Trauma Protocol: California Games
Follow 1987 EPYX
1988 Milton Bradley
Released on NES, SMS, Sega Genesis, Atari 7800, Atari Lynx, Commodore 64 & Apple II Home Computer

Trauma Protocol: California Games

Good: Hilarious Wipeouts, fun multiplayer, nostalgia factor
Bad: Poor collision detection on some platforms, graphic quality varys between systems
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Rating: 9.0/10 (1 vote cast)

In my line of work as an EMT, we have what we refer to as a “Trauma Protocol.” A trauma protocol is a term used when talking to the hospital over the phone while we are en route with a patient that has been seriously injured. When the hospital is alerted to a trauma protocol, a team of nurses, techs, and doctors assemble in the trauma bay of the ER and are ready to get to work helping the incoming patient. Why is this relevant to video games? Well, because California Games is full of them. I’m serious. California Games, released in 1987 by EPYX for home computers and later ported to every console under the sun, was a multiple event sports title involving extreme sports, many of which I’m assuming the developers thought were only played in California. The events differed between gaming systems, but they all included at least BMX, surfing, skateboarding, frisbee, rollerskating and a curious event called “Footbag.” The game was very well designed and was extremely popular, and I played it extensively on my NES as a kid. Having recently ‘recollected’ the game, I look at it a bit differently as an EMT. The ‘extreme’ nature of the sports played in the game obviously result in ‘extreme’ injuries stemming from the different wipeouts your player experiences.  As a result, I thought it would be fun to take a look at the various events from California Games, and classify the category of traumatic injuries that would result from wiping out in real life. Let’s get started. (Note: screenshots are from various platforms)


CG halfpipeSkateboarding really took off in America in the 1980’s. Skateboarders were everywhere, especially on TV and in movies. They were the ultimate sports outlaws, so they were ripe for inclusion in a multi-event game like this. Basically, you hit the halfpipe, doing different tricks withing a time limit. The more moves you pull off, the more points you get, as well as a nifty graphic letting you know you scored points. You also fall off and hurt yourself. Badly. This event in particular got rather repetitive, but that isn’t the point of this article.

Traumatic Injury: When you fall, you land in a crumpled heap, possibly breaking your arms and legs at least, not to mention the internal injuries secondary to impact and the fractures. Don’t forget that precious little neck, either. Finally, after landing in a sickening pile, the skateboard rolls back from the apex of the halfpipe at a very high rate of speed, and smashes into your head, causing a skull fracture or possibly a brain injury.

Frisbee Toss

CG frisbeeOkay, I gotta admit, this is probably the lamest event in the game, as well as the most difficult to master. And it’s not even like the frisbee was limited to California. I’m sure kids from South Dakota to Luxembourg have at one time or another played with a frisbee, but this was California Games, damn it. Anyways, the object was to not only throw the frisbee as far as you can, but to also have your buddy, whom you took control of once you made your throw, catch the frisbee. In some console versions of the game, there is a little dog that chases the frisbee during its flight. I am almost certain this event was tacked on at the very end of the development process.

Traumatic Injury: I was a little hard-pressed to come up with a way to seriously hurt yourself in an innocent frisbee game. Still, if you throw the frisbee too far past your buddy, he has to dive to catch it. If he misses, he goes face first into the grass. With that the possibility for a concussion is present, as well as a myriad of lacerations, contusions and abrasions. By itself, the fall is enough to make me take spinal precautions. Not to mention that you could end up suffering from a serious dog bite from the pup that chases the frisbee during its flight. If that little bastard nicks an artery, it’s gonna get messy.


CG BMX safelyThe BMX race was probably my favorite event when I was a kid. It’s not so much of a race as it is a time trial; you have a certain amount of time to get to the end of the course, and are only allowed to wipe out 3 times. Naturally, there are a ton of hazards to ensure that you don’t make it to the end of the course. It wasn’t my favorite event due to the fact that it was bicycle related, I just liked making my BMX racer wipe out in the most horrible ways my 8 year old mind could come up with. Yeah, I was a messed up little kid.

Traumatic Injury: Some versions of the game feature a rider with a fully enclosed helmet on the rider, some don’t. The main injury I see in this one obviously is a spinal injury from the fall. You can set up a backflip, and if not landed correctly, can have your kid land squarely on his head! Helmet or not, that kind of fall is going to fuck up your day. Additionally, you have the long bone fractures and concussions as well. For those versions where the kid doesn’t have a helmet, go ahead and figure in tooth loss from a fall, good old fashioned skull fracture and possible airway compromise from facial trauma as well.


