can win for a while, and for a pretty significant while at that. You can laugh at yourself for the stress you feel while playing the final moments of the game, and then savor the fact that you’re still alive in the arcade and get a piece of pizza.
Anything that gets you over the pressures of the world so you can enjoy a slice of pizza can’t be too bad.
→ Games of the Soul: An Anecdotal Introduction by Way of Missile Command