Friday, June 21, 2013

Eric Gerber on Photon

Continuing the side trip through articles written about Photon Houston, here's columnist Eric Gerber's first-hand account from just a few months after their opening day. There are all kinds of interesting details in here. (Seriously, the head of the Houston school district, superintendent Reagan, endorsed Photon?)
Electrifying Fantasy
Eric Gerber
Houston Post
February 2, 1986
When I was about 8 years old, I would put a colander on my head, use a raggedy bath towel for a cape and go flying about the house blasting space monsters with a rotary eggbeater — uh, ray gun.
And here I am today, nearly three decades later, more or less in the same situation.
The colander's been replaced by a high-tech space helmet that would turn Darth Vader black with envy. Instead of an egg beater, I've got a phaser, a sleek light-beam weapon. I'm also wearing a control module over my chest, and a 13-pound battery pack is cinched around my waist.
I'm not exactly flying — and the targets this morning aren't space monsters but other people wearing this space-age gear.

We're playing Photon, alternately dashing and skulking through a darkened arena trying to score points by electronically zapping each other.
Photon is — to use the hyperspace language of its press releases — "a totally new, futuristic approach to amusements and recreation that allows a high degree of player involvement in a fast, fantasy-based, life-sized contest of wiles, wits and physical skills."
Whew. Maybe you could simply say Photon is an 8-year-old's make-believe made real.
Photon began in Dallas in 1984, the creation of one George Carter, who designed the equipment which uses infra-red rays, radio signals and computer monitoring. The high-tech amusement's success in Dallas led to other Photon centers in New Jersey, Toronto and Denver.
In December, Houstonians were given a chance to join in the phaser fun & games. A Photon center opened at 6025 Chimney Rock, a 32,000-square-foot complex housed in a former Safeway store. (It was scheduled to open back in August, but the extensive remodeling took longer than expected.)
Business at the Houston center — $3 for six and half[sic] minutes — has been, well, electrifying.
In fact, the Photon concept apparently has been so successful that a Houston-based financial services firm, Dominion Capital, has decided to bankroll several other centers. A second Houston facility is planned (possibly in the Clear Lake or 1960 area) as well as centers in Austin, San Antonio and Honolulu. Those are the definites — other possible locations throughout the Southwest are being scouted, Dominion Capital says.
And, folks, setting up these life-size video games ain't cheap.
You‘re looking at $1 million or so in equipment and construction costs, says a Photon spokesman. (Additionally, Dominion Capital will probably be buying the real estate for the centers, so factor in land costs, too.)
Obviously, they think America‘s hungry for Photon.
One person who agrees is Billy Reagan, superintendent of HISD.
Reagan appeared Wednesday at a press conference at the Houston Photon center to offer his endorsement of the game. He has no financial involvement with the enterprise as far as I know. He just thinks Photon's swell.
"lt allows you to work out your frustrations, aggressions and anxieties," said Reagan, who‘s observed the game but never actually played it. "It's a chance for kids who aren't super athletes to compete. There may be some concern that it fosters violence, but I brought two child psychologists along and neither found it objectionable."
Lest you think Photon is just a kid's game, the Photon folks pointed out that the average age of its players is 22 (and 28 for league play).
"We get a real mix of people — students, doctors, lawyers," a spokesman said. "And wrecker drivers."
Wrecker drivers?
"Yes. For some reason, we get a large number of wrecker drivers."
Playing my first game of Photon, l was impressed with the physical qualities of the event — equipment that can only be described as neat-o, eerie cosmic music, the flashing lights, the labyrinthine playing field. lt‘s a little like walking right into your own sci-fi movie. But, to tell the truth, slinking around in the dark to "kill" other people was a little atavistic for fuddy-duddy old me.
If I played more often, I suppose I might learn to like it. Then where would I be?

Image of article from microfilm


  1. I had moved away from Houston at the end of 1984, so only got to play SLF and Photon a few times during visits. I am sure I would have been a regular if I wasn't living two hours away. It had closed by the time I had my first car else I am sure I would have made a road trip just to play.

  2. Hah, wonder why wrecker drivers were into it? Quite funny.

    Always good to read people endorsing this when they didn't even partake in the activities (Frank Zappa was the same with video games: he didn't play them, but he liked hearing their sounds), much less condemn them. Years later and laser tag is still around here and there (not a huge hit like people thought it might be), where are all the serial killers spurned by this game? Mention "laser tag" and people wouldn't even bat an eye in regards to it nowadays.