Welcome to Memory Card. Here, we embark on one final—maybe even fatal—playthrough of the forgotten games of our past. Just like the old days, we might pull some all nighters, we might lose a friend or two, we might resort to eating too many Hot Pockets. Let’s see how far we’ve come. Or regressed.
I am sure that Rock F. doesn’t remember a time before he bought a ticket to Bumbly Beach, but there’s no doubt he’ll ever forget its first ride. Its name was Guy Fieri’s Revenge—a roller coaster painted orange and green and yellow, half the size of the park. The ride immediately rocketed upward at a nearly 90-degree angle, then shot directly back down. This repeated four times until it crashed after the final drop. No one ever entered the red-checkered queue line for Guy Fieri’s Revenge, else they would die, a bloodless, pixelated mess to be mopped up later.
Summer 2020 is cancelled. It’s sad, yeah. All the summer staples, such as sunny afternoons at the ballpark, rooftop drinking, and concerts? Kaput. Amusement parks, too—though those are still kind of open, which will probably-definitely get a whole bunch of people sick. As much as I love theme parks, a cocktail of sweat and the coronavirus doesn’t sound too great right now. So, I decided to revisit an old friend for my yearly fix of funnel cakes and death traps: RollerCoaster Tycoon, the 1999 sandbox classic, where you can build the theme park of your dreams. The goal? Fill it with rides and happy guests, and try not to send anyone careening off an unfinished roller coaster or drown your guests in lakes. (All things this game designed for children lets you do!)
When I fired up RollerCoaster Tycoon and chose Bumbly Beach as my first park to revive, I remembered that the game provides oddly detailed descriptions of what park guests are thinking at all times. Probably feeling some unchecked angst from the past five months, I decided to ruin the life of one lucky guest: Rock F., who visited Bumbly Beach on a sunny afternoon—and never came back.
Rock F. wasn’t sure how he got to Bumbly Beach. Or came to exist, really. His first memory was strolling the border of the park, the patch of skin where his ears are supposed to be taking in its ominous, twinkly jingle, the low roar of screams and artificial joy. It was solely inhabited by a hundred lost souls, pacing back and forth on concrete paths because Guy Fieri’s Revenge was too intense for them.
Rock F. couldn’t leave, even if he wanted to.
Back in those early days, his head echoed with thoughts, cravings, feelings. I’m hungry. The music is nice here. My nausea tolerance is low. My preferred ride intensity is 74. He was never sure what any of it meant. Or, why he was outfitted with the same clothes—the blue shirt, khaki pants, and brown shoes he was born into this life wearing. In his pocket, forever, was a map, a beach umbrella, and $ 58.50. How could he fit a five-foot-long umbrella in the pocket of his khaki pants?
As I started adding more rides, Bumbly Beach became a near-utopia for Rock F.’s low nausea tolerance. For the first time in his short (or long?) life, I bet he was happy. There was a bumper boats ride. (Brody Jenner’s Bumper Boats.) One of those cornfield mazes you see in the movies. (The Nic Cage Hedge Maze.) Rock F. got lost for a moment there, stuttering back and forth. Then the lil’ guy caught a matinee of Alien Invaders at the 3D cinema. (Chad Kroeger’s Canadian Cinema.) He liked it so much that he stayed for Mouse Tails. Before Rock F. wrapped up, figuring it was finally time to grab some fries and begin to ask himself some questions (Will I die here? Can I die? Why don’t I have a full last name?), he tested his nerves in the haunted house. (Katherine Heigl’s Nightmare.) When he walked back outside, his eyes readjusting from the nearly pitch-black, likely abestos-ridden interior, Bumbly Beach looked… different. Chaotic. Like a scene from Alien Invaders.
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Bumbly Beach’s guests were darting around, much faster than usual, bouncing aimlessly. All the paths had suddenly vanished, along with the bathrooms. The food and drinks stands—Vin Diesel’s Drinks Stall, Bill Belichick’s Popcorn Stall—were all gone, too. A woman walked up to to Rock F., identified herself as Diana P., said Snooki’s Big Jersey Rager was too intense for her, and hurled on the ground in front of him. The handymen and janitors had seemingly been fired, so no one kept the rides from crashing or the speckled puke from dotting the vast patch of grass that was now Bumbly Beach.
It was total madness. Our hero looked up, and up, and up, as a giant pair of claws—fuck, like the ones at an amusement park claw-drop game—hurtled toward him. They dragged Rock F. across the entire park, all the way to a patch of mysterious, undeveloped land, where there was one large, elevated lake with a small square of grass in the middle. The claws dropped Rock F. on the tiny patch of land. Rock F. had a choice: Fall off and drown, or walk around in circles until the claws’ return.
Thirty-five years passed.
Rock F. paced back and forth, holding in a shit for 35 years. During that time, he only ate once, when, 17 years in, a pizza shop was built right next to him on the lake. He used his last $ 20 to buy a single slice. Sometimes, when he was especially lonely, I imagine he looked in the distance at Bumbly Beach’s new bobsled coaster, Cuba Gooding Jr. Presents Snow Dogs: The Ride, and wondered how a bobsled coaster was even physically possible.
It’s not clear whether or not this was intentional, but every couple of years, Rock F., inevitably, would fall into the water. Every time, I’d scoop him up and reposition him on his sliver of hell. After year 35, it was time. I let him drown. After Rock F. passed away, I shut my laptop and put away the game for good. A couple days later, I found myself…mourning Rock F.? During my RollerCoaster Tyoon replay, he became something of a quarantined brother in arms—both of us wandering the same small space, looking back at each other through the screen, going ever so slightly insane. I realized that we became friends in our multiversed purgatories, screams roaring from both sides.
When Rock F. paced, I imagine he thought, I want to go home. What was home? One of the rental properties that surrounded the park? Bumbly Beach itself? Maybe, eventually, he heard the faint cries for help from Guy Fieri’s Revenge, the hurls of the guests leaving Rob Schneider’s Burger Bar, the incessant squeaks from Mouse Tails, and smiled. Maybe, with time, Rock F. realized that he was made with one purpose: to inhabit this place alone.
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