Defender of the Realm (or: “Thank God I Wan’t Invited to an Auto Show”)

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I was a guest at Southern Fried Gameroom Expo this last weekend – a wonderful pinball and arcade gaming convention in Atlanta, Georgia. I’ve never seen anything like it: hall after hall of classic and contemporary games.

They launched a tabletop gaming track, this year. Hence, my invite. Best of all, they also flew in the Lovely and Talented Judith, and Daughter, Age 7. So it was a delightful family weekend for us. (I can’t stress enough how much more enjoyable convention appearances become, with my little family along, with me.)

There was, however, an encounter on the first day I was totally unprepared for.

Not five minutes in the main gaming halls, and I came face-to-face with my first college love:

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Yes. Sorry, Susan…Defender was the fist.

It’s been decades since I played a proper Defender cabinet. My pals and I at Queen Mary College, London, dropped many a 10-pence piece down the gullet of the one sitting in the student bar. We became good at the game – very good. I developed a blister on my left hand (the one needed for the joystick) index finger that remained with me until I transferred to the Defender-less University of Wisconsin, a couple of years later.

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My pals Russell Clarke and John Trassler were the best of the group, I seem to remember – but we were none of us bad at it. I’d fall asleep at night, visions of exploding Landers and Mutants informing my dreams (a “particle effect algorithm to generate unique explosions for destroyed enemies” was a Defender selling point).

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I mastered the steady stream of shots, able to wipe out Landers before they’d appear on-screen, my right hand twitching ever-faster, switching rapidly between Thrust, Fire, and the occasional Smart Bomb buttons. (Shame – SHAME – to those who lost all their lives with Smart Bombs remaining!)

On leaving London, Defender cabinets were harder and harder to come across. There was never a game like it, as far as I was concerned. The sequel, Stargate (that I found Stateside) had better graphics, but left me cold. The various console emulators were dead to me, as were the multi-game cabinets. None of them felt right. None of them left a blister on my fingers!

Decades passed, muscle memories faded.

But here, in the convention halls of this glorious Atlanta pinball hootenany, were four Defender machines, in great nick!

Free for the playing.

All. Weekend. Long!

Look, I’m not saying I was attached to Defender cabinets 24-7 (if only because the halls closed at midnight). But moves I thought long-dead were slowly coming back.

And at some point, I realized…these are all for sale! And my friends weren’t helping.


The last day of the show, some VERY ENABLING Twitter followers let me know that there was a great Defender cabinet left, going for $600. And they possibly knew someone who could get it to Wisconsin, saving around $300 on shipping.

So…

This weekend, Father’s Day weekend, I drive down to Plateville to pick up my Defender cabinet.

Two final thoughts:

ONE – Thank goodness I have an extraordinarily tolerant, loving, and forgiving wife, and…

TWO – I was a guest at a Pinball and Arcade convention, and ended up buying an arcade game.

Thank god I wasn’t invited to an auto show!

– John

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