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2013 in Review: Our Earliest Video Gaming Memories

We all have plenty of favorite gaming memories. But what about our very earliest one? The team looks way, way back into their childhoods to figure that out.

Article by USgamer Team, .

No tricks here. This is exactly what it says in the title. We asked the team to reveal their earliest video gaming memories, and so they did. We'd love to hear yours too!

Late night gaming with Dad Brittany Vincent

Dad and I were up late at night, possibly 1 a.m., taking turns in my bedroom on our tiny 13-inch analog television (complete with dials) on Super Mario Bros. 3. We'd play Snake, Rattle, & Roll and Duck Hunt, but we were hellbent on destroying this game together. I don't remember how the NES came into our lives or which games Dad preferred to purchase beforehand, but I do remember dying in the desert because of the Angry Sun swooping down upon us. We'd go on to take turns in Operation: Body Count and Duke Nukem later on when we got our PC, but I hold those nights dear to me. It's rare that we ever game together anymore, so the fact that we did so often when I was younger is precious.

Pac-Man? Wack, man Jeremy Parish

I've already written about my earliest gaming memory (playing Ms. Pac-Man on a lone upright cabinet randomly stranded in the center of the lawn and garden department at Sears), and the last thing I want to do is become one of those boring old people who just barfs up the same ol' memories over and over again. So, let me talk about my first memory of realizing something about a video game was totally, as they say in the parlance of our times, wack.

I remember going over to my friend Kevin's in about second grade to play his Atari. It was always a treat visiting him, because he had a ton of 2600 games (always the latest and coolest), and sometimes I even saw the silvery futuristic boxes of his Atari 5200 games. Posh! When I learned he had Pac-Man, though, I couldn't wait to stop by his house and take over his living room television set.

"This is Pac-Man?" I asked, confused. "It's not very good," Kevin shrugged. We switched it off and played River Raid instead.

Jeremy

Oh, I know, you can see where this is going. Pac-Man for Atari 2600 is one of the most infamously rushed and mediocre pieces of software ever programmed -- a flickery, offputting mess that retains only the bare minimum of elements necessary to resemble Pac-Man. As a kid obsessed with Pac-Man but only rarely able to play it (basically, whenever I happened to find a coin-op and my parents were willing to part with a quarter), I salivated at the prospect of living a block from someone with their own version of the game. So I still remember the profound sense of strangeness that settled over me when I finally dropped by his place and saw Pac-Man in action. Everything was wrong. The maze looked weird, the pellets were rectangles, Pac-Man looked like a clamp rather than a pizza, the ghosts were all the same color and flickered so much you could barely see them. And the sounds... oh, god, the painful, robo-farting sounds. Even as a child desperate for even a hint of Pac-Man in my life, I didn't want to play that version.

"This is Pac-Man?" I asked, confused.

"It's not very good," Kevin shrugged. We switched it off and played River Raid instead.

Wasting my childhood Mike Williams

My earliest gaming memory was the first time I got a Nintendo Entertainment System, meaning I had finally joined the “cool kids” with a real game system. My father was and remains very techno-savvy and cheap, so my life has always been full of random gaming stuff found in pawn shops, something that probably contributes to my platform agnostic nature today. The NES was the first system I received that was purchased brand-new. It was my moment in the sun.

There was no Metacritic back in the day and young Mike didn't read his Nintendo Power subscription as well as he should've, so I rented and played a lot of bad games.

Mike

Unfortunately, I lacked the money to buy another game, so once I finished the Super Mario Bros/Duck Hunt dual cartridge, I had to subsist on Blockbuster, Hollywood Video, and other local mom-and-pop video stores to feed my childish hunger.

The problem is there was no Metacritic back in the day and young Mike didn’t read his Nintendo Power subscription as well as he should’ve, so I rented and played a lot of bad games. Off the top of my head, Battletoads, Friday the 13th, Bible Adventures, Legend of Kage, X-Men, and Yo! Noid all acted as black holes sucking in my hard-earned chore money. (Yeah, Battletoads is there. Love of that game is Stockholm Syndrome in game form.) Hell, I sometimes outright didn’t get games that were later hailed as classics; I know for a fact that Blaster Master absolutely mystified my young self.

When I really think back, there were some great NES games, but I played a lot of crappy ones before I got to the gems. So many wasted hours, but I guess that’s childhood.

The real Star Raiders Pete Davison

It's difficult to pick just one early gaming memory, because with the amount of time I spent on our family's Atari computers as a child, it's almost impossible to determine what my absolute earliest one was. So I guess I'll pick something that stood out to me.

