Updated: Apr 5
Pong’s Left and Right paddles were the original superstars of video gaming. Exclusively Games reached out to them both and they agreed to an exclusive interview. We sent our roving Brit Iain to meet them in sunny California.
I touched down at LAX early in the morning. Feeling more than a little jet-lagged I exited the airport and promptly had a near miss with a bus when crossing the street. "Oh right", I remembered, "They drive on the ‘wrong’ side of the road over here."
Several cab rides later I reach my destination.
We are sitting in a coffee and tea shop in Sunnyvale California on a clear January afternoon. Right, Left, and myself (EG – Exclusively Games) are sitting at a window side table overlooking El Camino Real. The atmosphere at the table is tense, and I notice they are sitting at opposite ends, with myself in the middle. I remind myself that this is the first time they have been in the same room for well over a decade.
I notice our little group is attracting a few confused looks from some of the younger patrons. I decided to break the ice by asking them if this bothers them.
RIGHT: It is fine. They are young. Most of them were not even born when this used to be our stamping ground…
LEFT: …Plus most of ‘em have probably never seen a sprite before, all of today's Video Game Stars are so ‘Polygonal’.
RIGHT: Of course, back in the 1970s we were noticed all the time, especially in these parts.
EG: Your first gig was around here wasn’t it?
RIGHT: Yes, right across the street in fact. See Rooster T Feathers Comedy Club over there? Back in ’72 that was Andy Capp’s Tavern…
LEFT:..The first place ever to have a video game cabinet, and we were its stars, the boys of Pong!
(I notice LEFT has a tendency to interrupt people)
EG: What was that like?
RIGHT: Good times. At the start we were popular with the locals, ‘local boys done good’ and whatnot…
LEFT…We grew up around here ya see. Atari was based down the road and our devs were regulars at Andy’s. That’s how we landed the gig.
RIGHT: Left is correct. Atari had already placed several of their pinball machines there which were popular with the locals, so Andy’s let us have a spot…
LEFT…and they paid us in beer!
RIGHT: To begin with yes. After word spread about us and people started coming in from out-of-town just to see us, I re-negotiated our arrangement. After that we were paid properly.
LEFT: The pin-dicks really didn’t like that.
RIGHT: He means the pinball machines. They became jealous of the attention we were getting. They felt we were *ahem* “Moving in on their turf and stealing their chicks”. Which to be fair to them, Left, you were.
LEFT: Hay, not my fault they have tiny pin-sized wangs!
EG: Ah, ‘Pin-Dicks’, I get it now. So how did that play out?
LEFT: They were spoiling for a fight all the time…
RIGHT: Only because you kept goading them! Seriously, calling them pin-dicks to their faces…
EG: Ok guys, let’s all take a breather…
RIGHT: Sorry, its just Left has gotten me into so many incidents over the years…Anyway, the management at Atari stepped in and ordered everyone to play nice, so things settled down…
LEFT: Didn’t stop them playing Pinball Wizzard on the jukebox on a loop all the time to piss us off though did it?
EG: Moving along…your residency at Andy Tapp’s Tavern didn’t last long after that. You were on tour, is that right?
RIGHT: That’s right. We went on tour all over the country. We were appearing in bars and pinball arcades everywhere. We even went international and did appearances in France.
EG: Which is where you both met Pixel Blanche’. (White Pixel in English)
RIGHT: That’s right. She was the third star of Pong. The game would not have worked without her bouncing around between us. Previously we had hired local models to play the role of ‘Ball’, or ran competitions where fans could be ‘Ball for a day’, but there was something about Pixel Blanche’ that made her stand out among the rest, a certain jene seis quoi’…
LEFT: …Basically she was hot and French and Right fancied her…
RIGHT…so we asked her to join us on tour and play the role of Ball full time, and she agreed.
EG: And it was this that led to Pong breaking up?
RIGHT: Eventually, yes. All was fine for a few months, traveling the world together, appearing in gigs and openings of video arcades etc. PB and I became an item after a while and things were good for a time.
EG: I’m guessing things turned sour?
RIGHT: Sadly, yes. I started to think long term – marriage, mortgage, children etc., but she didn’t want that. She said she just wanted to be ‘free’ and “live life without responsibilities or commitments”. So, we parted ways…
LEFT: And she came to me instead. She wanted fun, and he couldn’t give it to her. I could. Me and PB lived the ‘70s party lifestyle, Motown, roller discos, hanging out with Pink Floyd, Andy Worhol and Stanley Kubrick…
RIGHT…and repeatedly having your stomach pumped due to all the booze and chemicals in your system. Anyway, as I’m sure you can imagine, working together with such things happening was impossible, and so we split the group. I moved to England to study physics at Cambridge. One reasoned that becoming more knowledgeable about the physics of movement would make me a better bat n’ ball paddle. To be honest, I was glad to be out of the spotlight for a while.
LEFT: You went to Cambridge? That explains why he is talkin’ like a posh Stewie Griffin now. He didn’t used to sound like that before.
EG: Er, Left, what did you do at this time
LEFT: I did everything, I ‘did’ everyone. Me n’ PB partied like it was going out of fashion. Everyone who was anyone knew us back then. We had it all…
RIGHT: Until PB left him for one of the Rolling Stones. I can’t say which one for legal reasons.
LEFT: Yeah…until that happened.
RIGHT: I can look back on it now and see the irony, how life imitated art. She bounced between the two of us, both on screen and off, and then went sailing past Left and out of ‘Pong’ entirely.
Left, Right and Pixel Blanche’ on screen together in 1974
EG: So, what happened after that?
LEFT: I checked myself into rehab for a while, got myself cleaned up, and reached out to Right.
RIGHT: This is true. I had recently graduated from Cambridge and I felt ready to get back into games. About the same time Atari contacted me and offered me the lead role in Breakout, a bat, ball n’ wall game for their new