Japanese Atari Boy

When I was a child, I once found the photo of a Japanese boy who’d scored 19,281,289,238,391,381,173 on an Atari game, the highest of all time.

It was a tiny photo but I cut the thing out of a magazine and pinned it to my wall. I knew nothing about him. But I liked to imagine his life.

The photo showed him sitting motionless in front of his Atari as if he were lost forever in the parameters of his own genius.

I imagined he lived in a small room in Tokyo and spent all day playing Yars’ Revenge. He was an electric wiseman. He’d been playing Atari for so long his vision was a shattered rainbow.

He never went to school or changed clothes because he was too busy mastering Atari, weighed down by secret histories no book could ever contain.

Throughout the day hundreds of people knocked at the door of his Tokyo apartment to see him and shake his hand.

But the boy was incapable of communication. Playing the Atari for thousands of hours had made him so jittery he appeared to have three expressionless heads. He just sat there quivering.

He survived on green protein smoothies his mother made for him and played Yars’ Revenge while she held the straw to his lips. Outside the boundaries of his own mind, he cared about nothing.

I don’t know how true this story was or why I imagined it. But for years I envisioned the Atari boy whenever I felt uninspired. I imagined him fusing himself with his video game so that he quivered faster and faster, brighter and brighter, till at last one day his mother would walk into the room and he’d be gone, exploded into pixels.