He’s a Pinball Wizard*

Arcade and Video GamesDo you play video and arcade games? A lot of people do. And arcade (and now video) games have been around for a long time, too – ever since the 1930s. Gamers will tell you that arcade and video games are fun, assist in eye-hand coordination and are great ways to meet other gamers. And with today’s online gaming communities, you can play video games against opponents from all over the world. Or, you can simply try to best your own top score.

Because arcade and video games are so popular, it’s little wonder that crime-fictional characters play them. Here are just a few examples to show you what I mean. Fans of Val McDermid’s Carol Jordan/Tony Hill series will know that Hill is a criminal psychologist and profiler who works with police detective Carol Jordan on many of her cases. Hill has plenty of baggage from his past, and his physical health isn’t particularly good. Those things, plus the stresses of his work, can be very difficult to bear. But Hill has an outlet: he enjoys playing video games. They help him de-stress and focus.

And Hill isn’t the only gamer among fictional sleuths. Chris Grabenstein’s Danny Boyle is too. As the series begins, Boyle is a ‘summer cop’ who works with the regular police force of Sea Haven, New Jersey when the tourists come to town. As the series goes on, he becomes a full-time cop himself. Like a lot of seaside towns, Sea Haven has gaming arcades that are very popular with the tourists. But Boyle enjoys them too. Here’s what he says about it in Free Fall:
 

‘The video arcade game Urban Termination II is one of the many ways I hone the cop skill that, not to brag, has made me somewhat legendary amongst the boys in blue up and down the Jersey Shore. I have, shall we say, a special talent.
I can shoot stuff real good.’
 

Boyle will tell you that playing video games is actually a form of professional development.

Kerry Greenwood’s Corinna Chapman is a Melbourne baker who lives and works in a building called Insula. One of the shops in that building, Nerds, Inc., is run by Taz, Rat and Gully, whom Chapman refers to as The Lone Gunmen of Nerds, Inc. They are all gaming/computer wizards who deal in hundreds of different video games. They spend more time in front of their computers than they do with live humans, so they are experts in just about any kind of game or computer repair. They don’t exactly have a healthy diet, preferring cheese twists and pizza to anything like a balanced meal. And they don’t come out into daylight unless it’s necessary. Sometimes, Chapman finds them a little difficult to communicate with, since computers are not her specialty. But she does respect their knowledge, and finds them very helpful more than once.

Gaming can be a very social sort of activity, since even online, gamers can compete against each other. And of course in arcades there’s even more interaction. And that interaction is a part of the plot of Wendy James’ The Lost Girls. The real action in the novel begins during the summer of 1978, when fourteen-year-old Angela Buchanan’s parents reluctantly give her permission to spend a few weeks with her cousins Mick and Jane Griffin, and their parents Doug and Barbara. Angela, Mick and some of Mick’s friends spend their share of time at a nearby drugstore, where they play pinball. Angela’s no expert at the game, but the group allows her to join in. One day, Angela plays some pinball with the group as usual, and then says she’s heading back to her aunt and uncle’s house. She never arrives. Not long afterwards her body is discovered strangled. At first, the police concentrate on her friends and family members, but there are no good leads in that direction. Still, they are the most likely suspects. Then, a few months later, there’s another murder. Sixteen-year-old Kelly McIvor is found strangled in the same way that Angela was. Now the press begins to dub the killer the Sydney Strangler, and an all-out effort is made to catch the murderer. The police aren’t successful though, and the killings go unsolved. Years later, journalist Erin Fury is doing a documentary on families of murder victims and how they’ve been impacted by the tragedies that have happened. As a part of that project, she interviews Jane and her husband, Mick, and their parents. As she does, we learn bit by bit what really happened that summer, and who really killed Angela and Kelly.

Video and arcade games can be dangerous in and of themselves, too, at least in crime fiction. In Lindy Cameron’s Redback, for instance, we are introduced to journalist Scott Dreher, who’s doing a piece of the use of war simulation games to recruit terrorists. He’s on a flight to Japan to meet with legendary game designer Hiroyuki Kaga when he notices a fellow passenger playing a new game called Global WarTek. He gets permission to take a look at the game and soon makes a discovery that links that game to a shadowy group of terrorists. In another plot thread, crack Australian rescue/retrieval team Redback has become aware of a series of disasters, including a hostage situation, a train explosion, three murders and an attack on a US military base. They soon discover that this same terrorist group is behind those tragedies, and work to stop them before there are any more deaths. The key to the group’s goals and identity turns out to be Global WarTek.

See what I mean? Arcade and video games aren’t just fun ways to earn prizes. They’re taken very seriously by a lot of people. Sometimes deadly seriously…
 
 
 

*NOTE: The title of this post is a line from The Who’s Pinball Wizard. Yes, I know. An obvious choice. You’re welcome.

12 Comments

Filed under Chris Grabenstein, Kerry Greenwood, Lindy Cameron, Val McDermid, Wendy James

12 responses to “He’s a Pinball Wizard*

  1. OK, I have to admit defeat. You’ve got me thoroughly stumped – I can’t think of a single arcade or video game in crime fiction off the top of my head. But I do know that the Japanese are obsessed with pachinko – the little metal balls you can collect from arcade games and then trade in for rather silly goodies. They stop off at a pachinko parlour on the way home from work and play for an hour or so – like the English stop off at the pub.

    • Marina Sofia – Oh, I didn’t know that! That’s really interesting. Maybe you didn’t have literary examples, but you taught me and I’m grateful for it. 🙂

  2. Kay

    I love Val McDermid’s Tony Hill and Danny Boyle and Ceepak are the best. I’m going to look for THE LOST GIRLS – sounds like something I’d like. The only book that come to mind for me – not really video games but still in a sort of gaming type atmosphere and not a crime novel – READY PLAYER ONE by Ernest Cline, set in a virtual reality. Very interesting book. Oh, and didn’t Peter May write one book that used a virtual reality type set up. VIRTUALLY DEAD was the name and I never did read it. I’ll have to try it.

    • Kay – Oh, I like the Ceepak/Boyle duo very much too! And Tony Hill. Each of them are interesting characters. I hope you’ll like The Lost Girls. I admit I’m a big fan of Wendy James, but still, I think it’s a terrific novel. Thanks too for mentioning the Cline, which I’ve not (yet) read. Something to look out for, it seems. And if you ask me, a Peter May novel is always worth trying 🙂

  3. I’m like Marina Sofia, you’ve got me stumped! Nothing to add except my admiration for the breadth of your reading and your memory…

  4. Clarissa Draper

    I can’t think of another pinball novel but I do know that many take their games seriously.

  5. Pinball and video games show up a lot in TV shows… Either the victim or suspects are very involved in the games, or sometimes even the protagonists.

  6. Col

    Nope – no examples here. I have some of the Grabenstein books on the kindle…….one day!

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