CG surfingI’ve always thought instruction booklets, especially in the 8-bit era, were for amateurs. If you couldn’t figure out how to play the game that makes use of only a direction pad and two buttons, you had problems. This philosophy probably had a lot to do with why I always sucked at surfing here. You have a certain amount of time to execute as many stunts with the surfboard as you can, before the last big wave knocks you down. If you sucked like I did, the waves always caught up with you and took you down before the time was up. If wiping out in an angry ocean with a heavy surfboard wasn’t dangerous enough, at the end the JAWS theme played and a shark pops his head up as he looks for some human food.

Traumatic Injury: Drowning is obviously at the top of the list. If that isn’t bad enough, you also have the possibility of a skull fracture from that heavy surfboard smacking into your head as you surface from your wipeout. Then there’s the shark, who I assume either rips you to shreds with his razor sharp teeth or takes a huge bite out of you, causing severe lacerations at least, full amputation of limbs or death at worst. Throw in jelly fish stings and you have yourself a recipe for disaster.


CG footbagFootbag? As an 8 year old kid, I had no idea what in the hell a footbag was. This alone showed that I was not, in fact, extreme. Thanks for the childhood inferiority complex, California. Now that I played the game as an adult, I realize that this is a hackey sack event. Hackey sack was what I remember seeing all the stoner kids play in the parking lot before school. Basically, you kick a cloth bag full of beads back and forth, trying to keep it from hitting the ground. The game didn’t involve scoring, or winning for that matter, so I never liked it. Anyhow, in California Games, you’re playing solo, once again, with a time limit. You utilize a hilariously underanimated player doing all sorts of tricks. Dizzy Deans, headers, horseshoes, half axle, full axle, reverse axle, and I thought this was funny as hell, the Axle Foley (Beverly Hills Cop reference). You’re once again hard pressed to hurt yourself, but my time on the ambulance has taught me that people will find a way to hurt themselves doing anything.

Traumatic Injury: On the surface, the potential for injury is low here, limited to strains, sprains, and possible ligament tears. Maybe you could get an angulated leg fracture with exposed bone, but I doubt it. This sport caters to the lazy and unathletic, so it really limits the way a player could actually hurt themselves. Maybe a heated game could result in a bad asthma attack, but that’s more on the medical side of things, rather than trauma.


CG skating but not fallingGuys, don’t act like the chick on the box in the bikini and rollerskates wasn’t the reason you picked up this game. Admit it. Ahh, the roller girl. In some versions she’s in a bathing suit, in others a bikini top and shorts, and in yet others she’s wearing ass shorts and a tank top. The bottom line is, in none of these versions is she wearing any type of safety gear, like, oh, I don’t know, a helmet or knee pads. Why would she? It’s hard to look sexy for the dudes on Venice Beach with all that lame equipment on. In the rollerskating portion of California Games, its yet another time trial, albeit with numerous hazards on what has to be the most dangerous sidewalk in America. When this chick hits the ground, she hits the pavement hard, and face first at that.

Traumatic Injury: Like some of the others, the lack of a helmet lends itself to the skull fractures that have been mentioned already. But when you consider the mechanism of injury, going face first into the concrete could result in an orbital fracture, jaw fracture with lacerations and multiple tooth loss. Also be on the look out for broken wrists and arms, as well as serious abrasions to the hands and knees. Spinal precautions should also be taken.

whiteemsAttempting any of the above stunts in this day & age could result in a ride in one of these

So there you have it: California Games offers a cornucopia of bloodletting and possibly fatal injuries, all in the name of extreme sports. What did we learn today? Mainly that it pays to have health insurance if you’re going to engage in such behavior. Also, I’m kind of left with the impression that people from California are self absorbed dicks to assume these sports were limited to the hip, edgy culture of 1980’s California at the time. Finally, it’s a good example of job security for those in the EMS/medical field, as well as those who are looking for a secure form of employment for years to come.

Surf’s up, dude.

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Trauma Protocol: California Games, 9.0 out of 10 based on 1 rating

I am a full time Firefighter/EMT living in the United States. In my spare time, I split my time between modern games on my Xbox and the rich universe of the systems we all grew up with.

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