Above is the view I had as a 3 year old, the very first time I ever played a video game. I was born right in the middle of the video game crash of the early 1980's--as hard as it is to believe, there was a time when it seemed that the 'fad' of video games was truly going to die out. Massive overproduction, poor business practices, and low quality releases brought the industry leader, Atari, to their knees, and it was very possible the industry as a whole would disappear. Remember, at this time, video games, especially home consoles, were very, very young: really less than a decade. They were an expensive niche toy, and didn't have the cultural and economic penetration that we take for granted today.
It was in this environment that I grew up as a gamer. I had an Atari 2600 in my home since before I could form cogent memories. So for me, playing video games wasn't just a passion or a fandom, it was a fact of life. I played video games as a matter of course. But compared to gaming these days, things were a bit primitive. For example, my 2600 in the picture above...guess what I played it on. Something that looked a lot like this:
No, that's not a radar screen from World War 2, that's a black and white television. By cranking those knobs on the right side and wiggling the cords just right, it was possible to push aside gobs of static and barely, just barely, make out the simple little blocks and blobs that were Atari game graphics. I spent as many hours as I could hunched in front of a tiny screen like this, perhaps 12 inches across, tucked in the corner of my room, blasting away at asteroids and space aliens and tanks and THAT DAMN FBI AGENT IN E.T. LEAVE ME THE HELL ALONE.
Playing games like that for years has absolutely affected me as a gamer today. For example, a huge amount of hype in the modern games industry comes from graphics. High definition this, color depth that, you know what I mean. I, for one, have never cared about graphics. I mean, honestly, who cares? If seeing neat colorful explosions going off and space marines jumping around and SUPER HIGH DEF FABRIC FLUTTERING TECHNOLOGY, I'll go watch one of the billions of CGI-heavy movies that Hollywood craps out each year. I know from experience that I can get hours of fun out of watching two black and white squares bumping into each other across 3 inches of play area.
One time, just as the 1980's were ending and the 90's were around the corner I got a crazy idea. What would happen if I plugged my Atari into a COLOR TV? Madness, I know! It turns out, that whole time? Yeah, those games could be displayed in color! Muted blues and greens and a lot of brown. That was pretty cool. My mind was blown. Yeah, I'm a cheap date.
These days are a bit different. The pic above is a view of some of my video game console collection. (Check out that Sega CD I just got in the upper right! Haven't even had time to hook it up and see if it works yet) Most of these were purchased brand new over the course of the past 30 years. The only consoles that I didn't own when they were released are the Sega CD (obviously) and the NES (blasphemy, I know). I am, I think it's fair to say, a well-rounded nerd. I love fantasy novels and films, I play DnD and other tabletop games, I read comic books, I go to conventions and do cosplay, and plenty of other stuff. But if I have one thing that I claim true fandom of, it's video games.
I suppose my focus is more on what is now classified as "retro" gaming. My largest collection of games is still my catalogue of Playstation 1 games. The pic above is about half of them. Somehow today the original Playstation and even the Playstation 2 are being thrown into that retro category...and that still feels strange to me. These older games, in my mind, don't need to be categorized as retro, they don't need to be differentiated from modern games. They are just video games, same as everything that came before or since. Play and enjoy them all and who cares about labeling yourself vintage? I don't know, am I coming across as some sort of video gaming hipster? I hope not, because that's not the intention.
But you know, thinking about it, I've really only talked about console gaming. And while that is a huge part of my experience in the hobby, and who I am as a fan, the biggest influence on me is actually PC gaming. I started playing games on the PC not too terribly long after I started with my Atari. And unlike the Atari, I can vividly remember my very first introduction to gaming on the PC.
It was the early 1990's, and I visited my father's office after work hours were over. I think we had gone with him while he went in to finish up some extra work or get some files or something. He booted up his PC, and on the screen appeared Windows 3.0. That looks something like this:
My brother and I played around with the paintbrush program for a bit, but then my dad said "Here, I'll start a game and you guys can play that while you wait." He booted the PC back into DOS, typed in a couple of commands, and boom, there it was. QBASIC Gorillas!
It's a pretty simple game. You type in angles and speeds and chuck bananas at each other until one of your giant gorillas explodes. And hey, if you want to play it today, it's available online, just click on this link! There you go, now you can experience what my 8 year old self did all those years ago!
If playing video games on consoles became just a fact of life, playing games on PC began a true calling and passion. Oh, and not just playing, but making games too. QBASIC, the same programming language used to create Gorillas, was available to me and easy to get started with. And after that, there was ZZT, which allowed me to create entire top-down adventures, just like Zelda! Well, ok, not quite as pretty to look at as the Zelda games...see what I mean?
As both I and PC gaming grew, we saw the rise of the modding scene. I slaved away for hours hand crafting levels for Wolfenstein 3D, Doom, and Duke Nukem 3D. I learned how to swap out graphics, how to modify enemies and weapons, how to understand the inner workings of games. And eventually, I went off to school to study computer science, with the hope of one day becoming a game developer myself (this was long before actual universities offered degrees in video game design as they do today).
But things change, and all of that was a long, long time ago.
Today, video gaming is my fandom, but not my career. Once upon a time I probably regretted that fact, but not anymore. Because I don't think I would be happy letting my fandom become my job. Being payed to do something...being forced to do it on a schedule...being told how to do it by someone else...all of those things spoil it somehow. We have a passion for what we do not because it will pay the bills or bring us respect or make us famous. We have a passion because it is at the core of who we are and will always be so.
So I'll continue gaming forever, either until I die, or there is another video game industry crash so big it destroys the hobby completely. Well, actually, no, if that were to happen, I'd still have my Atari 2600.
And I bet you I could probably dig up an old black and white TV somewhere to play it on.