Back in 88’ my father, my brother Jaye [age 5] and I [age 8] played a game called Ladder on an old original laptop computer called a Kaypro. We collectively tried to beat each other’s high score. The goal of ultimately getting and keeping the top score was a daunting task, each of us always nipping at the heels of the other. After about two years of heavy play it became the center of bragging rights amongst the three of us. My brother was constantly surprising my father and I with large scores yet the competition really heated up with myself and my father. Dad who probably wasted several of his college years playing the game would consistently lead the pack.
Ladder is similar to Donkey Kong but is painted on the screen using plain text. Your character is represented as a “P” also known as a “Lad”, and you have to complete the level in a certain amount of time, the whole way you must avoid the barrels that are represented by the letter “O”. There are three ways to earn points. The first is by completing the level fast, which in turn adds the unused seconds of the clock onto your score. The second is by jumping over the barrels. The third is by collecting the pots of gold represented by a “&” There are a total of about 7 levels. After beating them all you start back at the beginning but three things have now changed. The time on the clock is a lot less, the barrels have increased in speed and so has your character.
In the spring of 91’ my father attained the unreachable. Jaye and I came to visit him in his office and he greeted us.
“Boys, the Kaypro is set up if you want to play Ladder”.
This exclamation resulted in a minor stampede towards the Kaypro. My brother being smaller was able to squeeze in between my hold of the desk and the chair. We were still jockeying for position when Jaye suddenly exclaimed “Jared look!” I followed the direction of his extended finger, my eyes focused on the screen and my jaw dropped.
“25,895 points!” I yelped.
We turned and found my father with an obvious smirk, poorly controlling a silent chuckle. 25,895 points was about 5,000 over what had been the current high score. Those 5,000 points were the numerical equivalent of a digital Everest looming off in the distance. I had to face facts. The score was so high that I may never again hold the top score.
Focusing on the score and trying to keep up a bold front I stated “I can beat that.”
“Oh yeah?” My father asked as his eye brow rose in disbelief.
“Yup.” I answered.
Confident and assured in his own score my Father suddenly said.
“I am so sure that you can not beat my high score that I will give you $60 dollars if you do.”
Now let me make this clear. My family was poor. We had a house, a car, and food on the table but our budget was very tight. For Dad to offer $60 dollars was his way of completing his victory. Other things make this type of statement. In chess for example it is the laying down of the king. In World War II it was the second atomic bomb dropped on the Japanese. Indeed, many things make this statement. But in the saga of our ongoing game of Ladder, that statement folks, had just been made.
* * *
Realizing that like the old west I was being “Called out”, my brother Jaye slowly rose from the computer chair and backed away from the Kaypro computer. My fingers twitching I took his seat and faced the glowing green screen. Taking a deep breath I looked over my shoulder at Jaye.
He came up behind me and whispered “Come on Jared.”
I turned and pressed the enter key and threw myself in to the game. I jumped and dodged my way through the first 12 levels never coming close to dieing. The whole time my brother acted out with finite detail all my amazing on screen moves. If I jumped, he physically jumped behind me. If I climbed a ladder he was right behind me, miming out the scaling of that very ladder. We were a gaming force the likes of which the world had never seen. With the growing of my extra lives, so too did my confidence. I risked a glance over at my father and I thought I saw something, anxiety?
By this time I was up to level 25 which was entitled “Ghost Town”. There are two ways to get through this level. One way was a quite a bit longer. But being as it had large gaps in between jumps it was also considered the “safe bet”. The “hard way” was faster but you had to make about 4 consecutive jumps. Mess up on any one of those and you were falling into a pit of spikes.
Now I had faced off with “Ghost Town” a couple of times prior as I cycled through the levels. But this was different. My “P” character was now quite a bit faster. The barrels were also gaining speed and coming in larger groups. Every time prior I had taken that “safe bet”. My motto was “slow and steady wins the race”. Now though, when I would attempt to go with the “safe bet”, the clock would run down and my character would perish just as I was about to reach the end. Even worse was that every time I took the “hard way” the spikes were always waiting. My father’s smile slowly grew as my lives quickly dwindled.
Before I knew it, I was on my last guy. With Jaye in position my character started forward. My 1st jump came, followed quickly my 2nd and 3rd. The 4th jump loomed ahead and I quickly gave a precisely timed “tap” on the spacebar. Suddenly I was flying through the air, the green spikes rushing beneath my loyal “P”. But as my character came down Jaye and I fell with it, realizing that it would not make the jump. It fell towards oblivion and I turned and faced my father. Dad’s laugh and smirk were utterly supreme and filled the room. My score of 21,544 was far too little to even cause him an ounce of worry.
