Growing Up Gaming – Arcade & Atari

I don’t remember all the specifics of years and ages for the milestones of my childhood playing video games. As such, I can’t say with certainty what I played first, but I have some small recollection. I do know as a child, before I owned any system, I played arcades at hte Dairy Queen restaurant in my home town when my grandparents would sometimes take me after school.

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I’m fairly sure Ms. Pac-Man was the first game I ever played and it was at that Dairy Queen with their single arcade cabinet, asking for extra quarters whenever I could. It turns out that Ms. Pac-Man and I are closer than I’ve realized in my youth, as her initial release on January 13, 1981 was only 8 days prior to my birth.

The second game I seem to recall playing was Galaga. I didn’t chase high scores, being young enough that such a thing wasn’t important to me if it even truly registered in my mind other than putting your initials in to be saved, but I had fun playing them. To me, that was, and still is, the core focus of video games – to have fun.

I never got an Atari system growing up, either. The Atari 2600 had been out a while, releasing in 1977, and the Atari 5200 released in 1982, right after I was born, but still a while before I was starting my discovery of video games. My friend, however, had an Atari 2600, so I was introduced to home consoles at his house when I’d go over to play.

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I remember playing Pac-Man and, despite the graphics being a fairly poor imitation of the arcade, absolutely loved it as well. I didn’t care that it didn’t look as good: it sill played basically the same and was still fun. I guess even in the 80s, you could have a debate over the importance of graphics to the overall experience of a game.

Another game I remember playing frequently with my childhood friend was Joust. For hours we would battle over the lava pits on those birds. Joust still remains one of my favorite games on Atari and I was quite amused to see it recreated in World of Warcraft’s Cataclysm expansion.

I don’t remember too many specifics of playing it, but I do remember I loved Chopper Command on Atari 2600 as well. My friend may have gotten this one later, as I think I vaguely remember playing it while he was playing NES at the same time. Or perhaps we just took turns playing it.

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Thrill at the lifelike graphics as you rescue your men from the enemy!

While my introduction to video games, or videogames if we want to get into that debate, was not largely in depth with vast exposure to the arcade scene nor a large library of Atari home console games, it did create the spark to light what would become a wildfire in my life. It’s interesting to me that I was born just before the video game crash of 1983, but games were still out there enough to gain my interest for the two years before Nintendo would release the Nintendo Entertainment System.

In a way, the crash may have contributed to setting the stage for Nintendo’s explosive arrival with their console. Had it not been for Atari consoles, and their games, having prices slashed, many may have never played them. If we hadn’t been exposed to them then, who’s to say we would have been excited when Nintendo came along? Sure, a lot of people never played Atari and still jumped on the Nintendo train, but perhaps some of us, perhaps myself, wouldn’t have.

Yet oddly enough, not once during my childhood was I even aware there was a crash. There was always a couple arcade cabinets in town growing up, either at the Dairy Queen I mentioned or the bowling alley and later a pizza place. One friend or another would still have an Atari 2600, though I don’t recall any of the later Atari systems being in any friend’s home. Then the NES was here before we knew it.

While this little post was rather small, it’s because my introduction to games was small, but in my next post, I’ll start to discuss my memories and favorite games starting with my first console, where I truly got into video games with the Nintendo Entertainment System.

  1. I’m so happy I found your blog! I never grew up with an Atari myself, but I can see how these games could have definitely shaped your love for the gaming hobby. I’m looking forward to reading your future posts, especially the one about the NES! That’s where my love of gaming grew up from.

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    • Kate
    • January 8th, 2017

    I got my start with Atari 2600. I got in 86 thought I was young to really know what I was doing. Glad to see you experienced playing it at the Dairy Queen. Thanks for sharing. :

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