Wednesday, August 21, 2013

Retro Gamer Memories #5 - The beginning - The ATARI 2600

I was three-years old the day I turned into a gamer and I don't think I will ever forget it. That black and brown box that reminded me of a tiny piece of furniture. Those metal switches that always seem to get jammed. And the ridged top that I insisted of rubbing the controller on to make an irritating noise that drove my folks mad. That's right. I'm talking about the ATARI 2600.

My earliest gaming memories come from the ATARI 2600, which I briefly talked about in one of my original posts, Retro Gamer Memories #3. Now this console was pretty much the center of my world when I was three. I would wake up every morning and race downstairs into the front from where the "gaming" TV was, and would just sit down for hours on end playing whatever game I decided to pop in. Games like Kangaroo, Crystal Castles, Pitfall, or Berserk. It didn't matter what it was, or if I was good at it. The fact that I was immersed in something so interactive was enough to drive my young brain wild.


Now when I played these games, I have to admit, I never knew what the heck I was doing. In pitfall, I probably never even got past the second screen. Berserk? I didn't even know which direction to go or how to shoot. Crystal Castles? Forget it.

But none of that mattered. I didn't have to watch cartoons, or play with action figures anymore to kill time.  I had video games now. I usually didn't play them by myself either. It was either my dad or my sister that would play along with me. My mom ignored video games for the most part until the introduction of Dr. Mario and Tetris. Don't worry, more to come on that later. I didn't even have to be playing to enjoy myself at that age though. I was content in just watching them play for me. This routine would carry on even through my Nintendo days. I would get so nervous playing a game, that if I made it past a certain point from my previous play through, I would pass the controller along to someone else. I didn't want to lose. Some part of me felt the connection to my in-game avatar, even if it was a pixelated block.

When it came to multi-player games however, my competitive nature came out full force. I would never just settle for second place. I had to be number one. Luckily, I had a real knack for winning when it came to Star Wars : Jedi Arena, Joust, Demons to Diamonds, and Combat. Other games, not so much.
Jedi Arena
Demons to Diamonds

There was this one math racing game that I was absolutely horrible at. It was literally called, MATH GRAN PRIX. Why my parents thought it would be a good idea to buy that game was beyond me. It didn't help my math skills, at all. In fact, it probably made me hate math more than I ever did. That must explain why I performed so poorly in my math classes in high school. Regardless of how bad it was, it didn't deter me from playing practically every day, even though I consistently lost. But like I said, it didn't matter. I was having fun, and more importantly, I was having fun with my family.

Seriously, a racing game is NOT fun when math is involved. My sister destroyed me at this
Unfortunately, my gaming library I had for atari 2600 wasn't really that large. At most, I think it was 20 games, give or take. But that didn't mean I wasn't exposed to a lot of the atari games that were out there. I found a lot of atari games usually by going over a friends house that happened to have the same system I did. My childhood friend from pre-school, whom I still talk to to this day after almost thirty years, was one such influence. I was over her house constantly, and she had a huge collection of atari games. I remember begging and pleading that we played every game that she had. One of my favorites to this day was the Star Wars : The Empire Strikes Back snowspeeder game. Never did own that one back then, but I do now.

That's one damn fine looking AT-AT walker

Now of course, discovering new games through friends means of course you have to buy new ones for yourself to build your gaming library. One of the last memories I have of our Atari 5200 was the day we went to go buy Keystone Kapers. We were on our way back from spending the day at a family friends house, when my sister and I somehow managed to convince my folks to take us to Toys'R'Us. They gave in, and we stopped off at the Toys'R'Us that used to be on Sunrise Highway right near Bellmore, Long Island. I don't even think we knew what we wanted when we got there. We all just somehow managed to agree on Keystone Kapers. It did not disappoint. Mindlessly chasing a robber through a mall was more fun than you think.

To this day, I love this box art
But alas, the Atari days came to a close far sooner than expected. Our original wooden box styled system met its demise. I'm not sure what happened to it. It just stopped working one day. The games were put back in their boxes and packed up. To this day, a few of them are still collecting dust in the attic. There were a few desperate times where I dragged the games back downstairs to try and get it to work, but it never did. We were without a gaming console for around a year, until I turned six. Then something amazing happened. My parents decided to buy another little system, with a well known plumber. 

Until next time. Keep gaming.



  1. Dude. Where have you been all my life.

    No, seriously. AWESOME idea for a blog series. I'm not quite as old-school as you (I think age-wise we're in about the same cohort, but my parents didn't cave until the SNES era, so all I had before that was NES sessions at a friend's place.) But it's so cool to see the birth of modern gaming through the tiny, sticky-fingered lens of somebody who actually lived it! Can't wait for the next one!

    (And man, I don't know what you're gonna be doing in Texas, but if you find yourself in DFW with the "BLUE WIZARD NEEDS FOOD BADLY" message flashing, holler!)

  2. Ha thanks - I'm having a grand 'ol time writing these posts. It's a great way to reflect on how I ended up the way I am today. I really don't understand how my wife puts up with my gaming obsession!

    I'll definitely give you a shout out once I'm in Texas. Will be in the Austin area mostly as a friend of mine lives there now. Going to be my first time there, can't wait.