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My First Love...

Written By: Abel S.

2009-06-29

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I can still remember the first time.  Christmas morning, 1979.  I'm nine years old.  There it was under the Christmas tree. HUGE!!! Alright, let me jump in here quickly and state that I knew what it was because mom had asked my sister and I if we wanted it under the tree or wrapped and we voted for wrapped.  Why? I don't know.  Call it 'dumb kid syndrome.'  Anyways, upon tearing up the gift wrapping, there it was....the Atari 2600 in all of it's glory.  Now keep in mind that this was back when it cost $129.99 and games were at least $40 bucks each.  But after inhaling breakfast in record time, we plugged it in and fired up the first sounds and images of "Combat"...and I was hooked! 

I spent hours upon hours as many a kid did back in that time, maneuvering tanks and bi-planes and jets (oh I loved the friggin jets!) and laying waste to enemies left and right.  You always knew a kid had an Atari by the permanent bend in his finger or the redness of his thumb.  Intellevision?  That was for social outcasts.  Those first few years were Atari glory.  From the bizarro color schemes to the kooky pixilation, it was all good.  Naturally, many games would follow in the coming few years, whether by purchase or by borrowing on the schoolyard.  Pitfall and the impossibility of getting a perfect score (stupid logs!) or Donkey Kong's pixilated plumber.  Pac-man--god was that bad looking or what!?!  Not that we cared.  Even E.T. (do I hear the sounds of crickets chirping?).  Asteroids, Yar's Revenge, Demon Attack, Pole Position, Grand Prix, etc. 

Then there were the quirky games that came out from one-note companies hoping to cash in on the video game craze.  Typically, these companies would put out a game or two and then either fold or get bought outright by a competitor.  Companies such as Vidtec and Spectravision gave us such games as Space Jockey and Planet Patrol, respectively.  Growing up, there was a liquor store not far from my house that sold some of these cheaper games for around ten bucks.  Then there were the whispers of 'adult' games such as Porky's, Beat 'Em and Eat 'Em, and of course Custer's Revenge.  (side note: I got a copy of Porky's, mint in box, for Christmas about ten years ago from a friend who picked it up at the local Goodwill for one dollar!)  In the days before the Internet, kids had few venues for discovering what was coming soon.  I still mourn the loss of my favorite magazine growing up, 'Electronic Fun with Computers and Games.'  That was one of the primary sources for finding out reviews as well as rumors of the latest and greatest.  That was the first time I had even HEARD of The Texas Chainsaw Massacre for Atari.  I remember hearing rumors of a Pink Panther game only to find out a few years later that the company had gone under before the development was completed.  All in all, for a kid with an Atari, life was good.

But life has a habit of getting in the way of life.  You grow up, kinda, and discover new interests and as you get older you have less free time.  Especially to screw around with some antique gaming system.  Atari got shoved under the bed, into the closet or just tossed out.  After all, the system was just cheap plastic. The springs in the joysticks would give out.  The paddles would just flat out stop working.  Many a system wound up going for uber cheap at a yard sale.  Me?  I was always looking for games that could be had for as little as one dollar.  It's ironic now but fast forward all these years later and there is many a plug-and-play available with some of the more popular Atari games available.  I've seen some that are designed like the original consoles and have thirty games hardwired into it.  That nostalgia for the good old days draws us back to the toys of our youth. 

In the multi-function controller days of the Xbox 360 and PS3, I have to ask...what ever happened to just plain old run, jump, shoot?  What do you mean I have to aim my weapon now?  Whatever happened to auto-aim?  I can't answer those questions but I can tell you that I still have my original system and once a year, I take it out of the farthest nether regions of my closet and for about a week, I have it plugged in and I remaster my games all over again.  Crappy graphics be dammed, this is one more week of one more summer of Pitfall Harry's perfect jumping over that dammed lake of alligators with no overhead vine!!@#?!  One more chance to get Steve Perry and the gang to their next gig in Journey: Escape.  One more chance to save Atlantis (and if you couldn't, there was always Cosmic Ark).  One more day to be Superman and defeat the pixillated villany of Lex Luthor.  One final lightsaber duel in Jedi Arena. (And I'll tell you this, if they ever made Mortal Kombat for the 2600, I would be the grand champion of the planet!)

I got the popcorn popping. I got the Pepsi flowing.....And I fall in love all over again.  Thank you Atari, for being there.