See, kids, there were once these places called arcades. Sure, we might have an Atari or a Colecovision at home, where we could play Frogger or Missile Command on the old black and white TV in the basement, and eventually the Commodore 64 asked us to Press Play on Tape, but back in Reagan's first term you generally left the house to play video games. A roll of quarters and an hour at Dream Machine, playing Gauntlet or Rampage or Dig Dug or Rolling Thunder while mom checked out the new linens at Montgomery Ward's or Bradlees. It was a halcyon, pixellated, simpler time.
In 1983 there were plenty of upright console games to choose from, but there was only one Dragon's Lair. At a time when graphics weren't much beyond Donkey Kong, here was a game in full, lavish animated detail, produced by former Disney legend Don Bluth. Taking advantage of new Laserdisc technology, Dragon's Lair had memory and to spare, with the result that gamers were actually playing the equivalent of a Saturday morning cartoon. It was epic and groundbreaking, so much so that only three video games are enshrined at the Smithsonian Institution: Pong, Pac-Man, and Dragon's Lair.
I was never very good at the game itself. It called for timing, eye-hand-coordination, and memory, and at the age of eight or nine I never seemed to have all three at my command simultaneously. Still, I would watch my older brother Al play with rapt attention and thorough enjoyment, rooting as Dirk slashed and sidled and strutted his way past lizard kings, giddy goons, toxic ooze, and a variety of other perils en route to rescuing the improbably luscious Princess Daphne from the dragon Singe.
The unique technology of Dragon's Lair was part of its peculiar charm, but so was Dirk the Daring himself. He was a knight, apparently, tough and brave, but he was far from infallible. The game's designers clearly put as much time and effort into devising dramatic and cringe-inducing methods to torture and slay the hero as they did into his successful progression. And yet with the next quarter in the slot there he was again, smug and confident and blithely unaware that he would, before long, be reduced to a crumbling skeleton once again. I loved the swagger, the laconic heroism, the resilience. Go get 'em, Dirk.