Friday, 12 March 2010

Bubblegum carnage

Boys eagerly awaiting their turn to put coins in the machines

Boys here avidly collect, trade, and discuss games cards, the mountains forgotten and irrelevant outside their tight clusters of hot interest. The cards are spat out by babbling and flashing games machines, fascinating and irresistible to their diminutive clientèle, prone as they are to fantasies about heroic combat, and almost exclusively male. To them every card is the victor's prize in an epic struggle to the pixilated death. They think they are playing, and don't notice that they are being played.

They cluster round the screens, waiting with sweaty palmed politeness for their turn. They egg each other on, or examine each other's collections, some of which would easily pay for the kind of substantial real world equipment that I could only dream about when I was a boy. I have discussed this with my son, but my questions about whether it was better to press a button and watch a character do something interesting on a screen, or to actually do something exciting yourself, were not a success. Similarly, going through the economics, and pointing out that he had in effect paid ¥1,500 (£10) for fifteen small cards that were probably worth about ¥30, fell on stony seven-year-old ears.

Touching what?

I remember the feeling. My elder brother and I collected bubble gum cards. The bubble gum wasn't very nice, it was the cards that mattered. The flavour of the gum didn't last in the mouth,  but the cards always smelled of the bright pink gum. They pictured scenes from the American Civil War for some reason, the gorier the better - bayonetings and shootings, desperate hand to hand combat and the like. The big one, the card everyone wanted, and that instilled a thrill of horror and hushed awe in us, was of a man being blown apart by a canon in lurid technicolour. I both daren't look at it, and had to. For a long time after, death seemed linked to the sickly faut-fruit pink fumes of cheap gum. That was until my father died some years later, and my younger brother after that, and taught me what death really smells like.

I hope it takes my son a long time to learn.


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