"Argghh!” he cries out, his face contorted with pain, his hand spastically cramping. He grimaces again and lurches backward, the pitiable hand clutching his silvery tormentor jerking above his head. “Aaarrrggghkk!” he cries out yet again, his voice more strangled than before.
Copy editor Greg Ford is a nice guy, and I’m systematically electrocuting him. Over and over again.
Now, in spite of what you’re undoubtedly thinking, I have not snapped some jumper cables on to poor electrified Greg’s swanky modes. Sad Mister Ford is getting fried voluntarily because barely codified pain infliction is what we at CGW call “play.” Greg is in fact playing the latest thing in electric (not electronic) gaming—a little gizmo called Lightning Reaction, which I got from www. baronbob.com. Yeah, it’s been a pretty slow few months for games around here.
The Lightning Reaction is a kinda chintzy little deal that looks like a bad original Star Trek prop. It’s a silver-colored plastic pain machine with four handles, each with a red thumb trigger, connected with red wire to a central base holding three AAA batteries that pack a surprising amount of punch. A large button in the middle of the central unit flashes red while a banshee wail—the same whining up-and-down sound that crippled crew members of the Enterprise at least every third episode—screeches, and then the button goes green. The last person to buzz in is treated to an electric shock that rockets up the arm and hammers the elbow. It is, at best, simply painful. At worst, it is traumatic—years of painstakingly re-establishing spousal trust after the “pull my finger” episode of ’94 have been trashed, and my wife has joined the neighbors in shrieking at the mere sight of me.
So, is the Lightning Reaction a game? Well, if Russian roulette is a game, then sure. Four people can square off, and there’s obviously one utterly and completely profound loser about to be served up every time that center button is pressed to launch another round. It sounds like a toy, but according to the box it came in, it isn’t. “Not intended to be used as a toy!” trumpets the box over and over again. “May interfere with electrical devices such as pacemakers!” Hmm, sounds as ominous as the burrito-heating microwave at 7-11. “Do not use if you suffer from epilepsy or any similar or related illnesses!” Apparently, whatever it may or may not be in the minds of its creators, it is, at the very least, a lawsuit just waiting to happen. “Keep out of reach of children!” screams the box. “THIS IS NOT A TOY, KEEP OUT OF REACH OF CHILDREN,” it proclaims, the subtext clearly being “FOR SURELY THEY SHALL BE SLAIN!”
I carried the Lightning Reaction around for weeks, disingenuously tempting innocents into trying it in an effort to discover one thing: If it isn’t meant for kids, epileptics, or Dick Cheney, just who is it meant for? And if it isn’t a toy, then what is it? I can’t say for sure. It is an excellent taxonomy tool, easily and conveniently sorting people into one of two categories: ’fraidy cats and idiots. A good 25 percent of the people working on this floor—including alleged gamers toiling on sister mags like Xbox Nation—refused even to try it. People who endured tattoos couldn’t muster up the courage for just one round of the Potential Voluntary 15 Seconds of Self-Electrocution Demigame. Others couldn’t get enough and did it repeatedly. Even after they lost. A number of times. The most die-hard self-zappers were found in our copy editing crew, which, upon further reflection, really makes a kind of sense: Correcting every word written in every Ziff Davis gaming magazine all day has left their arms entirely insensate, anaesthetized by the ravages of advanced carpal tunnel syndrome. Either that, or years of reading the gibberish printed in these pages makes the ritualistic application of torture pleasurable in comparison. All I know for sure is that the seemingly mild-mannered Susie Ochs could absorb a lightning strike and laugh while her eyebrows smoldered.
Ultimately, the antijoy buzzer may just be what the box alleges—“a novelty item.” Because once the novelty wore off, pretty much no one wanted anything to do with it. It’s not much of a game, though you could certainly construct some games around it and they’d all probably be better than the last Tomb Raider. Thankfully, we’re finally into the good part of the year, Doom 3 and The Sims 2 are out, and we no longer have to resort to something on par with recreational paper cuts for entertainment. Thank God.
Copyright © 2004 Ziff Davis Media Inc. All Rights Reserved. Originally appearing in Computer Gaming World.