As a kid I “played” to the fullest. My imagination was always ripe thanks to reading lots of books and watching lots of movies from an early age. I would spend hours outside creating battle scenarios against invisible gunmen, armed with only a stick and sometimes my bicycle. Indoors I would act out long, violent soap operas with my He-Man toys, usually ending the epic plots with my shirt soaked through by all the saliva I spit out creating the sound effects. My bedroom was a baseball field on which the players on my baseball cards would play the sport by my rules and sometimes it was a burning building inspired by Backdraft and I, the heroic firefighter, would crash about with dual flyswatters as axes. When video games were introduced into my world they became a new way to create adventure, though some may argue that such adventures steal kids away from their daily pursuits and make them zombies in front of the television. I think I balanced my schedule nicely and was happy enough being a zombie a few hours out of the day because the zombie not only got to race cars, but save the Princess. The characters from video games actually left the screen for me and would get incorporated into my other activities ala Mario and Luigi would totally play baseball on the Minnesota Twins right next to Kent Hrbek and Kirby Puckett.
The very first time I came into contact with something you would call a video game is not a time I can pinpoint exactly. However, I can recall the first home console system I got to spend some time with and that was the Atari 2600. This machine was originally released in 1977, but my playing time with it would come in the 1980s. I’m not sure which version I was originally exposed to, because it had several redesigns, but I was in Kindergarten so we’re looking at the year being around 1987 or 88.
My parents moved our family around quite a bit when I was in Kindergarten, with me going to no less than three different schools in that year within Missouri. The previous year of school, pre-school, had taken place in Arkansas. I do not recall my friends in Arkansas having any video games, they were into remote control cars, which I never exactly was enthused by for some reason. Once we were living in New Bloomfield, Missouri, however, I met a guy named Teddy and his mom introduced me to a couple of exciting new things. First: Capri Sun drinks. I had seen this kids “juice” drinks before, but never got any hands on experience because they came in squeezable bags instead of boxes similar to Hi-C. My mom thought the bags would lead to the flavored liquid sugar inside getting squirted on to the floor too easily thus creating stains she did not want. Teddy, however, had a refrigerator loaded with the drinks and when I visited his house we sprayed them down our throats and hid our spills well enough not to set off any mother alarms. The second thing Teddy’s mom provided for us: video games.
Hopped up on the thrill of drinks in a bag, Teddy and I would play his Atari 2600 as our main source of entertainment. Teddy had some sort of breathing condition, severe asthma perhaps, and thus he was an indoors kind of fellow. He did not partake in my cops and robbers schemes outside, but inside: he had a video game involving a robber dropping bombs and we had to catch them by tugging around on video game controllers. The name of this game was Kaboom! The game was so much fun I wanted it at my own house to play. It turns out I did not have to wait that long for my parents to get in on the video game revolution and they bought me and my brother an Atari 2600. The version we got was the Atari 2600 Jr., which was a streamlined version of the original. Oddly enough, though I often thought of it and wanted to find it, we never owned the video game Kaboom!
We were not a rich family which leads me to believe an Atari 2600 was inexpensive, as were the games. Granted, I was a kid and my concept of money did not go beyond “I wish I had lots of it,” but all I know is we got a video game machine and a large shoebox packed full of games. Many of the games would go on to be favorites, but the one that sticks out in my mind at the forefront is Moon Patrol. Moon Patrol brought my family closer together.
My father was a worker. Eventually he was a truck driver that was always gone or asleep before getting ready to leave, but even before that he was always working on something, not really playing with us kids. I do not recall too many interactions with my dad from my early years, bits and pieces, but no constant activities or bonding hobbies. However, to my surprise, he would play Moon Patrol with us. Being a Western movies type of guy, I would never have pegged him for the type to sit and control a space buggy across the surface of the moon, but indeed, he would challenge me again and again to see who could go the farthest into the game. He did not hold back either: my dad beat me at Moon Patrol. I know that statement does not sound all that crazy to you, but if you would even try to get my dad to watch a video game later in life he’d decline to participate. Yet, the Atari with Moon Patrol: boom, there he was trying to time the jumps over craters and rocks. Basically that was the concept of the game: you used a joystick to control a car on the surface of the moon, timing the car to jump over obstacles. My experience was I’d get to the same spot in the level and usually die and replay the entire thing over and over rarely passing the same spot in the game. I think I pushed beyond the tricky limits of those double crater, double rock jumps, but it was my dad who really excelled and gave us a glimpse of what lay beyond on the other side of the moon: more rocks and craters and the occasional alien spaceship.
To this day playing Moon Patrol with my dad is one of the first things I think about when I think about my first video game machine. It’s always great to be given a good memory to hold on to in life, so it is easy to see how I became a big fan of video games.