Video Game Theory: A Brief Personal History (Revisited)
posted Jan 24 2014 4:57PM
The snow panic is setting in again. So, because I'm so totally over it, I'll be writing about something else today.
Are you a gamer? I'm not. At least not anymore. When I was heavily into video games, that term had not yet been coined. When I was a little kid, back in the early eighties, video games were in their relative infancy. Home gaming systems were primitive, and mostly held to the standards set by Atari's 2600.
My family owned a 2600 and I logged quite a few hours on it. But what I really loved to do was play arcade games. When I was a kid in Philadelphia, there weren't any arcades in my neighborhood. But there were quite a few corner stores. Most of them had at least one or two arcade games on the premises.
The most popular games in my neck of the woods were Pac-Man, Asteroids, and Galaga. Nearly every Mom & Pop shop within walking distance of my house had at least one of them, and many had two. The ones that had all three usually saw the most foot traffic. This was a blessing and a curse to the proprietors, because it brought the kids in, but most of the time they didn't buy much, if anything. Personally I tried to do my part, especially at the stores I liked (i.e. the ones who didn't throw me out for not spending enough). At those stores I would use a dollar of my allowance (six bucks a week when I was 8-9 years old) and buy a soda and a soft pretzel. It worked out perfectly, because the soda (in 16oz bottles) cost 75 cents, and the pretzel cost 25. The remaining five dollars usually ended up getting broken into quarters and plowed into the video games.
I was pretty good at Pac-Man. I should have been; I got a lot of opportunities to practice. Every Friday night my family went to eat at Pizza Hut. The Pizza Hut had a Pac-Man game, and since there was usually a line, my parents would feed me a continual stream of quarters to keep me occupied so they wouldn't have to listen to me whining that I was bored. My sister usually opted to plug her quarters into the jukebox.
I was better at Asteroids. This, too, was not surprising. The closest corner store to my house had an Asteroids machine. And only Asteroids. So I would keep an eye on the place to figure out when the machine was usually not in use, and I'd while away those hours there, spending quarter after quarter for the privilege of blasting space rocks. And since the store was within sight of home, I would always hear my mom when she called me to dinner.
But the game I was the best at was Galaga. There was something about that game that I found endlessly fascinating, to the point that on more than one occasion I plowed my entire allowance into it, then went running home to ask for more money to do the same. If my parents were preoccupied, they might give me my whole allowance a second time, having forgotten they'd already given it to me. I'm ashamed to admit I pulled off that particular stunt several times. Or I'd get the money from one, then get it from the other. That particular variation didn't work as well and got me in trouble a few times. But always after I'd spent it. Of course, the punishment usually ended up being that I wouldn't get any allowance the following week. And so I'd have to stand there and watch my friends play, which was its own unique form of torture. If you'd asked me then, I'm sure I would have preferred to have been grounded. But I couldn't tear myself away. What if I missed something?
Eventually my interest in video games waned. Games and game systems grew more and more advanced, but I soon realized that the basic concept of many of the games hadn't changed that much, which is why I didn't pester for an NES when that came out. Of course, I did play my friends' NES' every chance I got. But soon that too got old. Nowadays I see commercials for games on TV and they look more like movie trailers.
My parents were relieved when I stopped obsessing over video games. Their relief ended when I asked for a drum kit for Christmas.