Monday, December 6, 2010

The most bestest video game ever

In my Freshman year, there was nothing I wanted more for Christmas than the Atari Adventure game.  It was 1980, and Reagan's election heralded the possibility that America's demise might still be three or four decades away, rather than just around the corner.  Star Wars was still reverberating through the popular culture, and whispers that those big old video cassette recorders we had in school might become available for your average peon's household.    

During this time, as Raiders of the Lost Ark and E.T. dominated the box office, another cultural phenomenon had broken loose on an unsuspecting public.  Brainchild of a couple game aficionados, it combined a strange brew of war gaming and imagination based on anything from medieval history to fantasy literature and classical mythology.  The game was, of course, Dungeons and Dragons.  And it brought a wave of fantasy based products to the forefront of the commercial market in the early 80s.  This lasted until religious groups labeled it satanic and, worse, pop culture labeled it the domain of geekdom (before Bill Gates made being a geek quite profitable). 

During its heyday, several wonderfully imaginative products, films, and books were released.  Chief among these were the aforementioned Adventure video game.  Even though I never counted myself a sci-fi or fantasy fan, the game captured my imagination.  The box cover, always famously beyond anything that Atari graphics could deliver, was more than enough pique my interest. 

It was delivered to me rather innocuously by my eventual ex-brother in law who at that time merely wanted to make a good impression on the family.  He walked in through the living room door from the kitchen - I can still see the light brownish jacket he wore in defiance of the cold December weather - and whipped out the box.  I leaped up, ran across the room and had it playing in no time.

It's amazing.  The game design was quite crude, and even then, we were aware of its limitations.  We knew there was more potential for what video games could offer.  Nonetheless, I spent hours, and hours, and hours, and hours maneuvering that little square through the same mazes, the same labyrinths, the same crudely drawn castles, and all the while evading the same duck shaped dragons.  Friends came over and joined the fun, playing it for hours on end.

Even though technology has rendered such early visions of computer games obsolete, it's still fun to remember.  I admit, the nostalgia packs of games you can buy that have games like this have a fast sell by date.  You play them couple times, then quickly grow bored.  And yet at the time, before graphics and Internets and multi-media allowed access to a million graphic renderings of such things as castles and dragons, what the imagination was able to fill in between the dots and pixels was really amazing.  For it was more a guide for the pistons of our mental image making that really became the star attraction of games like these. 

As great as the graphics today, as advanced and awe inspiring as the games can be, I've noticed one thing.  I notice that no matter what is happening when I'm playing a Call of Duty or similar product, there is one thing lacking: Imagination.  How can it be there?  Graphically and visually, everything has been supplied.  So I wonder what the creative ventures of a generation weaned on visual images to order at the tips of their fingers will be producing years from now.   Will it be beyond our wildest dreams because they find inspiration from what is already there?  Or will there be stunted growth because they never had to fill in the gaps where there was nothing to begin with?  Time will tell I guess.


  1. It's a good question, and one I wonder from time to time as I get ahold of various eight-bit wonders I haven't already played and imagined to death. 8^)

    We got one of them arcade things with some dozen Atari classics; I remember thinking the dragons looked like ducks... but mostly I remember trying hard to dissociate "Adventure" the Atari game from "Adventure" the text game based on them caves in Kentucky (which is still more awesome than any game with any graphics at all, I sometimes think). 8^)

    And I'm only twenty-one; this happens when you get videogames mainly as hand-me-downs and develop a taste for... that retro stuff, eight-bit music and the like. 8^)

    Then again, the other advantage to thinking even the first Metal Gear Solid is newfangled is that I'm still impressed by the execution of scenes in such moderately old shooters and so come out thinking there's hope for newfangled things after all; I guess we will have to see how it goes in the future, though. If it doesn't work out... there's always books, which I also enjoy over movies for the imaginative aspect. Personally, I often enjoy movies least of the three -- games, books and movies -- because it involves the least involvement on my part. That could be a personal quirck, though; and it's not like there aren't some great ones of those, some of which are brand new also, e.g. Inception, which earned all that hype it got, in my opinion.

  2. I find movies nice when I'm in a lazy mood. I much prefer games and books. Not that movies are bad - I love them actually, for when I'm feeling lazy. But I enjoy the involvement part of games, especially strategy games.


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