Hydro Thunder

Otis and Ziggy are playing arcade games when Horst leaves to go to the bar for some business. The boys, while playing Time Crisis 2, meet a couple of other brothers, Gridley and Curtis, that tell them about this boat racing game called Hydro Thunder and they all go play it. When Horst returns he…

…finds his sons screaming with, you would have to say, unaccustomed abandon, blasting souped-up powerboats through postapocalyptic New York half underwater here, suffocating in mist, underlit, familiar landmarks picturesquely distressed.  The Statue of Liberty wearing a crown of seaweed. The World Trade Center leaning at a dangerous angle. The lights of Times Square gone dark in great irregular patches, perhaps from recent urban warfare in the neighborhood. Intact buildings are draped in black scaffold netting all the way to the waterline. Ziggy is in the Armed Response, and Otis has the helm of the Tinytanic, a miniature version of the famous doomed ocean liner. Gridley and Curtis have vanished, as if they were shills not quite of this earth, whose function in the realworld was to steer Ziggy and Otis into the ruinous waterscapes of what might lie in wait for their home city, as if powerboat skills will be necessary for Big Apple disasters to come, including but not limited to global warming (Pynchon, 292-93).

Pynchon is referencing a popular arcade game that Midway Games released in 1999 called Hydro Thunder, a typical racing arcade game, where the player is piloting a high-speed racing boat through different locations, including this New York level Pynchon is describing.  The game was equipped with a seat and a throttle for forward, neutral and reverse, and these features were “intended to place the player ‘in the game’ and make the player feel like an actual pilot of a powerful, high-tech speedboat” (Hydro Thunder, Wiki). Pynchon gives vivid description of the level the boys are playing, which is called New York Disaster, in which the city is in a postapocalyptic state where everything is flooded, Times Square is dark, the World Trade Center is leaning, the Statue of Liberty has a seaweed crown, and the intact buildings are covered with scaffolding. Horst, Ziggy and Otis were on a vacation in the Midwest visiting their grandparents and playing tons of video games and arcade games wherever they could find them, usually playing Time Crisis 2 because Ziggy and Otis could play at the same time. When they return home, they are telling their mom all about it and explaining there run in with the brothers Gridley and Curtis who introduced them to Hydro Thunder. And it felt like to the boys that these two brothers were just their imagination that led them to play this game so they could see what lie ahead of them for their return home to New York City and their futures in the city. They ask their mom if they can move someplace less at risk and when she says no they just ask for a lifeboat near the window, suggesting that they believe this postapocalyptic New York City is very possible.

I didn’t find much on this game other than Wiki sources. I found a couple videos of the game being played, one is posted below, but I have never actually played the game. There was not much information on the Bleeding Edge wiki, just saying that this game is a real game like the other games Pynchon references in this chapter (Chapter 27, Pynchon Wiki). I searched on the library website for articles about the game but couldn’t find anything and when I Google searched it, the results were just places to buy the game or videos and the Wikipedia page. So based off those research results, this reference made me have to read deeper into the text and the history of New York City after the game was released, even beyond 9/11, and before Pynchon finished the novel.

TV Tropes Wiki page says “oddly, there’s one part of the stage where you’re clearly racing through a badly beaten World Trade Center” (Video Game, TV Tropes). This links up with Pynchon’s description where the World Trade Center was leaning at a dangerous angle and this suggests that there was a time when people thought of a postapocalyptic New York that included the World Trade Center. It was brought to my attention by Professor Fest that New York City flooded in 2012 during Hurricane Sandy, so I started looking into the flooding and pictures of it, a couple pictured below, (Hurricane Sandy, Google Images) and this could have happened before Pynchon finished the novel so he included this description of the game to show that the flooding in the game is very possible not only because of hurricanes but because the city is at sea level and is in danger of flooding any time the water levels rise, especially with global warming which Pynchon says explicitly. He is suggesting that global warming can cause the city of New York to flood because it is melting the polar icecaps, which are falling into the oceans and causing the water levels to rise. I also thought about the sentence Pynchon describes Times Square as patchily lit, and how Times Square is usually very bright because of all the advertisements and shops and Pynchon thinks that this could be from urban warfare, which could possibly be from all the gangs in the city or fighting between survivors of this postapocalyptic time.