Like most people who owned a home computer in the 1980s, we had an extensive collection of pirated floppy disks that contained hundreds of dollars' worth of titles, some of which had never been released commercially. But I always found myself drawn to the cartridge-based titles for the Atari systems -- Pole Position, Space Invaders, Pac-Man and Star Raiders.

The Atari computer version of Star Raiders was infinitely superior to the 2600 version, but it's always the latter that gets thrown into emulator compilations, much to my chagrin.

Pete

Cartridge-based games for the old Atari systems came in enormous boxes -- completely unnecessarily so -- and were adorned with beautiful artwork that bore no resemblance whatsoever to the in-game graphics. In fact, the screenshots on these boxes rarely bore much resemblance to the in-game graphics.

If I had to pick one standout game from that selection, it would probably have to be Star Raiders. The Atari computer version was infinitely superior to the 2600 version, but it's always the latter that gets thrown into emulator compilations, much to my chagrin. The Atari computer version was a much more immersive, complex simulation of what it might be to fly a space fighter, and it was a thrilling experience at the time. It's a pity the recent reboot went in a completely different direction.

Waddling up to Duck Hunt Cassandra Khaw

Blindly shotgunning everything seems to be a recurrent theme. Hmm.

Cassandra

My earliest, earliest memories include staring at a black screen with moving green objects and fiddling earnestly with a yellowing mouse. I suspect it was Space Invaders. Fast forward a little further and we have cowboys? I think those were cowboys. I recall shooting at them. If you want to talk about earliest coherent memory, that's probably a toss-up between beating the pre-set high score in Tetris and waddling right up to the screen to shoot at poultry in Duck Hunt. Blindly shotgunning everything seems to be a recurrent theme. Hmm.

Haunted memories of Kong Nadia Oxford

One day my parents went to a Maple Leafs game and came home with a Colecovision. That Colecovision and its accompanying game, Donkey Kong, formed my very first gaming experience.

The Coleco rendition of Donkey Kong frightened me. It sounds silly, but I was around four at the time and easily spooked (I come from a jumpy generation. It's a consequence of growing up during a time when an episode of Sesame Street could segue into the Emergency Broadcast System's alien shriek).

The Coleco rendition of Donkey Kong frightened me. It sounds silly, but I was around four at the time and easily spooked. I come from a jumpy generation.

Nadia

Obviously, I know now Donkey Kong has always been a clownish, lovable doof, but take a look at his Colecovision rendition. DK's eyes are two beady pixels on a deathly white face that's slashed with a deep scowl. There's no opening animation, nor are there any cinemas between levels. Aside from jerkily throwing barrels in the first level, Donkey Kong doesn't move - and if you touch him, you die. Even looking at Coleco DK now, years later, he still comes off as sinister.

So there you go. The bogeyman never haunted my dreams, but Donkey Kong did.

The orange box. No. Not that one Jaz Rignall

Oh man. This is where my considerable age will make me a veritable laughing stock. Yet this is my (ancient) history, and I cannot deny it.

I grew up in the UK, and for most of my childhood lived in a very remote part of the country. Some Saturdays, my Mom, brother and I would take a painfully slow bus ride down narrow country lanes to the local town some 25 miles away -- a small seaside resort called Aberystwyth. It was there that I saw my first video game.

I wandered over to the electronics section in the hope that I might find something to curtail my impending boredom. Indeed I did, and not only would it stop me from being bored, it would change my life.

Jaz

Sometime in mid-1977, while on one of these excursions, my Mom had dragged me into Woolworths. As she disappeared with my brother to find whatever it was she was looking for, I wandered over to the electronics section in the hope that I might find something to curtail my impending boredom. Indeed I did, and not only would it stop me from being bored, it would change my life. Up on a shelf was a TV displaying something that I hadn't seen before, but instinctively knew what it was. Beneath it was without doubt the coolest looking piece of electronics I'd ever laid eyes on: a square black console resplendent with bright orange switches, to which were attached two similarly-colored boxes with dials on their front. Since the guy behind the counter was talking to someone, I went ahead and started flicking switches and turning dials. It didn't take long to figure out that Tennis, Football and Squash needed a second player, but its fourth game, Squash (Practice), was single-player.

And there I stood, transfixed as I made the square ball bounce against the wall, trying not to miss it. It was absolutely awesome. A revelation. The best thing I'd ever seen. I don't remember anything after that. Not even walking out of the store, going home or whatever. I think my brain probably just stopped recording, because it was pretty much blown.

