Flashback: Berzerk and a different state of mind

September 27, 2013


I don’t see games as a relaxation tool. They are simply too involved, they require too much thinking or too many fast reflexes for me to see them that way. Many seem to enjoy the opportunity to think about something else, to ignore their routines for a while; for me, games are energy drains, and I kind of like them that way.

I have to admit: I’m not a quiet person. I have more energy that I can normally spend, and I get bored easily. I play games, not to avoid any problems I might have, but to add more of them to my mind. I need to keep my wheels turning, and games let me do that.

And yet, I don’t always have the energy to keep them so. I can’t play Space Harrier if I’m in a sleepy state, and the rough negotiations I like in my board games need more psychological finesse that I afford after studying for hours.

So I play Berzerk instead.


Berzerk doesn’t have level design, but it’s precise. As I move from move to room and shoot a new wave of murderous robots, I realize I don’t push the joysticks as hard as in Robotron or Defender. I move slowly and with care. I must go through the levels unscathed, but they exist. No questions are asked, but I must keep thinking.

My buttons make a hollow sound when I press them. Cheap plastic, I suppose. I’m carefully orchestrating my movements to make the enemies fight each other, but a part of my mind starts to drift elsewhere. I don’t need such a high level of concentration; this isn’t a surprising game. Surprises would run its minimalism.

You can make the robots destroy themselves against a wall. It’s kind of silly, I suppose, but nothing you would question for much longer than a minute. I just make them do it, and that part of my mind speaks again. I start to get aware of where I am in the room, and who is moving up close. My eyes are glued to the screen, but I have enough mental power to lead my mind elsewhere.


It’s strange, because normally I wouldn’t care about such observations. They would either bore me to death or distract me from the game’s nuances. But Berzerk puts me in “the zone,” as they call it, where just enough of my mind is busy to allow me to feel free from it. It’s a bit like standing in the shower; soon you focus on the water dripping off your skin and you stay there for a while. I run out of credits, but new ones line up almost automatically. I’m in a relaxed state.

It’s kind of haunting.

Even though Berzerk was one of the most popular games back in 1980, being a game by a pinball company, ports of it are scarce and of varying quality. You are forced to choose between the Atari 2600 port, in which robots can only fire one shot, or the Atari 5200 one, which is much better and includes speech but on a much less popular console. There are also clones and inferior ports for MSX and Vectrex, but most people won’t be interested in those.