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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.

By USgamer Team. Published 3 months ago

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.

The best community comments so far 18 comments

  • nadiaoxford 3 months 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.

  • pertusaria 3 months 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 Unknown

  • pertusaria 3 months 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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