I can remember the exact moment when I discovered video games.
I was about nine years old, and we were having dinner at the house of one of the people who worked with my father. I was already pretty stoked before arriving anyway, because this particular family always put out a big spread… and also they had three beautiful daughters who were a few years older than me. Until about that point in my young life, Star Wars toys and comic books took up pretty much all my attention and free time; however, I had recently started to look at girls as something more than cootie-carrying whiners who couldn’t play hockey and didn’t care about Wookies.
So when the eldest daughter coyly asked me to come with her into the family room after supper… I was more nervous than a porcupine in a balloon factory. I mean, she was already a teenager and I wasn’t even 10. She had breasts, for heaven’s sake, and, well… I thought about breasts a lot.
So I was sweaty and trembling when she took me by the hand, led me to the couch, bade me sit down and showed me two knobs… that were used to play Pong.
Her family had recently gone to Sears and bought an expensive electronic console that, when attached to a television, let you play table tennis on the screen.
After playing for about an hour, I began the relentless begging that only children can inflict on parents. I wanted to have my own Pong more than … well, more than breasts. But the machine was expensive, and my folks didn’t believe in spending “that” kind of money on a mere kid’s game.
Pong evolved into more complex video games in stylishly painted wooden cabinets that popped up at the local bus station and pool hall in my town. I fed those machines quarter after quarter to spend time eating dots and evading ghosts with Pac Man, and shooting hunks of space debris in the game Asteroids.
Then Atari, the company responsible for so many of the games I was playing, came out with the Atari 2600 home console. No longer did I have to mindlessly drop quarters into some machine in a seedy dive to get my fix. I had all the games I wanted right at home for free. Well, not free. You still had to buy the cartridges for each game. But, finally, I could sit in my basement with Pac Man, the aliens, et al, as much as I wanted… as long as my homework and chores were done.
The video game industry has evolved by leaps and bounds since then, but I still have a special place in my heart for those old, first electronic diversions.
So too, it seems, do the folks at the Internet Archive (archive.org), who recently launched an “emulator” on their site that allows anyone to play all those old Atari games right in their browser… for free.
So if you’re feeling nostalgic for your youth, or just feel like digitally slumming it in the 2D, low rez Atari worlds of yesteryear, give it a try. They also have old Commodore 64, Colecovision and Nintendo games archived and ready to play, as well. No quarters required.