My First… Video Game System

Seeing as this week is E3, I figured now would be the time to reflect on my history as a gamer. I am of that first generation of lifelong gamers. There has never been a time in my life when there wasn’t a video game system present in my home. My parents were rather young and still kind of hip when they had me, so of course they had to buy an Atari 2600. Underneath that wood veneer was a state of the art 1.19 MHz MOS 6507 CPU and 128 bytes of onboard RAM. It might have not been the most powerful home arcade system on the market, but at the time, it was the most popular… and we had one.

Being a very young child, I was terrible at the games. I would often just spend hours laughing contentedly as I watched the little man in Donkey Kong get bowled over by barrels. I would try to jump them, or if I was feeling particularly ambitious, I would even attempt to climb a ladder. It always ended the same way and the little man I would later come to know as Mario was perpetually doomed. These memories are all pretty vague and hazy, but would eventually lead to one of my first clear memories: the day I first climbed the ladder.

Yes, after years (or more likely months) of practice, my tiny hands were finally dexterous enough to manipulate the joystick. I remember being so excited that I instantly dropped the controller and ran into the kitchen to get my mother. Glowing with pride, I demonstrated my newest skill to her. I’m sure she wasn’t as impressed as I was, but this would be the first time I got that feeling. That warm little sensation of accomplishment that gamers get when they achieve something challenging in a video game.

Soon after my mastering of Donkey Kong, I would move on to more complex and refined games such as River Raid and Defender. Hours were spent patrolling the moon, defending Atlantis, and repelling invaders from space. I was hooked and there was nothing in the universe that was going to stop me from playing.

I was only a few years old when the video game crash happened. I had no idea that the industry and pastime that I now love so much was in trouble. Years later, I would hear tell of a landfill in New Mexico where unsold cartridges of E.T. were buried. Maybe it was just my youthful naïvety, but I spent a lot of time playing E.T. and I seem to remember it fondly. Regardless, the market had spoken and the Atari 2600 was on its way out.

Luckily for me, the great crash actually worked out in my favor. My beginnings were humble and my family didn’t have a lot of money when I was growing up, so luxuries such as video game cartridges weren’t something we could usually afford. As the demand for video games started to disappear, publishers were finding they had more and more unsold cartridges sitting in warehouses. Unable to sell them through local department stores like Hecks and Harts, box upon box of Atari 2600 games soon found their way to Odd Lots. Soon, due to closeout pricing, I would have more than enough games to hold me over till I got my Nintendo Entertainment System about four years later.

To this day, I still have my Atari 2600, and every couple of years, I will take it out to play. There is an almost zen-like feeling as I get into the zone while playing Moon Patrol. Even though the graphics are horrible when compared to the games of today, some of the games still have some awesome gameplay. If it wasn’t for the Atari 2600, I may have never got into video games and I surely wouldn’t be the geek I am today.

One Comment

  1. Posted June 9, 2011 at 8:46 am | Permalink | Reply

    I’m glad you took pleasure in the little man’s demise, whereas the novelty wore off quickly for me. We didn’t have a game system in my house until the NES in the late 80s, so I didn’t gain skills or miss the disappointment. Of course, after being shutout of this exciting world of games for years, I took to it like a duck to water. At first, I was heartbroken that I was as crappy at Nintendo games (starring the same victim of violence, Mario) as Atari. With untold hours of practice fueled by untold hours of Mountain Dew and chocolate, I did get better, and was temporarily game obsessed.

    The family’s first Nintendo still works, and I have a few games. Like you, I take it for a spin every once in a while, and get that nostalgic feeling at first, soon replaced by determination to rescue the princess, beat the bad guys, or find some magic armor. When it’s a good game, it’s a good game for life.

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