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  • Writer's pictureJoe Pace

Player of Games, #36: Fishing Derby

You can't catch the shark. We tried.

In 1979, Atari was riding the crest of the first home video game boom. So high, in fact, that despite tens of millions of dollars in profits, they continued to pay their game developers relative pittances despite their authorship of successful titles. A group of star programmers bristled at this and bolted, forming their own company, Activision. Activision would go on to decades of programming success with home computer games and later console hits, including some titles you might recognize, primarily Call of Duty. At any rate, in 1980, the Activision founders released their first four games for the Atari. Of these, the one I remember best is Fishing Derby.

I was never much of a fisherman. I leave that nonsense to my father and brother. If I want to sit on a dock or in a boat for hours, I'm going to need a pen and paper instead of a rod and reel. But I get how it can appeal to some. There's a certain communion with nature, a certain Romantic sense of primal masculine hunter-gathering, a certain freedom to drink in the sun. Not my bag, but I guess I get it. Of course, Fishing Derby boiled all of that down to the famously elegant and parsimonious Atari basic elements, right there in your living room. You sit on the dock and try to catch fish. The deeper the better, because it takes longer to bring them to the surface, and the greater chance that the malevolent lurking shark might seize your prize. That's it. That's the game. Because Atari, as the levels progress the shark gets faster and more unpredictable, but other than that it is what it says it is. Beautiful, right?

I've never played Call of Duty, but we used to play Fishing Derby a lot. You'll have to be satisfied with that, Activision.

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