Moving to Freedom, .Org(on)

My Life So Far, in Video Games

Ruy Lopez Chess Opening

When I was a kid, we had some kind of console Pong game before our Atari 2600. I remember it, but I don’t. My dad, an often early-adopting electrical engineer, would have been the one to bring it home.

Also around this time, there was Oregon Trail on the Commodore PET at my elementary school. My dad showed me how to interrupt the Basic program and change it. Me and my friends made it print out new things — usually obscene, of course. What else do you expect from boys?

The first video game I remember playing on the 2600 was Asteroids. I can still hear in my head the clunky, relentless sound of it. I went over to a friend’s house and proudly reported a high score of 500,010. He and his older brother found great amusement in that, laughing as they kept repeating, “And ten!” I played so many games on that 2600. I have a box of the cartridges sitting on a shelf, but no game system. I should throw them out, I guess. Let it go.

And then there were the Commodore home computers. The VIC-20 and the C64. The Commodore 64 was a great game machine. My brother-in-law and I liked playing Raid on Bungeling Bay. He and my sister were (and remain) eight years older than me, and playing games on that computer was a more effective bonding experience than my earlier attempts to spy on them with a homemade periscope. (My dad had helped me make the periscope. He actually did most of the making of it, and it wasn’t intended for spying, I’m sure.)

I later learned that Will Wright designed Bungeling Bay. It was his first game, according to Wikipedia. I saw somewhere where he said that he had the most fun making an editor for building the islands in the game, and this is what led to Sim City. (I’m not sure how that fits in with this post, but I’ve always found it interesting. An example of how our dreams find us?)

I unsentimentally sold off all incarnations of the Commodore systems at garage sales, and only mildly regret it. The next console system I owned was the Sega Genesis. I played a lot of Sonic the Hedgehog in a haze of marijuana. Some of it likely purchased with money earned from the Commodore sales. It was awesome and dreary at the same time.

Then I returned to computer games when my cousin moved into my mom’s house with his Gateway 486. Doom was the “gateway” drug on there. I learned the meaning of “pixelated dreams.” And then I had my first experience with Windows, booting into Windows 3.1 to play games there. Video games (and my cousin) led me back to computers, from which I had been away for several years while working on another kind of machine.

After several years of PC gaming, I drifted away from video games for a while. For many years.

Until earlier this year when I bought a Wii, on a “wiim.” Mostly because I wanted to play Toy Story Mania, which is a story for another post. And then a friend lent me Zelda: Twilight Princess.

I had never played any of the Zelda games. This one became fun for the whole family. My five-year-old daughter loved it. And my wife liked it, to my surprise. I think she liked the puzzle-solving and the adventure, along with the family time. I ran the controls, dodging creatures on screen and the flailing arms of my daughter sitting next to me on the couch. Such fun. Such good family time. We took our time exploring the world and going on side quests, and spent a hundred hours finishing the thing, over three months. And now Zelda: Skyward Sword has just come out, and good times are here again, with a whole new world to explore.

With the arrival of cheap tablets in the house, we’re also discovering cheap games. Like Plants Vs. Zombies. Oh, man. The other morning I had dreams with patterns of suns overlaying my field of vision. If you’ve played the game, that probably makes sense to you. What a fantastic game for only $3.

The best part of it is the free entertainment from our daughter, watching us play. She latches on and provides a running commentary of the events on the screen. Kathy has been ahead of me in levels, so Sam will share her insights on what’s to come. (“Soon you’ll see…”) She also has her favorite plants and demands that you use limited slots for them, creating an additional resource planning challenge.

But what a great way for her to learn about zombies in a non-threatening environment, to better prepare her for the upcoming zombie apocalypse. She has been desensitized to the brain eating, and I think that can only be a good thing.