Moments of Inertia by Rachel Crawford

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San Francisco

I was recently in San Francisco for five-ish days to attend Game Developer’s Conference. It was my first time in an American city – previous trips to the US have taken me only to skiing resorts. We spent most of our time in and around the conference, and only really had time for a bit of proper sightseeing on Saturday.

It’s a nice place, but very different to what I’m used to. In Scotland we barely have any tall buildings, so when I’m surrounded on all sides by skyscrapers I felt a little bit like I was going to fall into the sky, which is the most country-bumpkin thing about myself I’ve ever admitted (on this blog).

We visited Pier 39 in Fisherman’s Wharf, the touristy waterfront district, where they have lots of shops selling seafood and souvenir stuff, and sealions.

It’s also one of the places where you can get a boat out to Alcatraz, the famous prison island, or to explore the Bay. You can see the Golden Gate Bridge in the distance. It’s called that because it bridges the Golden Gate, which is the narrow strait connecting the Bay to the Pacific Ocean.

On one of the piers at Fisherman’s Wharf is the Musée Mécanique, a museum for old arcade machines, from titles as recent as Tekken to contraptions that date back to as early as the 1930s, honky-tonk self-playing pianos, zoetropes with handles the viewer must crank, archaic shooting galleries. It’s free to enter but you have to pay about a quarter for each machine, like a real arcade. What I was most struck by was getting to play an original version of Asteroids and discovering just how much I underestimated the brightness of the game’s vector display. The bullets fired by the player are like phosphorus flares against the deep blackness of the screen.

San Francisco is a very pretty city, full of art and ornate architecture, and it’s a beautiful place to visit – but I’d be remiss if I didn’t mention the vast inequality on display around almost every corner. Wealthy game developers file into the Moscone Centre every day past homeless people who are living in tents on the streets, pushing their belongings in shopping trolleys.

I don’t know. I wanted to write something ‘profound’ and stimulating about this, but how can anyone? People are suffering. And it’s all very well to point out San Francisco’s particularly upsetting homelessness problem and what a stark contrast it all is to the towers of glass and gold, and just tut and shake your head like it’s not something that could happen here, but it is something that could happen here. It’s something that already happens here.

And it’s a solveable problem. We all know it is.

Sorry for the downer ending.

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