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Ghosts of Gaming's Past

A few days ago, I had a terrible, horrible, no good, very bad day. You see, I turned 40. I guess it's at this point where I'm supposed to have a mid-life crisis, go out and buy an overpowered sports car and go off and do all the things I'd meant to do for the last 20 years. It's either that, or I'm supposed to declare that I'm now too old for this stuff and sit out on the front porch yelling at kids and clouds. Funny thing is, I don't really want to do either of those things. I'm content to enjoy my lifelong hobby of video games especially since I can't afford some of the other hobbies such as golf, cycling, drones, and off road vehicles. Having been introduced to video games at the ripe old age of 4, it really has been something I've enjoyed nearly my whole life. If you don't mind (or if you do), I'd like to take a step back and reflect on 36 years of gaming gone by.

Ghosts of the Past

I don't want do wade into any of the many gaming related controversies that are popping up on the Internet, but looking back I think I may have found the ultimate gender-neutral, race-agnostic, ultimate character that anyone of any identity can immediately relate to. Here it is:

Unless you're

This is the playable character from Atari's Adventure. It was a great game that we played over and over. The square was a placeholder for you and due to the limited graphical capabilities of the Atari 2600, that's all you were going to get. Oh but the square did change colors depending on the screen you were at. I guess that was a primitive version of dynamic lighting. Thanks to Mr. Roger's Neighborhood and the power of make believe, that's all we needed. Anyone could immediately place themselves in the little square without having to worry about identity. It was kind of neat how that worked out. Halo and Destiny, have managed with the use of helmets and armor, to come close to same level of generic characters.

Well, to tell the family secret, my grandmother was Dutch.

The great thing about Adventure was the ability to immerse yourself in the gameplay and not concern yourself with the fact that you weren't green, or two dimensional, or started life locked out of your own castle. The square was the on screen you and your imagination did the rest.

Speaking of Atari, I did live through the video game crash of 1983. The Internet has fully documented the Atari 2600 game E.T. which was the final nail in Atari's coffin. I never played that version. My dad had bought an Atari 800xl personal computer and he also bought the 800xl version of E.T.. That version was good and actually followed the movie fairly well. But because of the 2600's E.T. game being in the news back then, my dad bought a couple extra copies of the 800xl game cartridges (back then computers also used them), hoping they would be collectors items someday. Time will tell on that but right now, ebay has them pretty cheap. I'm sure my dad still has them somewhere.

Activision was around back then too. This was the original Activision company, not the Activsion Evil Inc. everyone complains about today. In fact, they published some of the best Atari games that were ever made, including Pitfall and a lesser known title called River Raid. If you were able to get a high enough scrore in Activision games, you could take a picture of your TV screen (with a non digital camera!) of the score, mail it to them, and they would send you an award patch (allowing 4 to 6 weeks for delivery). I managed to score enough points to get a River Raid patch. I also managed to bug my mom enough that she actually sewed it onto the sleeve of my jacket.

Achievement Unlocked: Gratuitous Self Promotion and Corporate Advertising

I'm 100% sure that nobody at my school even noticed. Had I kept the patch, it is worth quite a bit more than my dad's E.T. catridges.

For inexplicable reasons, my parents thought that owning an Atari 2600, Atari 800Xl and 1030xe personal computers, and a TI-994a computer (as advertised by Bill Cosby) wasn't enough, they also gave us a Nintendo Entertainment System Christmas of 1988. The NES really did change everything and I could talk Nintendo for hours, but that would be boring and we have games to play, so just a few points. Anyone who beat Super Mario Brothers on the NES without save points, or continues, should deserve some gaming respect. There really was such as thing as Nintendo hard. If you disagree, I would suggest you play the NES version of Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles or its silly knock-off, Battletoads. Likewise, Duck Hunt introduced millions of players to their untapped inner rage and sociologists should study how knowledge of the Konami code spread throughout the world long before the Internet became mainstream.

History Rhyme Time

Mark Twain is reported as saying "History never repeats itself, but it does rhyme". You can see some of this very thing in video games when looking at the last few years of video gaming news. For example, Chris Roberts has been working on a new Wing Commander-like game decades after the last official Wing Commander game was released (Wing Commander II was my favorite). Not sure how Star Citizen will turn out, but I don't have a gaming rig powerful enough to play it.

The makers of Doom released another title, not that I've played it or am going to play it, but I'm noting it here for historical rhyming scheme. Ten years ago, people were wondering when Duke Nukem Forever would be released and they waited 14 years. Now people have been waiting for Half-Life 3 for 12 years and counting. Valve's best games seem to be 2nd sequels, Half-life 2, Portal 2, Team Fortress 2 and so on. They may want to stick with that formula. In fact, I submit that any game sequel more than 2 years past its release date can never overcome the mountain of hype and expectations that come from waiting that long. The next Zelda game will also have to climb that mountain. We couldn't have history rhyme time without mentioning Nintendo. I mean, look at what's coming from them this fall.

Hours of rage quitting nostalgia without having to blow on the cartridges

Also, analysts and bloggers are forecasting doom and gloom for Nintendo and their underpowered console except this time they're not talking about the Gamecube. Back then Nintendo released the DS and sold gazillions worldwide. Recently, Nintendo released Pokemon Go and managed to get gazillions of gamers to leave their houses and go outside. Nintendo has been around since 1889 and who knows how many times analysts have predicted Nintendo's demise over the last 126 years. They'll probably be just fine.

Final Thoughts

Before I walk out my front door to yell at some kids, I wanted to leave some last little tidbits that I've observed and experienced in the gaming world. First, there have been more bad Batman games than there have been good Superman games. Graphical improvements and the advent of VR means that millions of people have missed out on point and click adventures such as King's Quest, Space Quest, Full Throttle, Monkey Island(s) and my personal favorite, Freddy Pharkas Frontier Pharmacist. Scott Adams the creator of Dilbert once said that as soon as virtual reality becomes cheaper than dating, humanity is doomed. He still may be right, but I think it may be for an entirely different reason.

Why yes, I'm still single. How did you know?

A couple confessions, Carmegeddon was perhaps the funnest game I shouldn't have played and I just missed out on Pokemon. By missed out I mean there's a two year hole in my gaming history that I later filled in with Star Wars Dark Forces (I and II), Super Mario 64, and Ocarina of Time instead of Ash and Pikachu. There's too many games and not enough time to enjoy them all. There are some great games you're going to miss and some really bad ones you'll wonder why you even played.

Finally, if you've made it this far, I thank you. Oh about that quote from Mark Twain, most historians believe that he never actually said it. It's first emergence was in the 1970's, around 60 years after his death. At the same time, he did say "The reports of my death are greatly exaggerated". So it is with my video gaming death due to age. My kids still can't beat me in Smash Brothers and I still have respectible PVP stats in the PVP games that I play. I'm not going anywhere, so get off my digital lawn and go play.


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