Digital Polyphony

film, games, memories & random thoughts


Not/Quite Remembering: My First Videogames

Posted on June 27, 2010 at 9:39 AM

When it comes to really digging back into your past, you can really draw lines at points along your life that kind of categorize an era, or period, that you can recall. You can also look at these lines and start to realize that, the further you go back, the more and more blurry they become. After a while, you don't know if what you remember is what actually happened, or simply what you think actually happened.

Bloggin and thinking back to a section of my life that is so far back on the mental calendar, I pretty much accepted that not everything is going to be accurate or exact - I can only write what I recall. So I thought I'd just roll with it, and start writing about things I was fond of as a kid: those anecdotal stories you think fondly of (or, if I turn this into a series, not so fondly of) or little moments in time that you recall.

Anyways, this is all kind off stream-of-conscious writing but hopefully with a little direction to it. So let's start with an easy one...and I'll put it in pictures too.

Not/Quite Remembering: My First Videogames

At the age of six my mother and step father bought a house together. It was a quaint, two bedroom home but had a huge backyard, a workshed and was only half a block away from the elementary school I would soon be transferring to for the first grade. I had my own room full of hand-me-down furniture and toys, but I never had a television much less a videogame console of any kind. Truth is, many of those things I was pretty unaware of, I was only six at the time.

Now I can't remember exactly how I got an old 13-inch color TV in my room, nor can I remember how an Atari 2600 got in there, but I certainly remember playing the hell out of it.

~Uh oh...picture this. I'm rubbing my temples and squinting real hard, as though that's going to jog the exacts. Oh, right...the Atari came with some games, so I'm thinking from a garage sale.

Sometimes it would be moved to the larger screen in the living room as well, that one a whopping 19-incher. The very first game I played on it? The ingeniously-titled "Basketball."

Oh, the sounds of that thing. The muffled "bouncing" of the ball and the two players on screen that kind of moved when you moved the stick. I remember always pushing harder on the stick in some false hope my character would run faster and shoot better. He never did, I was only six, I was just enjoying the pretty colors and playing something incredibly cool. Just look at that animation and quality graphics. It was the most amazing thing I had ever seen.

~There was Pac-Man too...can't forget the butchering of Pac-Man. Of course, I didn't know that at the time.

I remember going to a video store for the first time. It sat on the corner of a strip mall in my hometown and when you walked in, the entire right wall was lined with Atari 2600 games. It was a small store named Video Express that looked like the 1980s vomited and heaved it out.  It had one check out counter near the front that had this facy thing called a "computer" sitting in it with its lovely green and black screen and tan body. At your feet was a purple carpet spread with multi-colored lines hiding stains and the walls were this off-white and random neon squiggly-line lights criss-crossing the upper part above the gray shelves that criss-crossed around posters of Jaws, Network and The Breakfast Club.

~In a strange twist, I would work at a video store about as small named Express Video in high school, which wasn't that much different even though it was the late 90s by then, but I'll think back to my first job some other time.

This rental thing was completely new, and my family would go to this store for quite a few years before it finally closed in the  late 80s and became some office supply store. I didn't know what half of these games were, so I just picked out a few I kind of recognized from playing at friends' houses. Haunted House. Pitfall. Centipede.

~I'm sure there were more.

I can't remember all the games we actually owned, though. Combat was one, certainly. I remember Donkey Kong, though I played that on the Coleco Mini Arcade Machine more, and God help me but ET was another. But my favorite, by a mile, was Dig Dug. I think I just liked the sound effects, I don't remember getting very far in that one.

~Or any of them, really. In fact, my memories are like static television reception and faded old Polaroids.

Eventually, that old Atari went back into the garage sale cycle-of-life. Once the NES moved in, it was pretty much never played and thought it took some convincing from my parents (involving me getting the money for it) it was a pretty easy decision to finally get rid of it. I remember gathering up all the cartridges and putting them in a shoebox. We drove to my grandmothers house on a Thursday night to help set up and we sat them and the Atari itself on the center tables.

I don't know who bought it. I just know I wasn't there when it was sold. I remember my aunt giving me the money for it and the games, I guess whoever bought the system bought all the games with it. She put the money in my hand, I think it was, maybe, fifteen dollars or something, and I was the happiest kid in the world.

Well, now I'm an adult. Now I look back at it and kind of regret it, just a bit. I can look at my NES sitting on my shelf now and it brings back so many memories (and it's not even the original one I owned) whereas with the Atari, I kind of have this "phantom gamer" thing happening. By that I mean I can remember the way the controller felt, the sounds it made when you pushed the button or moved the stick.

~I remember how the knob-controllers felt when you turned them, too, but I only played one game with them: Pole Position. There were also those calculator-looking controllers, but not once did we use those.

I can remember what the sound the cartridge made sliding into it, or for that matter the sound of a few cartridges when you stacked them together and they slid around on top of each other. I can even remember the feel of the little switches on the Atari console and always flicking them back and forth for seemingly no reason at all.

Sure, I can remember all that, as far off as it may be. Memories are more vibrant and clear with sensual tangibility, though, and I wish I could hold my old Atari again. Then again, I wish I could go back to when I was six, sit in front of that old static television for hours again too.



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1 Comment

Reply toosmartforbond2
7:57 AM on August 7, 2010 
A nice trip down memory lane, though I never owned an Atari. I remember opening up my NES for Christmas, one year, though. I feel like it must have been 1988, but surely no later than 1990. I wish I knew when it was, but I can still recall playing the original Super Mario Brothers and Duck Hunt. I remember playing 2-player Bubble-Bobble with my father for years ... we eventually made it all the way to the 99th stage, but we couldn't beat the end boss. A feat I accomplished years later, as an adult, but smacked of memories.

I remember struggling through Zelda with my cousin. I remember everyone, even the adults in the room, being stumped and baffled by Shadowgate. I must have had a large list of other, crappy, less-memorable games (Abbadox comes to mind, but so does something or other with swords on it ... Iron Sword? Was that a game?).

I guess I wasn't truly "good" at gaming until I had my own SNES, and could master things like Donkey Kong and Super Mario World. But yeah ... I do love the Game Genie. Blowing in the cartridges to clean them. Hitting the machine to make it work. The good old days, before technology got all impossible on us.