Last Weekend In Toronto

Well, that was it. Last weekend (not this current weekend) was the last weekend I spent living in Toronto.

That weekend was also Gay Pride in Toronto and, as was the case last year, I was right in the middle of things. My apartment was in the centre of it all with my front door clogged with revelers, my street closed to traffic and my living room windows giving me a decent view of one of the main concert stages. It was loud, it went late and it gave me headaches. I don’t mind the event as there’s plenty of people watching to be done and roasted corn (made right outside my apartment) to be eaten but, this year, it felt very disconnected. I was disassembling furniture and packing boxes and archiving old CDs and cleaning out old nooks to the sounds of a DJ and thousands and thousands of loud and celebratory people.

View of gay pride crowds

I needed an escape so I headed down to the Dundas streetcar stop, rode it through downtown and Chinatown and Little Portugal, walked down Ossington to Queen West and hopped through a few art galleries. Queen West was unusually quiet for a Saturday afternoon. Down there I checked out the Evolution: 30 Years of Computer Games exhibit at Interaccess. Despite the huge party happening outside my door, I chose to spend the afternoon by crossing half the city to go play video games on computers from the 1980s in an art gallery. This is a good summary of my tendencies and interests.

The space was small but it covered a wide range of hardware and software, most of it on systems that I have no familiarity with (I started with the NES so I didn’t have any of those 80s computer systems.) You can see some blurry shots of the items on display in my flickr stream. I played, or merely touched, every machine except for the Microsoft Flight Simulator and the one playing Gears of War: it was a Games For Windows sponsored event. What struck me the most is that, despite the improvements in visual fidelity and processing power, game design hasn’t changed much from what was on display there. The real change was in the hardware and user interface design.

Retro games

Playing a Space Invaders clone is familiar and easy until you do it on this controller. Everyone knows Tetris and how fun it can be, but they don’t know the pain that comes from playing it on a clunky, unresponsive 80s keyboard with some totally arbitrary key mappings. Rampage is a classic game that hasn’t aged well — it sucks — but it sucks that much more when using this bloody thing. Hell, in a fit of Simpsons-esque lunacy, I couldn’t even get this game to work. Pressing “any” key would bring up another screen asking me to press something else. Hitting that would bring me back to the “press any key” prompt screen. Repeat until capitulation.

That’s the most obvious improvement in gaming over the last three decades. Games, especially on consoles, just work. Even the bad games. You don’t have to deal with clunky controllers and C64 load prompts and awkward, slow storage devices (one game there was running off of a compact cassette.) You just put it in, grab the ergonomic controller and go. It’s why I’m not entirely sold on the Playstation 3, it seems to be a step backwards in some regards.

Anyway, after that diversion I headed home along old familiar streets. I stopped by at Chippy’s along the way for some Herring and ate it at Trinity Bellwoods. After that I walked along Queen West and down Bathurst to King St and through the downtown core past the Eaton Centre through Yonge-Dundas Square by the old Sam’s sign accross Ryerson University back to the crowds around my apartment on Church St. These are all well-traveled routes but on that day they felt different. Condos were sprouting where there were none. Old favourite restaurants were boarded up with “for lease” signs in their windows. Stores and signs had changed all over. This is normal life-of-the-city change but it all feels sudden and drastic when noticed for what could be the very last time.

I’ll be back in Toronto. I’ll visit. Maybe I’ll work here again. The hope, however, is that I won’t. This is entirely dependent on what I do over the next four months, but it’s the goal. I don’t hate the city, quite the contrary, but I’m done with it. It doesn’t feel the same anymore and it doesn’t feel like it’s for me. Toronto is like one of the controllers for those old videogame systems: nostalgic, full of memories and fun to play with occasionally but I wouldn’t want to be stuck with it. It’s time for something more ergonomic, something that suits my matured tastes. I fly out on Monday.

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