If you Google the phrase “Giant Joystick,” one of the first names that comes up isn't a well-endowed porn star, but artist Jason Torchinsky, who actually built a scale-model of the classic Atari 2600 controller, except at 15x the size of the ones we had as kids.
Dozens of people showed up at Machine Gallery Thursday night to grab hold of that mighty stick with both hands to play Donkey Kong, Missile Command and Pac-Man projected to appropriately huge proportions on to the wall of the gallery.
(Projected game about 12 or 13 feet high)
Next door at the Echo Park Film Center the already-classic documentary King of Kong was playing, with the filmmakers in attendance, but come on – it's already on DVD, and you can listen to the director's commentary if you really want to know more about Billy Mitchell's hot sauce (And by the way, Billy Mitchell is again the reigning champion at the game, having beaten Steve Wiebe's score).
(Sorry for dark video, but the game had to be played in complete black to see the projection. Trust me, the screen is even bigger than the joystick…)
For at least three hours people took turns climbing up on to the controller like a scene from an Echo Park remake of Honey I Shrunk the Kids.
It turns out though, that trying to get a good score on a giant joystick (which takes another person to hit the jump/fire button, unless you can do that with your foot) is pretty tough, even for those of us that spent our entire years age 9 – 13 glued in front of the console.
Also, Jason Torchinsky said that the controller was never really meant to hold people. “My girlfriend told me they'd climb on it, but I thought people would just stand on one side – not get up on it.”
(Jason Torchinsky takes a moment away from watching people batter his work of art trying desperately to make it to the second screen of Donkey Kong.)
Torchinsky showed off a picture on his iPhone of Atari founder Nolan Bushnell with the joystick when it was still fresh and clean last April at the I Am 8-Bit art show. It's getting a little rough around the edges now, and the button started sticking during some Missile Command games, firing off all 10 shots, leaving our cities terribly vulnerable.
Torchinsky said that some people in Brazil really want to have the joystick sent down, but that it would cost an absolute fortune to do it. And for the next I Am 8-Bit show, he's developing a new game controller that will require 4 or 5 people working together – each responsible for moving the player in a different direction by passing around an object which would complete a circuit on the board they're standing on.
Torchinsky also makes loitering robots, designs games and interfaces and designed a cybernetic dyna-invigorator imparalator arm worn by a topless woman for the 2008 Nerdcore Calendar (October). What we wanted to be when he grew up: He is.
Maybe the biggest difference between playing Donkey Kong in 1984 and and 2008 wasn't the enormous joystick – it was that a lot more cute girls show up to play video games now than back then.