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The Daily Pong

Time Out Magazine - Man v Pongbot


Time Out Magazine - Man v Pongbot

Alexi Duggins is at your mercy: send him to a new weird London experience every week and he’ll do it. This week: Man v Pongbot.

Man, humanity is looking dated compared to computers. Why is there no undo function? Why is the memory so glitchy? Why is it so hard to customise our skin? And tens of thousands of years with no OS upgrade? Even O2 offers better tech support than that.

So when I hear about the ‘pongbot’ challenge, I am not optimistic. Rich Mix’s Pongathon (at Boiler House until August 11) pits ping pong players against a robot to see how many balls they can return in 60 seconds. Humans v futuristic technomancy? We can’t even plug ourselves into the mains without malfunctioning, for Pete’s sake.

Fortunately, it turns out my electronic opponent is essentially a glorified ball gun. The best you can say about its robotic qualities is that it’s possible to mistake it for a mini Johnny 5 from ‘Short Circuit’. If you squint. And have cataracts. This is not the sort of contraption you’d send into the past to assassinate a resistance leader. Frankly, it looks like it’d struggle to win a fight against one of the mobile cake tins from ‘Robot Wars’.

Apparently, though, even robots shouldn’t be judged on appearance. The next 60 seconds are like being trapped in the plastic equivalent of a violent hailstorm. Except that the hail is horizontal. My score: 20.

Next, a two-bat challenge. ‘Don’t worry,’ offers a Pongathon official, as I take a paddle in each hand. ‘Your score always goes up the second time around.’ For another minute I flail, squeal and jig as though someone has just slipped some live eels down my T-shirt. ‘Sixteen!’ yells the official at the end of the round. But I thought scores were meant to go up? ‘Erm, they usually do…’

Fortunately, by the time of my third challenge, I’m back to just the one bat. Nothing complicated, nothing fancy: this, I can handle. ‘And now,’ announces a jaunty voice over the PA system, ‘the hopping challenge!’ Oh brother…

By the time I finish, I’m so sweaty that I’m starting to pong in a different way. He isn’t the world’s most advanced automaton, but my robo opponent has definitely beaten me. Well, at least I think he has. My glitchy memory’s lost my final score. Although, on this occasion, perhaps that’s no bad thing…