5200 reasons why Dad rocks Kat Bailey

No one remembers the Atari 5200 particularly fondly... well, except for me. My dad bought one before I was born, and there are subsequent pictures of me as a baby dutifully sitting and watching while he played Super Breakout and Space Dungeon. In my baby book, you can find the notation, "Six months: Turned on Atari." You could say that I got an early start with video games.

In my baby book, you can find the notation, "Six months: Turned on Atari." You could say that I got an early start with video games.

Kat

By the time I was four or so, I wanted to play too, so my dad would turn on Star Raiders and leave me to try and shoot down the Zylon fighters, which resembled TIE Fighters and Klingon Battlecruisers. I honestly had no clue what I was doing. Years later, I discovered that I was supposed to manage my energy reserves while protecting the local starbases. But hell, I was four years old. All I needed was for my dad to warp me to the next spot so I could shoot down some more Zylons.

Some of my most cherished memories growing up are the times spent with my dad playing video games. As I got older, we would play Super Mario Bros, drop dozens of quarters into Street Fighter II, and beat each other up in Battletoads (yes, we were doing it wrong). My best memories though are of mashing that mushy Atari 5200 joysticks as I tried to shoot down TIE Fighters, my dad looking on.

Business as Usual with Contra Dustin Quillen

You probably know Bill "Mad Dog" Rizer and Lance "Scorpion" Bean from Contra. They were also my babysitters.

Well, if you want to get all technical, my uncle Jerry was the one in charge of keeping four-year-old me from burning the house down while my folks were off doing whatever it is young parents do when they've got a free moment away from the kids -- laundry? I bet they were doing the laundry.

Anyway, Jerry had me figured out from day one. He'd bounce into town with a copy of Contra for the NES in hand and I would just clear my schedule. Sorry, Teddy Ruxpin, but we'll have to replace your storybook cassette tape with Men At Work's Business as Usual some other time. These Rambo-esque meatheads aren't going to defend the free world all on their own, you know.

Uncle Jerry had me figured out from day one. He'd bounce into town with a copy of Contra for the NES in hand and I would just clear my schedule.

Dustin

I'd spent plenty of time with my own small collection of NES games by then, of course, but Contra was unlike anything I'd ever seen before. Its detailed environments, screen-filling bosses, and weird, behind-the-back 3D segments all expanded my concept of what a videogame could even be at that point. And the music! Loads of tunes from that era still hold up today, but Contra's 8-bit guitar licks stand out as one of the first times I can remember a game soundtrack rocking.

Invariably, my uncle would only play along for the first level or so before retiring to the couch to "rest his eyes" for the next several hours -- I guess nabbing a little shuteye took precedence over nabbing the bad guys. That meant it was just me, "Mad Dog", and an infinite army of inexplicably explosive enemy soldiers. What more could a babysittee ask of their babysitter?

These days I tend to only see Jerry at Thanksgiving or Christmas dinners, where he usually winds up sleeping off the feast of the day -- often while sitting straight up in a chair, no less. Almost instinctively, I'll start humming the Stage 1 theme from Contra at the sight of the old man sawing logs. Even 25 years after our brief time in the trenches together, my uncle's snoring remains an integral part of the soundtrack.

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Comments 17

  • Avatar for GaijinD #1 GaijinD 3 years ago
    First thing I can remember? My uncle bringing me over to a small stand of four arcade machines at a casino in Las Vegas. While everyone else gambled, I played Moon Patrol. Later on that same trip, I'd visit a more substantial arcade at Circus Circus and play the sit-down version of Atari's Star Wars game.
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  • Avatar for Dogislander #2 Dogislander 3 years ago
    Great list. Earliest childhood memory would be around 6 at Christmas, playing Combat on the 2600 with my uncle and cousin. Flying around with 3 tiny planes shooting down this massive bomber and then ricocheting bullets off the wall in a tank was all it took to hook me. Uncle cheering for us in the back...good times.

    First memory playing ALONE would be the following summer when Dad picked up a 2600 for the family and I tried Yar's Revenge. Too intense for a 6 yr old. Thumping beat followed by insects chasing me across this rainbow void...freaked me the hell out.
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  • Avatar for Dogislander #3 Dogislander 3 years ago
    Bonus trivia: Which member of the US Gamer team's earliest memory consists of disappointment in a compromised product? The answer will not surprise you. Jeremy, don't every change...
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  • Avatar for garryallen #4 garryallen 3 years ago
    I can't remember the name of the device, but the system was self contained in the controller and it plugged directly into an old black + white portable I had. First computer was a first revision Commodore 64 (with Mr Wimpy!) and I inherited an old Atari, with Pacman and Frogger, from my cousin.

