Thursday, August 8, 2013

Childhood Memories: Earliest Gaming Experiences

My earliest video game memory of all time, of course, is probably Pac-Man. Either Pac-Man or Dig Dug. Either way, it was the early 80s, me having been born in late 1981, and games like Pac-Man and Dig Dug were still all the rage, at a time when video arcades were probably at their peak. One of my favorite pass-times in my early childhood, was sitting at a table-top machine of Pac-Man or Dig Dug (because they were easier for me to see and get to), and pretend that I was playing. At a very young age, naturally, I wasn't fully cognizant of the fact that the demo mode gameplay the machine would display, wasn't me actually playing. I eventually figured it out of course, but that still didn't stop me from pretending. I did, of course, get to actually get a quarter and play one of these classics, every once in awhile, but par for the course (and my age), I really didn't understand how to play them that well, and thus never made it that far. We're talking like 3 or 4 years old here, so it's understandable. But I still loved it. I was not yet obsessed with video games as I would become when I first got my NES many years later. But it's fair to say, whether it was Pac-Man or Dig Dug that I actually saw first, that I was fascinated from the get-go. You might even say it was love at first sight.

Ladies and gentlemen, THE bleeding edge of early 80s technology!

Now arcades would continue to be a love affair of my childhood, all the way up into my teens. Part of it, growing up, was the mystique of it all, because my grandmother didn't really like me playing them, so she would rarely ever "waste money" by giving me quarters. So I usually just got to watch others play, and the rare times when I would manage to get my very own shiny quarter, whatever game I played, because I rarely ever GOT to play, that quarter would burn up faster than Mario in hot lava. So my little tastes of early arcade gaming were terribly fleeting, and that made me love it and want it all the more.

However, if you'll observe the picture above, you'll see the face of my first truly extended experience with "gaming". Around the age of 3 or 4 I would say, my grandmother bought a Radio Shack model of one of these early Tandy computer contraptions you see in the picture. These things were one of the first readily available home computers, and thus were very popular, long before IBM and Windows compatible computers took over the market. My grandmother, as adults tend to do, bought it to use as a word processor and to to her finances on. But she also did use it to try and invest in my early education, by bringing home several educational "games" for me to play. I enjoyed these, as much as they can be enjoyed I suppose. The one I remember most was some version of "Hangman", a spelling game, where you have to guess the letters in a word, and if you get too many guesses wrong, it finishes building a gallows complete with a poor little blocky dude hanging. There were other games, very basic math based games, and I do believe some kind of odd "image matcher" type of game, involving extremely blocky representations of playing cards or something like that.

The true oddity, if you really study the pic for a second, is that this picture specifically shows the obscure and really oddball "disc drive" our computer had. It's a cassette tape deck, and somehow they had really simple programs on these tapes that you pop in, and the computer reads it. Tandy computers also had floppy disc drives, but I don't think ours did. I mainly just remember the tape deck thing, because it was something no other device I ever had since possessed.

"Now you're playing with power...........oh wait".

But really, my first TRUE home video gaming experience must've come around '86 or so, when I was 4 or 5, when one of my aunt's gave us a hand-me-down Atari 2600, because their family had gotten one of the newer Atari systems. I do seem to remember us having the paddle style controllers pictured above, with the dial and the button on the side. We probably also had the regular stick controllers, but the dial ones stand out more. The only games I remember us having, were Combat, Space Invaders, and this game called Astroblast. Combat was fine, and it was two-player, so my grandmother played it with me a handful of times, though she wasn't really into games that weren't specifically puzzle or card type games. For anyone who doesn't know, Combat pretty much was the pack-in with Atari 2600, as everyone had a copy. It's a multi-games-in-one cart type of deal, with various tank and plane one on one battle games, hence the title "Combat". Space Invaders speaks for itself, but while the artwork for the game looked cool and made me want to play it the most, I rarely ever did try to play it, because it was fucking hard, especially for my 4/5 year old self.

Classic video gaming at it's finest.

The first game that I suppose you could call my "favorite game", outside of pretending to play things like Pac-Man and Dig Dug when we would go out for pizza or something, was the third game, "Astroblast". Now, for most of my life, for whatever reason, I used to think that this game was called "Asteroid", as in the same title as the famous "AstroidS", minus the "s". I'm not sure why I thought it was called this, maybe it was simple childhood logic, because you shoot asteroids, or I suppose it's possible that maybe the game was mislabeled. Regardless, I used to search for pictures or footage of this game online, and could never find it, until I did some deeper sleuth-work, and discovered it was actually called "Astroblast". In this game, as you can see, play a little tank or whatever, and you have to shoot at a non-stop barrage of falling asteroids. Like many 2600 era games, it was more of an endurance type of game, where you lasted as long as you could, to get the highest score you could. In a nutshell, classic gaming in it's purest form. Every once in awhile, a UFO would wander across the top of the screen, and if you were lucky enough to hit it, you got bonus points. Naturally, the longer you lasted, the faster the asteroids started coming down, and thus the harder it got.

I don't really remember anymore how far I ever got, or what my highest score ever was. I was a bit too young to really remember those types of details. But I will say that this was the first game that I actually got to play extensively, that I got addicted to, as I pretty much only played this on our Atari. It's good, solid pre-8-bit gaming, and a fond memory from my early years. Now I know there was a definite gap where we no longer had the 2600, before I finally got an NES. We had the 2600 when I was in preschool, and we moved to a different town for a bit when I was in kindergarten, and by that point already, my grandmother had gotten rid of it for some reason, or we just never unpacked it. I'm not really sure, though I do know we definitely didn't still have it years later when I finally got an NES around 3rd grade or so. But either way, my childhood gaming took a bit of a nap, except for when I would come across an arcade machine somewhere, for a few solid years before Nintendo took over my young world.

So there you have it, some of my earliest gaming memories. It's safe to say that video games have been a part of my life, in one way or another, for most of my existence. And quite frankly, with the exception of some (totally justified) cases of gamer rage at some game or another being a real asshole to me, gaming has always been a source of escape, relaxation, and happiness in my life. So here's to you, video games. Cheers!

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