Another month, another Round Table.
This month, Corvus has asked people to recount their earliest family gaming memories… so, let’s crank up the wayback machine and hit the road…
I think the earlier memory I have of gaming was my father bringing home a Pong system. It played four games, which were all essentially the same game with slight variations. But the thing I remember about it isn’t playing it, because Pong is a highly forgettable game… no, instead what I remember most is getting it connected and functioning on our small black and white TV in the kitchen. Well, they sure as heck weren’t going to let us kids use the good TV for games, and I don’t think anyone ever intended that ancient B&W TV to be hooked to a game system. I remember us sitting there while dad read the manual about how to hook the adapter to the antenna inputs, how to set the switch and tune the TV, and how it didn’t work on channel 3, but it worked on channel 4. And we sat at the kitchen table, as a family, and traded the paddles around playing video games at home.
Some time after that, we got an Atari 2600. This led to marathon sessions of Pitfall, Yar’s Revenge, Maze Craze and tons of other titles. Particularly, my older brother and I trying to “flip” games, which means running through all the levels the designers made and having the game start you back at level 1 while often maintaining certain difficulty settings (like speed of enemies or rate of fire). And yes, we owned and played E.T. and it was a crappy game, but at the time we didn’t know that, we just thought it was hard, not broken. But one of my personal favorite games for the 2600 was Basic Programming. It was my first introduction to the idea that I could make the computer do what I wanted it to do. Well… within reason. It was very limited, but you could make little pictures on the screen or make it beep and sound sort of like music. I think I can honestly say that I owned more games for the Atari 2600 that I did for any other console, and possibly even the PC, although with the PC it is hard to keep track.
I can’t say my parents were ever much involved with my gaming after Pong, but my brothers definitely were. Playing against each other, or with each other, or just watching each other play, entire days were sometimes spent in front of the Atari. Especially Star Raiders, which had a second special controller so that one person would fly the ship and shoot while the other played navigator. This shared gaming continued up through the PC and the NES, and even now with each of us owning our own homes we all have Xbox 360s and occationally play online (or everyone meets up at one house to rock out with some Rock Band).
Did this have an effect on me as a gamer? I’d have to say it absolutely did. Over the years I always gravitated toward games that allowed multiple players, even better if it was cooperative play. And I still lean that way now. I tend to lose interest in games I play by myself, mostly because I end up being able to notice their design patterns and predict outcomes, but another human player always holds the capability of surprising me, of doing something unexpected. While I have run every race in Paradise City, its the Freeburns and online racing where I have the most fun.
And it has even fed into my desires to make games. I don’t dream of making the next Galaga or some other single player adventure. I dream of making the next online sensation, something that brings people together. And I dream of playing them with my brothers.