Hurry! There are only two days left until an eBay auction for this "Le Stick" closes. You can have this hunk of junk for $US29.99, but I warn you, it's practically useless. Except for one video game, that is.
Rewind: It's 1983. My brother and I live next door to a guy who is an electronics buyer, and routinely drops off video game freebies for us to play-test and tell him what we think, so he'll have an idea of how many he should buy. One day, "Le Stick" arrives, and the verdict is swift: This piece of crap is stupid as hell, don't buy it.
Some have called "Le Stick" video gaming's first motion controller, but I think that's stretching the definition. It was a baseless joystick that had a mercury switch inside, so you moved it by angling your hand right or left or forward or back. There was very little precision to your movements. I tried playing Star Raiders and that awful Coleco Donkey Kong port with it and got nowhere. Le Stick was wrapped in black rubber and had a big red button on the top, making it look like a Sith dildo. We called it Le Shit for its functionality and Le Dick for its form, threw it in a toy chest and forgot about it.
Later that year, Activision released The Activision Decathlon, by all-star programmer David Crane. It was noteworthy for several reasons. It may have been the first sports video game to use music associated with a real TV broadcast; Decathlon opened to a chiptune version of Leo Arnaud's "Bugler's Dream", which ABC (and later NBC) used in its telecasts.. Decathlon featured all 10 events in the real-world decathlon, in their real order. And, as I recall, all of the running events were real-time authentic. This list of Crane's personal bests in each event combine for a world record, by far, in decathlon scoring, but the individual distances and times were not in and of themselves superhuman. His 1500 metres time was 20 seconds slower than the world record at the time.
The 1500m was the real bastard of this game. In Decathlon you ran by jiggling the joystick back and forth. For sprint events this wasn't so bad, but in the metric mile, you were committed to at least four-minutes of waggling that stick back and forth. What's more, at the end, the event would exhort you to "sprint!!!!", which required even harder stick-waggling.
An ordinary Atari joystick was too stiff. We had a Wico Command Control that had a lot of play in it. After we ran with it in Decathlon you could pick it up by its base and wiggle the stick back and forth the way dudes do the helicopter with their morning wood. You know what, forget I said that.
Anyway, the ordinary sticks were not getting the job done. Activision in those days would send you a patch if you earned a certain score, took a picture of the TV and sent it in. You needed at least 8600 points (Bruce Jenner's then world-record performance at Montreal in 1976) just to get a goddamn bronze. My brother and I were coming up short every time because of the 1500m and its stupid "Sprint!!!!" demands. My forearms hurt thinking about it.
Then we remembered "Le Stick". That damn thing wouldn't recognise input unless you shook it violently. My brother dove into the toy chest, retrieved it, and plugged it in. The runner plowed through the 100 metres in under 10 seconds. His eyes widened.
Nearly every event involves some form of wiggling the stick, but for those that added a button press (high jump, discus, javelin, and especially the hurdles) Le Stick was too slow on the draw. As little brother, I was assigned to hot swap the Wico and Le Stick for the 100m, the 400m and the 1500m. I forget what his final score was, but naturally he got over 9000 points. And, true to its word, Activision sent the silver medal patch.
You could plug the Atari paddles in and run by alternating button presses, but it was nowhere near as effective as shaking the shit out of Le Stick. Decathlon is today available in the Xbox Live Game Room, but if anything, the 360 controller is even more poorly suited to high performance than the old Atari joystick. For the shot put, I had to turn the gamepad upside down, grasp the left stick in my right fingertips, and wiggle like crazy until hitting the A button with my left thumb. Halfway into the 400 meters I began groaning, the muscle memory returning, my forearms begging for the return of Le Stick.
We made fun of it, called it names and exiled it to a bin of unwanted toys, but damn if Le Stick wasn't the perfect video game controller -- if only for one video game.