    If anyone knows what that first console was called, I'd appreciate it as it is annoying me now.
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  • Avatar for Ferral #5 Ferral 3 years ago
    My first machine was a Commodore 16 and the game I remember most on that is Punchy which was just like Hunchback but with a Punch & Judy theme, also have very fond memories of Olympic Skier on the same machine and one of the Monty Mole games.

    Then we got the C64 around 1983 and with it came Secret Diary of Adrian Mole, Music Maker Keyboard and a compilation tape called Select 1 which has Hunchback, Kong, Denis through the Drinking Glass & Mr Wimpy as well as 8 other games which I can't remember off the top of my head, need to go look at the tape inlay.

    I still use my C64 to this day and love the Ocean and System 3 tape loaders for the music and artwork.

    Christmas just gone I got an Atari 520 STe, SNES & Game Gear, so it has been a completely Retro Christmas for me!
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  • Avatar for Frosty840 #6 Frosty840 3 years ago
    Oh, come off it, Jaz. "Mom"? There's writing for a US audience and then there's flat-out lying.
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  • Avatar for pertusaria #7 pertusaria 3 years ago
    Jaz, I spent about a month in Aberystwyth a few years ago. The Woolworths had closed down recently if I recall, but there was a great games shop there which had lots of older stuff. I looked in their window every day until I finally managed to pounce on a second-hand DS Lite before anyone else got round to it (I think it helped that it was pink) and picked up a few DS games and some GBA cartridges. I hope the shop is still there. Anyway, you're not the only one with fond gaming memories related to Aberystwyth.

    The first game I ever played was either Mixed-Up Mother Goose (a Sierra adventure) or a PC port of Marble Madness; I'm not sure. I was under five and my dad made a big deal of making me wash and dry my hands every time I wanted to use the computer, which I can just about remember them buying. When we got a mouse, somebody had to write "L" and "R" on the buttons for me.

    I knew nobody who had a console, so my first console-related memory isn't till I was about nine or ten, with the original Game Boy arriving for Christmas 1993, and meeting people who had various types of NES / SNES / PS.

    Edit: Many thanks for keeping the website ticking over during the holidays, everyone. I haven't been able to comment because it's really fiddly on my phone, but I've been reading all the time and it's been a comforting and very interesting link to normality over the hols.Edited January 2014 by pertusaria
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  • Avatar for danger.to.others #8 danger.to.others 3 years ago
    Funny, I don't feel that old, my picture is a new one here, so I'm not in a retirement home, yet I always end up seemingly the oldest gamer around wherever I look.
    I can remember my first gaming memory the way some people remember where they were when the Challenger exploded or the towers collapsed.
    Dad came home with a 2600 on launch day. And it was as easy as simply going in and buying it since, at launch, there wasn't much demand for it yet. None, really.
    I have no idea if it came with the console or he bought it (I was either 4 or 5 years old), but there it was....Pong.
    With my mom looking on confused by why we enjoyed it, me and my dad played that sucker for at least 3 hours.
    Yeah. Pong. 3 hours.

    And from then the addiction began. My dad went on a binge that console. In about 4 years he had bought over 525 different 2600 games. And I played them all.

    You know, I actually played E.T. all the way to the end.
    I'm not proud of it, but addicts have no limits.

    Then Nintendo came along. I was in my teens then and nothing impresses the ladies like flawlessly playing Mario Brothers.
    But my dad is completely responsible for the fact I turn my free time to games. The fact all I play now are games with killing in them, well, that one's on me.

    I still don't know how I played Pitfall the sheer amount of hours I did. True early signs of mental illness.
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  • Avatar for nadiaoxford #9 nadiaoxford 3 years ago
    @Frosty840 Hey now, I'm in Canada, but I'm expected to use US spelling for US clients, and British spelling/mannerisms for UK sites. :) Writers are flexible animals.
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  • Avatar for Jaz_Rignall #10 Jaz_Rignall 3 years ago
    @pertusaria Thanks so much for leaving a comment! Aberystwyth is a huge part of my gaming past. Playing Pong in Woolies, using my friends' micro computers, and of course spending years on the Pier practicing arcade games. All that helped me win the Arcade Championships in 1983 and get noticed enough to start writing video game articles.

    I went back to Aber a few years ago, and it's barely changed. There's something very comforting about that. The only thing that was very different was the Pier. Few arcade games these days - it's all fruit machines. I was hoping they might have a few old machines tucked away in the corner, but sadly not.

