Video Game Flashbacks – Know Your Roots

In order to do well at something, you must know its roots. If you are going into public office, it would be good to have an idea of the people who went before you, and the reasons they created what they did. If you are going into used car sales, a solid understanding of past and present selling points, will be of the utmost importance. If you are a video gamer, knowing your roots is essential, as well.

I got to see the first video games come out in stores as I was growing up. I remember it like it was yesterday; I was not even tall enough to see the screen. My mother had to get a chair for me to stand on. But it was 1978 and Space Invaders had just come to the local pizza shop… and just like rock and roll, pinball was dead.

PacMan came out shortly after that and then, arcades started sprouting up all throughout the American landscape. My first arcade experience was in El Cajon, California. The place had fluorescent lights and neon paint all over the walls and looked like the inside of Space Mountain. Centipede and Tempest were the two hottest games out at the time. I guess you could say I was hooked.

The Atari 2600 game system came out for home use in 1975 but didn’t really start growing in popularity until 1980. It was $200 for that state of the art piece of gaming that looked more like a piece of furniture than technology. By 1984, the price of a 2600 system had dropped to under $50. At a swap meet, I recently came across one still in the original box, with all of the original equipment and documentation. The man wanted $200 for it, and said that prices are going way higher than that, for classic gaming systems.

Growing up with these games gives you an understanding of how games work and why things like pixels and resolution are important. A new generation of kids is growing up without playing the classic games and they seem to have less of an understanding of how and why games work. They do not understand what pixels are. They do not understand what the difference between a 16 bit, 32 bit, and 64 bit system is. But most of all, they have no appreciation for the amount of advancement that has taken place.

My nephew started playing games with the Sony PS2 and has never played any game system before that. This is OK as long as you never want to get any more involved in video games than you currently are. For those of us who want a little edge on the competition, the history of gaming, could prove quite useful. You can learn a lot from the colorful past of video games.

I would even go so far as to say; they should teach video game history in schools. Some people would say, that’s crazy, but they do teach all kinds of film, art, sports, and music history in schools. What is the difference? Film, art, sports, and music are all forms of entertainment with a rich history. Video games have a very rich history, albeit, a short one. Unlike film history, most people actually interact with video games rather often. They are more likely to get a use out of video game education than they will from art history. With video game history you also get computers and programming. What’s wrong with an hour of classic video game classes in the school day? The video game industry is huge and some kids, who will be going into the field, could use a solid understanding of games just like an artist needs art history to succeed.

The home market and the video arcade have had a duel going on for three decades. The video game arcades started out with a massive lead. You could play games for a quarter that had better graphics, sound, and in some cases, movie like quality. The home systems were, well, they were like pong only they were really expensive. You had cartridges with awesome drawings on them but when you got home and actually played the games, you had squares for heroes and single tone sounds for music.

After about ten years, the home console started to gain ground on the arcade machine. In 1985 the Nintendo Entertainment System (NES) was unleashed on American kids. Most people don’t know that the company has been around since 1889 and started with card games. The graphics were so much better than Atari, Coleco, and Intellivision. It was almost as good as the arcade, although, there were some substantial shortcomings. The games were not as complex as the arcade machines. They usually had shortened stories, lighter graphics, and other various changes. The video arcade also had multi-player. Something that, until very recently, it dominated console games with.

Were personal computers a threat to the mighty video game industry? They should have been but they weren’t. In the 80’s and 90’s, games were either computer or home console, they could not be ported very easily. Many kids could not understand why you would want to play your favorite console game on a keyboard. Games like Dungeons Of Daggorath (arguably the premier First Person Shooter,) although brilliant, were typing based, and that gave people the feeling that they would have to become a computer geek to play it.

In the late 80’s, the internet came on like a ton of bricks, and turned all of that around. Multi-player games like WarCraft, Quake, Doom, StarCraft, and Halflife would draw in millions of console gamers to computers because they could play against their buddies in REAL TIME. LAN parties became the secret underground for gamers. Leet Speak was invented and a whole subculture popped up and spawned movies like “War Games,” “hackers,” “Johnny Pnuemonic,” and even “The Matrix.” It was now cool to be a nerd but the game console never lost its foothold. Many computer gamers owned two and even three different systems.

Today, the division is now complete, and we have come full circle with game consoles. With the ability to network game consoles, play head to head, and online, the game console has reached its destiny. Arcades have shriveled up and died like a large flower with no water. Even the once mighty Pacman arcade in Pasadena, has gone out of business. Computers are being used for work again, and the game console is now king, like the T-Rex at the end of Jurassic Park.

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