The Pentintytär Arcade

The Archivist | November 8, 2007

In 1985, Irja Pentintytär shot herself in the town of Hämeenlinna in southern Finland.

From what documentation survives it can be gleaned that she was born in 1950, the child of two engineers, possessed of a twin brother, Viljami, with whom she was extremely close. They were brilliant children, even prodigies, and inseparable until her marriage at the age of twenty-three. Viljami died in an airplane crash over the North Sea in 1974, and Irja’s husband Evgeniy left her four years later and returned to then-Soviet Estonia, where his family kept cattle and encouraged his second marriage to a woman whose name has been lost. It would seem that Pentintytär did not leave her house after 1980, and Torvald Leppo, 11 years of age, discovered her body while making his ailing father’s morning rounds, delivering her milk. He was nearly catatonic for weeks afterward, unable to speak, while the house was boarded up and a search for next of kin commenced. No amount of milk and brandy seemed to soften the child, until his father went to bathe his boy and found Torvald’s bed empty.

Torvald could not leave the house alone. He had returned night after night to the place that Irja Pentintytär had built for herself. For the house contained no furniture or belongings which might have comforted a young woman grieving the loss of her marriage and her brother–a few dresses hung in her closet, one pair of shoes sat neatly by the door. The rest of the rooms were crowded with standing game machines, a closely packed arcade not unlike a labyrinth. Even before Irja’s body had been collected, Torvald had pushed a 1 markka piece into the only machine which seemed to have a coin-slot, painted with flowing brown letters that read: Herkkusieni!

The game was simple: a sprite with angular red braids labeled above the score as SISKO collects pixelated mushrooms in a forest until she has enough to fill her basket. She has a small pig to help her dig and offer zen-like, porcine, barely translatable advice such as: Do not kiss the tree stump with enthusiasm. The mushrooms slowly increase in size and vary in color until Sisko must chase after behemoth fungi bigger than her basket and herself, expanding beyond the edges of the screen. Behind her as she seeks floats a second red-headed sprite labeled VEIKKO, a silent boy whose feet do not touch the ground, and who does nothing throughout the game but watch Sisko with her mushrooms and her pig, a constant, if impotent, companion.

Torvald completed Herkkuseini! on his second night at the Pentintytär house. As the Sisko-sprite disappeared into a gargantuan mushroom, his markka piece hurtled from the rear of the machine through a slender pneumatic tube and into a second game, and the Leppo boy hurtled after it, eager to play, eager to follow deeper into the things whose creation had consumed Pentintytär’s final years. His coin had deposited itself in Keskenään kotona Aho, in which Veikko from the previous game travels through a series of green meadows, beset with small beetles and strawberry-monsters, sparrows with oversized talons and fawns with enormous ears, all of which he fights with a wooden sword and the braided Sisko floating behind him, silent, observing. From this Torvald’s markka hurtled into Kalastaa ja Toivottu, a fishing game where Torvald held a pole in his hands much like other arcade-players held plastic guns, and caught oblong pink pike from a bright blue pond, choosing with each catch a reward of points, gold, or wishes, which he wrote into the wish-screen like high-score initials, only to watch them vanish into blackness and not return. I wish my father’s cows gave more milk. I wish I had a red bicycle. I wish these games would not end.

Kicking his feet in the water was red-haired Veikko, though he caught no fish of his own.

Torvald played through the house for weeks. He did not always understand the games, which always starred the same two sprites, alternating in agency, but never separate: in Eksynyt Morsian Sisko fought her way through the cupolas of the Kremlin only to wed the final enemy in a bizarre cut scene, a black, boxy man with red shoes. Her opposite number watched, in approval or disapproval his primitively animated face made it impossible to tell. A flight simulator called Mielipaha flew over an endless ocean; in Keskenään kotona Ankea the two sprites walked together through a long grey wasteland in search of a crown of squarish roses. The coin sped through each machine as Torvald completed the game–and finally, while his father was discovering an empty bed, the markka settled into a sleek black game which frightened him, a game in which there was no Sisko, only the boy, wandering in a black field, lost, without enemies or reward. In later years Torvald would swear that the beeps and echoes of the game sounded like a woman weeping. The words Viljami kotona Alamaailma were scratched in small white letters on the side of the game, as if with the edge of a fork or a key.

After nearly twelve hours of play, an admirable marathon for a child of Torvald’s age, but through no efforts of his own, Sisko with her red-braids appeared in the northwest corner of the screen, holding out her arms to her counterpart, her Veikko. Torvald moved his avatar towards her with his heart in his throat, and the two figures merged, flooding the black screen with blue light.

Torvald’s coin clattered out of the machine, a neat, star-shaped hole punched through its middle. Herkkusieni! would not accept it again, and before he could earn another markka, the Leppo boy’s father collected him with much anger and relief, and the house was firmly locked, while the child wept and bit his mother and screamed to be let back in.

Torvald would wear his markka on a chain around his neck for the rest of his life. He visited Irja’s grave often, laying faded markka coins on the grass.

In 1998, he managed to purchase the last of the Pentintytär Arcade from a reticent collector in Tallinn, and had the set installed in his Helsinki home. When the last tube was in place, he sat naked in their center with a small gun in his hands, calling out Irja’s name into the labyrinth, over and over.

[[Archive Group: Pantry. Lockwords: Memory Storage, Autobiographical Interface, User Corruption, Single Use Systems, Directional Control, Alternate Distribution Streams. Last Accessed, UIN# (47)663.5-9]]

Comments are closed.