    Game Boy is a great way to start gaming. That machine was such a revelation for its time. Feels like a bit of a brick these day (I found my old one the other day and was amazed at how large it was), but so many great games on it! I imagine you spend many hours hunched over yours as a kid. I played Tetris endlessly - my rail commute time was about 90 mins at one point, and that's all I did for months on end! Needless to say, I was a bit good at it!
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  • Avatar for jeffcorry #11 jeffcorry 3 years ago
    I'm not quite sure what my first one was specifically, but it was among possibly Moon Patrol on a Commodore 64 (I think), Pole Position at a cousin's, or Karate Champ on the NES...
    It is amazing, when I think back, how powerful those images were to me on those screens. They literally don't hold a candle to today's games when compared for graphics, but you can't replace a labor of love for all the "high-techery" in the world...
    ...actually...I think I may have played Table Tennis on something at another cousin's house quite a bit earlier than Karate Champ...hmmn.Edited January 2014 by jeffcorry
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  • Avatar for pertusaria #12 pertusaria 3 years ago
    @Jaz_Rignall Most of my fond Game Boy memories are of Wario Land and Kirby's Dream Land. My mother got to play with the console a lot more than I did and I kind of resented her for being good at it, although now I wish she still gamed actively. Having to replace 4 AA batteries fairly often was a real pain - I love the fact that modern Game Boy descendants can be plugged in to charge. I think we may have had the external battery pack, but it was really cumbersome.
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  • Avatar for MeBrains #13 MeBrains 3 years ago
    @jaz_rignall I must be beating you age-wise, since my first gaming memories were of mechanical devices then prevalent in the arcade halls on Belgium's coastline. I vaguely remember a game where you'd had to shoot planes popping up mechanically, on sticks and you had to blast them down with some sort of machine gun thing extension to the cabinet. I don't remember the first time I walked into the wondrous world of arcades, but I suppose I can not have been a lot older than 5 or 6 in the mid-seventies... like you, it changed my life - still following up on games on a daily basis. :D
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  • Avatar for kosigan #14 kosigan 3 years ago
    Notr sure if it's my earliest, but this is very early but still clear to me. I was playing a Space Invaders coin-op game in a shop with a friend and he wanted a go. As you had 3 lives, I let him have the second one so I'd get another go afterwards. Then he let the Invaders get to the bottom of the screen: game over. I never did get a 10p from him for another game...
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  • Avatar for Jaz_Rignall #15 Jaz_Rignall 3 years ago
    @MeBrains I think I'm older than you! I talked about my earliest video gaming memories - but I too went to arcades in the pre-video game era. I remember playing a driving game that was a video of a chase where you had to match steering wheel movements with what was happening on screen. Get it wrong and lights would flash across the screen. Get it right, and your score would increase on an LED display on top of the machine. I also played mechanical shooting galleries, different kinds of pinball variants that were kinda like the Japanese pachinko games, and a machine where you guided a ball through a maze that you could tilt. The whole thing was under a huge plastic dome.

    All of that stuff was terrible - but fortunately Pong came along, then Space Invaders, and that changed everything. Thankfully!
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  • Avatar for DiscordInc #16 DiscordInc 3 years ago
    My earliest gaming memory is going over to a my next door neighbor's house and playing the NES for the first time. I don't remember if they owned or rented it, but I do remember playing Super Mario Bros., Mickey Mousecapades, Mega Man 2, and Jaws. I'd like to say that my life was changed at that moment, but I honestly can't remember too much of it. The games all stuck with me, even if I wouldn't find more about two of them until I was on the Internet (you can probably guess which two).

    My earliest and most substantial gaming memory involves the Atari 2600. My grandparent's had one at the house and occasionally we were allowed to hook it up and play. What really sticks out though are the times it would come out at the holidays when all of the family was there. We'd all be gathered round in the den trying different games, and the best one was Warlords.

    My grandparents (well, more likely an uncle) had those split paddle controllers that allowed you to play with four people, and it was a blast. I was never very good at it, since I was pretty young at the time, but the memories of trying to catch and fling that fireball stuck with me. Even though I haven't played the game in years I still remember it fondly.
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  • Avatar for wizardofvideogames #17 wizardofvideogames 3 years ago
    My actual first memory of a game was of a football simulation on an original IBM PC, I believe was simply titled, "NFL". After choosing teams, each player would select an offensive and defensive play and little "X" and "O" sports chalkboard characters would automatically play out the results. It was like an electronic version of that physically vibrating football board game that was way to expensive for my parents too afford, so mocked me from the Sears catalog for years. To this day, I can't spell fox, ox, sox, box, or exothermic without flashing back to those days spent on the digital gridiron.Edited January 2014 by wizardofvideogames
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