I’m 54 years old and I played FortNite every day for the last three years. One of the questions I get asked all the time, “How did I get into video games as an ‘older person.'”
This is the first episode of an occasional video series where I answer that question. Let’s rewind the clock to almost 50 years ago at the dawn of the video game industry.
I was five years old when I first saw the Atari Pong arcade machine in 1975. My father and I were in the basement of the Sear’s store outside of downtown San Jose. Like many department stores in the area at that time, the return desk was in the basement. We waited while my mother returned something.
My father reached into his pocket, pulled out a quarter, and dropped it into the coin slot. The black-and-white game started after a moment. We each turned a knob to control a paddle that bounced the ball across the screen. I don’t recall what the final score was when the game ended. No doubt that my father won since his hand-eye coordination was better than a five-year-old.
I wouldn’t play another arcade machine until the early 1980s.
Early Video Game Consoles
My parents got me two video game consoles that came out in 1977.
The Magnavox Odyssey 2000 was similar to the Atari Pong I played in the Sear’s basement. Both Magnavox and Atari came out with their version of Pong in 1972. Magnavox sued Atari for patent infringement in 1974 and won their case in 1977. Atari paid $700,000 for a licensing agreement.
The Coleco Telstar Combat was a tank combat game. A pair of fixed joysticks controlled the movement of each tank and the button fires the gun. Players maneuvered their tank around the walls to shoot at each other.
Both consoles hooked up to the TV via the TV/game switch box. That switch box would hold a prominent place in my life for the next 15 years.
Handheld Electronic Games
I had three handheld electronic games that influenced me as a gamer in the late 1970s.
The Mattel Football Game allowed you to score touchdowns and kick field goals against the opposing team. If you figured out the pattern for the opposing team, you can score 100 points to zero points for every game.
You couldn’t beat the Mattel Battlestar Galactica Space Alert. The game ended only when a Cylon Raider reaches the bottom of the screen to destroy the Galactica. Each wave of 20 Cylon Raiders kept coming down the screen in the same predictable pattern. That pattern allowed me to play the game for a very long time.
The Coleco Quiz Wiz was a bit different. The “computer” plugs into a cartridge with a booklet that had 1,001 trivia questions. You type in the question number, press one of the “A” through “D” buttons, and press the “Answer” button.
- A green light with a beep indicates that you got the correct answer.
- A red light with a buzzer indicates that you got the wrong answer.
Since I memorized the 1,001 answers for the first cartridge, I had the answers for the second and third cartridges. I gave up on buying any more cartridges after I discovered that pattern.
Milton Bradley Big Trak
I also had the Milton Bradley Big Trak programmable tank toy in 1979. This six-wheeled tank looked like the vehicles from the “Damnation Alley” movie. You could program up to 16 commands for the Big Trak to move forward, backward, turn around, or fire the “laser” weapon.
The limited commands that Big Trak had was similar to a computer language called “Logo.” A cursor, sometimes called a turtle, would follow the commands to draw lines on a computer screen. I would learn about Logo for the Apple 2 in the 1980s.
Looking back almost 50 years ago, I can blame my parents for getting me into video games. Playing Pong in 1975 was only the beginning. The 1980s ushered in the video game revolution.