This reference allows me to make the argument that Pynchon is using this game to say that there is a future New York where getting around on speedboats or any boat will be the form of transportation because the city will be flooded. And since the city was actually flooded in 2012, it implies that Pynchon’s reference could very possibly come true. It also suggests that there was a time where postapocalyptic New York included the World Trade Center. This is important because later in the book, the reference to 9/11 is very short, making it about the aftermath of the disaster rather than the disaster itself. And that the postapocalyptic New York may not include the World Trade Center anymore but the city can still be flooded at any time and also that Times Square can go dark. So after my research and a closer reading of this, I believe that the history of New York after 9/11 is more important to Pynchon because in this reference to Hydro Thunder, the game includes the World Trade Center but the city is still in ruins. The events after 9/11 are going to be what make or break the city and could eventually send it into this postapocalyptic state.

NYC subway floodNYC cab flood

Works Cited

“Chapter 27.” – Thomas Pynchon Wiki. N.p., n.d. Web. 20 Feb. 2015.

“Hurricane Sandy Flooding in New York.” Google Images. N.p., n.d. Web. 20 Feb. 2015.

“Hydro Thunder.” Wikipedia. Wikimedia Foundation, n.d. Web. 20 Feb. 2015.

Pynchon, Thomas. “27.” Bleeding Edge. New York City: Penguin, 2013. 292-93. Print.

“Video Game: Hydro Thunder.” Hydro Thunder (Video Game). TV Tropes Foundation, n.d. Web. 20 Feb. 2015.

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4 Responses to Hydro Thunder

  1. specifictortoise says:

    You bring up an interesting point about imagined post-apocalypse versus real post-apocalypse. The way the game portrays the World Trade Center (and other New York Landmarks) as destroyed but still recognizable gives this sense that everything is in ruin, but still there, in sharp contrast to the reality of 11 September where the buildings simply ceased to exist in any recognizable form. This seems to be a difference Pynchon is pointing out, the difference between what we think a disaster will look like and what actually happens.

    Another thing I noticed in the gameplay video, It’s odd that the speedboats appear to be racing around a rescue boat (a wonder that it’s still in operation, given what the city looks like). American flag and all, the crew shouting “We’re tryin’ to save lives here,” and yet the player is apparently supposed to treat them as an obstacle. The game seems to really be making light of disasters, complete with upbeat narration.


  2. useltime says:

    Towards the end of your excerpt it reads, “as if powerboat skills will be necessary for Big Apple disasters to come” which highlights the sense of invincibility New Yorkers seem to possess pre-9/11. In my interpretation Pynchon almost mocks potential disaster of such magnitude in New York through implying the absurd likelihood of global warming leading to the need for powerboats in NYC. On the other hand this is a moment in the book right before the towers come down and Pynchon cleverly writes, “disasters to come, including BUT NOT LIMITED TO global warming” foreshadowing that while this chaos is unlikely to arise via global warming, it may occur through another vehicle (terrorism). Your observation that major landmarks of NYC were simply damaged and not missing completely was very insightful because like the game, when I think of an apocalyptic state I think of things being damaged but still recognizable. Pynchon creates the level of disbelief and astonishment he does in regards to the 9/11 attacks by contrasting the supposedly “post-apocalyptic” game where the Statue of Liberty (after an apocalypse) is still intact but merely has seaweed in its crown, to the unfathomable obliteration, destruction, and complete absence of the Twin Towers in reality.


  3. cso9 says:

    Your analysis reminded me of our class discussion about how Americans thrive on playing video games about apocalypse and destruction. Well-written and observed.

    I completely agree that Pynchon seems to be more concerned with the post apocalyptic rather than the apocalypse itself. Not only does your example of Hydro Thunder suggest it, but also in the way that Pynchon dedicates two pages to the disaster, then moves on to the focusing on the aftermath.

    In particular, I think it’s interesting you focus on the idea of water transportation as the only means left post apocalypse. In addition to your observations, I also think that this idea can be supported or hinted at when Maxine is on the boat ride with March and Sid. Your analysis reminded me of this scene because I recall them taking in the “ugly side” of New York City, the landfill, as they’re on the boat. I feel that this scene is symbolic because it’s similar to the idea of boat being the only transportation left, while the rest of the city is left to wreckage.


  4. You’re doing some interesting research here, but I would like to see you moving toward an interpretation of the text, how you might use this significant scene to read the novel, rather than the largely synoptic and descriptive mode you’re currently working in.


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