Sure, there were arcade cabinets and even a couple of the older consoles that released prior to my birth in 1976, but thereafter we saw exponential growth (marred, of course, by the video game crash of ’83). I wasn’t aware of any of the larger scope of it, of the industry, of anything outside of my personal sphere. But video games popped into my life more and more regularly as the years went on.
There was a night when our family went to our pastor’s house for a Christmas party and I ended up watching his son play Adventure (a text adventure game) with wide eyes and an even wider imagination.
There was the joy of getting to go to the Spaghetti Warehouse for dinner, because we knew that it had cabinets like the Star Wars Arcade game. Really, any time that we got to visit a place with cabinets was a special time, whether it be Pizza Hut’s tabletop Castlevania, Indianapolis’ Union Station, the Pole Position cabinet at our local IGA, or even the rare arcade room loaded with more games than we could digest.
There was the excitement of having the Atari 2600 come into our house, with games like Ms. Pacman and Defender and Asteroids. It became our family’s go-to console for most of the decade.
There was the envy of seeing my friends and cousins play on the newer Nintendo Entertainment System (and occasionally getting to play myself). Even though a NES never graced our house, Zelda, Contra, Spy Hunter, and the rest all played a big part of my childhood and sparked my imagination about what could be in games.
There was the shady purchases of shareware disks at kiosks at the mall, with dot matrix printer labels proclaiming “100 programs!” and the like. Less shady were computer stores with their giant game boxes, most of them with system requirements past our family’s PC.
There was the invasion of video games into movie and TV culture, particularly cartoons: Captain N, Super Mario Bros., Zelda, The Wizard.
There were the days that I tried to make “video games” with legos (like pinball machines) or started programming my own in BASIC. And the day that my friend showed off Manic Mansion on his computer — using a cassette tape drive.
To me, it’s surprising how clearly I can remember playing certain games even at a young age, like Tron and Gauntlet and Centipede with its track ball. Even so, I can’t say that my youth was dominated by games; they were merely a fraction of my experiences and interests. I’m happy to say that my parents kicked us out of the house every day to play across the neighborhood, go swimming, and do chores. My friends and I talked about games once in a while, but just as important were stickers, crawdads, Garbage Pail Kids, and how awesome transformable robots were.