Seeing that I was pretty shook up from the ordeal and with his ego at an all time high Dad stated.
“Heck, I’ll give you two more chances.”
Now I was still defeated, and my father saw this. What he didn’t see however, was the smallest spark of hope as it lit my eyes.
* * *
I jumped and dodged, and Jaye dodged and jumped.
“Noooooooooo” we both screamed as my final life was sent down toward the infamous Ghost Town Spikes.
“Yessss” my Dad answered. “Victory is mine!”
“That’s the second time boys, you have a final try but we all know that it is not going to change anything!”
Again I was defeated and frustrated so I quickly got up and left the room. I sat outside my Dad’s office wracking my brain, hopelessly trying to find a way toward victory. Jaye came out and consoled me and we both sat and grew a strategy. Settling on what our next move would be I went back inside and opened the door to my Dad’s office.
“Could you please bring the Kaypro home this week so I can practice?” I asked.
“Sure son.” He answered. His teeth shinning as he forced a laugh back down into a smile.
* * *
I awoke with a start, trying to sift through the fog of sleep. Narrowing down the unwanted thoughts and focusing in on the answer I knew was there some where.
“I got it!” I thought.
Leaping out of my bed, I headed towards the living room. I found that the Kaypro was gone along with my Dad’s car. My brother followed rubbing the sand from his eyes. I picked up the phone and called my father.
“Dad, I think I am ready to give it a final try.” I said.
My brother’s eyes widened to enormous proportions, suddenly large with the realization that I was risking it all.
“Are you sure you want to do this son?” My Dad asked “This is your last time you know.”
“I’m sure” I said
“You guys can come after school on Monday.” And he hung up the phone
Jaye exclaimed “Jared you haven’t even gotten close to his score when you practice!”
“I know.” I answered “But I have a plan.”
* * *
Monday rolled in and Jaye and I showed up at Dad’s office. He watched us out the corner of his eye. The Kaypro was booted up and ready to go. I sat down and then Jaye pulled up a chair and sat down next to me. This caught my father’s eye for a moment. He was expecting the same type of game play, where I would play and Jaye would re-enact. It was obvious that this was not the case. Jaye and I were no longer rowdy. No longer did we leave wasted energy in our wake. We were now completely and utterly focused. My father thought about this for an instant, then turned and went back to his work.
Cool as ice I pressed the enter key and started a new game. I began it like I always did cruising through the first 12 levels. Levels 18 and 19 gave me some trouble and as I growled under my breath Jaye put a reassuring hand on my shoulder. I gave it my all and made it to level 24 entitled “Long Island” only one level away from the accursed Ghost Town. Now my dad was paying a little bit more attention. I was cruising through level “Long Island” when suddenly, and to my Dad’s great amusement, I died on a very easy section.
“Heh!” He chuckled
I gritted my teeth, let out a sigh, and started the level over. Making it easily through most of the level I again died on an easy section. My Father laughed out loud unable to believe my bad luck. Once more I started the level over and once again I died on what should have been easily avoided.
“Come on Jared you’re giving up” My Dad said heading back to his desk.
Then Jaye did something that sounds still today. It was not loud, though it filled the room. It was not fierce, yet it was our battle cry. The sound contained the simple fact that we had just knocked over my Father’s King.
Jaye simply giggled.
That very sound caught my Dad’s ear and forced him to come back and watch my actions thoroughly. I was starting the level as always, jumping over the barrels and various pits. I easily worked my way to the end of the level. But as I got to the end, I turned around and started back down jumping over barrels the whole time gaining points every step of the way. My Dad’s eyes drifted to my score. To my Father’s shock he suddenly realized, though I was losing the singular battles I was winning this proverbial war.
The strategy to pick a level that had a clock with a large amount of time was the key. I then jumped over the barrels incurring massive amounts of points. The clock would expire and I would die and start the process over.
“I can’t believe this.” My father said looking on in stunned disbelief as he lowered his head into his palms.
I laughed excitedly now and Jaye was dancing, intoxicated with our inevitable victory.
Over the next 15 minutes I proceeded to forfeit every one of my extra lives on level 24 “Long Island”. When it was over my score was walloping 28,560 as I wasn’t just trying to beat my Dad’s score so much needing to make a statement.
You see, other things make this type of statement. In chess for example it is the laying down of the king. In World War II it was the second atomic bomb dropped on the Japanese. Indeed, many things make this statement. But in the saga of our ongoing game of Ladder, that statement folks, had just been made.