The cabinet for the game is a large imposing thing when you are young—a television screen larger than the one you have in the comfort of your own home, yourself on the tips of your toes so that you can reach the controls.
When the game is released you are nine-years-old. You are big for your age. You already know this. And yet the game seems so much larger than you are—it towers in ways you did not expect.
You and your mother would go grocery shopping—at the end of the cashier’s line was a row of arcade games; all outdated, nothing fancy. To play the game, you’d have to go to the other side of the mall to the arcade with its dim lights and its teenagers: of rumors and grandeur, of drugs and cigarettes, of grown men pretending to be boys.
You would take the quarters out of your mother’s purse and you would play until you died or your mother had finished writing her check to the cashier—as a result you’d play the games that had no story to them: a mouse being chased by cats, a circle being chased by ghosts.
When the game was released, it was expensive—25 cents could never do. Your mother refused to pay for more than one game; quarters became dollars all too quickly. It was almost impossible to play an entire game—you would pay by the quarter: the game begging for more credits despite having nothing to show for it; your pockets empty of everything except a Velcro wallet that held next to nothing.
You’d spend most of your time watching others play the game: kids with better haircuts and more tokens. The first time you played the game was at a birthday party where the game was unlocked and unlimited: you can play the game over and over and no one would say a word—there’d be no one to take your money; you could just hit start as many times as it was necessary. The other children went ice-skating—they jumped in ball pits, they ate cake. You, pressing start over and over again. You, down by three entering the fourth quarter.
When you got older, you went to Knicks games—you took the train in with your father, you emerged from underneath Madison Square Garden. You stood courtside; you saw how large these people loomed, how large the whole thing seemed to be—the undersides of scoreboards, how the basket somehow looked taller than the ones you shot at in the parks near your house. You read a story once, about how basketball players from New York did not know how to shoot because the rims on the courts were too stiff. If the ball did not sail perfectly through the hoop it would ricochet out—it would rattle and spit. You think of how the Knicks in the game adhere to this stiffness: Patrick Ewing and his failing knees staying close to the basket. Charles Oakley only shooting the ball when grabbing an offensive rebound—his role to protect what he was told to hold dear at any cost. How large they were—how imposing. How their height did not match yours—how they were able only able to hold things if they held them close, how no matter how large you grow, you will always feel incomplete. You thought all of this despite being larger too: that you are a grown man, you are no longer nine. You keep quarters in a jar in your closet. You can take the train by yourself.
The Knicks were perpetually one piece away: everyone playing their role, but coming up just short—that there is something always missing, that they have run out of credits. There is a code in the game where you can make everyone’s head grow: every head bobbling, everyone becoming more cartoonish than they’ve ever been. Your head is already large—even larger than your body. When you were a baby it would roll back—your neck not holding up the weight. The city too, is large—how everyone says it feels alive, how it never sleeps. To say this is to acknowledge that you are a part of something larger than who you are—that you are meant to fill gaps between buildings, be entrenched in the swarm of a sidewalk. That you are here to save the world. That you are here. You have run out of quarters. You are forced to watch the game slip away, clocks ticking until everything resets. You are so far away from competing. You must admit that you are not one piece away from greatness—that you are the piece that is missing.