Table Tennis

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Tom Neven

Game Review

In the beginning, the world of electronic games was void and without form. Then in 1972, Nolan Bushnell, founder of Atari, got an idea. He said, Let there be PONG. And the little gizmo that bounced a square ball between two plain paddles on a TV monitor was born. And, lo, it was exceedingly popular, and it went out and filled the earth. As it grew strong, it begot numerous clones. One, called SingStar 80s, included microphones as input devices. A player sang high notes into the microphone to move his paddle up, low notes to move his paddle down. Of course, that game sank like a stone—except in Japan, where singing in public, lack of talent notwithstanding, is considered high entertainment.

And then it came to pass that electronic games grew more complicated, and diverse Pac-Men, Marios and Donkey Kongs populated the earth. And in only a few generations, some electronic games became exceedingly evil. Monsters, ogres and murderers populated the land, and much gore and foul language were expended in vanquishing these screen foes.

As a new century dawned, there arose in the land a giant who mocked all that was good and decent, and Rockstar Games was his name. And these are the generations of Rockstar Games: Max Payne, Red Dead Revolver, The Warriors, Grand Theft Auto. And none surpassed them in vileness. Sex. Pimps. Hustlers. Murder. Mayhem. Oh, and stealing cars.

But one day the giant surprised the world. It begat an unlikely child, a distant descendant of the first electronic game, PONG, and his name was Table Tennis. (And it was commanded that the giant could not use the name Ping-Pong, as that was held in trademark by Parker Brothers.) And, technically, Table Tennis was mightier than PONG. The spare white lines and silly BLEEPS and BLOOPS of its great-great-great-great-great grandfather were banished.

In their place are the warriors of Table Tennis, diverse human players rendered in spectacular detail by the potent computer power of the Xbox 360. And named among them are Haley from the United States; Jesper from Sweden; Liu Ping, from the exceedingly strong kingdom of table tennis, China; and Luc from France. These and eight other combatants are fearsome wielders of the table tennis blade, which is the macho—and, yes, official—term for what mere mortals call a paddle. Each of these warriors is given a special gift of putting spins and smashes on the 40mm celluloid ball that, in apparent feats of magic, cause the laws of physics to be temporarily suspended.

And Rockstar Games did exercise restraint. There are no explosions. No one dies. Indeed, the warriors play hard, but vile trash talk is nowhere to be found. From a godlike view from above and behind his own warrior, the human fights his electronic foes by maneuvering his player with the Xbox controller. He can order him to move left and right, forward and backward. Another portion of the controller tells his player when to swing, and, lo, if he is skilled enough, to render his own magic upon the ball, namely top spin, back spin and side spin, both left and right.

If the human player is virtuous, he can vanquish the various players and earn future rewards in the form of higher levels of competition. And then it doth become tough. For example, the warrior named Mark casts a powerful spell in which the ball lands on the opposite side of the net, as is decreed by the laws of table tennis, and then skips backward toward whence it came, and the human player’s jaw did sag mightily, so profound was this special magic and so futile his hope of returning the serve.

And this caused the human player to discover a weakness of Rockstar’s Table Tennis. It is only a pale imitation of the sport. The human is denied the tactile pleasure of feeling the ball touch his paddle and, with a subtle flick of the wrist, cause a top-left spin to be rendered upon the ball, causing it to barely strike the far corner of the table, and there would be much weeping and gnashing of teeth by the opposite human player as he swings helplessly at the fleeing orb.

In Table Tennis, the human does not actually put the spin on the ball. He tells the computer to put the spin on the ball, and in this arises eventual boredom—and sore thumbs.

And it came to pass that this human player was playing Table Tennis, and his female child of teenage years stopped to watch. And after a few minutes, she asked, “Why spend the money to buy something like this and just sit there when for a little more you can buy an actual table and get some exercise in the process?”

And wisdom was found in the mouth of the child.

Tom Neven
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