It's time to cast your mind back as far as it can go, to the very first memory you have of playing - or perhaps watching - a video game. How old were you? What game was it that captured your imagination? Or not, as the case may be. That's what we want to know as we ask you to reveal your very earliest video game memory.
While you think about that, here's the USgamer team on the moment when they reached gaming sentience.
My earliest gaming memory is playing Ms. Pac-Man on a lone upright cabinet randomly stranded in the center of the lawn and garden department at Sears. However, I thought it would be more interesting to 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.
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.
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.
Sometime in mid-1976, 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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
Thinking back, it's difficult to figure out exactly when my earliest video game memories were formed, but I'm guessing the spark for this lifelong obsession probably ignited around the age of four. That would place me in the mid-'80s, back when the foyer or entryway of every store had at least a few arcade cabinets sitting next to vending machines where children could receive a crude facsimile of a toy in exchange for a quarter. Being forced to tag along on countless shopping trips, my reward for not being a little brat gradually transitioned from these plastic choking hazards to a few minutes with an arcade machine, which mostly consisted of me trying to figure out how the thing actually worked. (Thankfully, most of these places had milk crates close at hand for us tiny people.)
I'm not sure which game I encountered first, but I do have distinct memories of playing Popeye, Kangaroo, and Ms. Pac-Man--with the latter being the only one where I could actually finish a level. Not long after this, my family picked up an Atari 2600, mostly thanks to its bargain basement price, but video games didn't completely take over my mind until Nintendo entered the picture. I have the fuzziest memories of being incredibly young, and watching some older cousins(?) play through Kung-Fu as I sat nearby and watched, absolutely captivated. In retrospect, they had be be early adopters, since this really couldn't have happened any later than 1986 -- at least a year or two before Nintendo became synonymous with video games.
Even though I had a moderate amount of exposure to them, I initially considered Nintendo games "big kid stuff" for a bit because of how much they intimidated me. It wasn't until another family trip--possibly to see more cousins, don't ask me--that this all changed. Being the only kid there, the adults were looking for something to keep me occupied, so they brought me to the room of an alleged relative that featured an NES and two drawers full of games. A child with a burgeoning interest in video games couldn't ask for anything more, so I spent the next several hours trying everything in sight--even if I needed help changing the cartridges from time to time. Given that my most vivid memories of this day include playing Ring King and Mighty Bomb Jack, it's a wonder that I didn't give up video games on the spot. 30 have passed, and I'm still not sure how the hell Mighty Bomb Jack is supposed to play--but if not for that experience, who knows if I'd be writing this?
Since I was born into gaming, it’s hard to imagine a time when I wasn’t play video games. So we’ll go with my first cognition of the experience. I, like Kat was four years old. In fact, it was my fourth birthday. When I got home from preschool my father surprised me with a Super Nintendo. I remember unboxing it like one of those crazy kids on youtube and the process of him hooking it up to our old Philips television. With it I received two games: Mario Paint, and Mario’s Early Years: Preschool. Up until this point I was only able to play with my cousins, but now with a console at home I swiftly became addicted. Birthdays and Christmases promised me the latest console releases and newest titles and I awaited them with utmost anticipation. Gaming also served as a platform for me and my father to bond. I will always cherish all those games of Mario Kart he let me win. They have a very special place in my heart.