It was like Christmas morning. Out of nowhere my parents decided to surprise my brother, sister and I on a whim. For six months we had been asking, not really, more like begging our parents to buy us an Atari 2600. As a ten year old in 1982, I thought it was the coolest game system to have ever graced the planet with it’s presence. Now, all of a sudden, it was in our living room. I honestly thought I was in a dream. Shortly after hooking the system up to our 25inch floor model console TV we were off and playing. Notice I didn’t say gaming. Games like PacMan, Space Invaders, Combat and Donkey Kong were all among the special gift that night. However, after beginning to play one game stood out among all those we were trying to conquer. Pitfall!
I was immediately hooked to this 1982 classic arcade game made by Activision. Game after game that night I was determined to beat the system. While playing, my brother was reading the game pamphlet to me. It must have been quite the scene. All of a sudden my brother exclaimed, “If you beat the game by reaching 10,000 points, you can take a Polaroid of of the screen and then send it to Activision to become part of their club. Better yet, they send you a patch.” I remember thinking, game on!
This past week while reading A Social History of The Media by Asa Briggs and Peter Burke I was struck by the concept of media convergences during the early years of personal computers. More specifically in an article titled “A New Era in Computation” found in Daedalus, the journal of the American Academy of Arts and Sciences speaks of a direct link which was forged between early personal computers and entertainment. Entertainment, mainly in the form of video games. While reading this work three main convergences began to emerge.
The Shaping of a Generation
Convergence of the arcade and home… For years those who wanted to play video games needed to leave their homes and drive to an arcade. Often located in a mall or bowling alley. Arcades not only forced people to become mobile but also required money for their gaming machines to be played. A quarter was like magic. Insert and play away. Now, all of a sudden the arcade was in your very living room. No driving, no money, no hours of operation needed, simply limitless play.
Convergence of TV and gaming system… Since the 1950’s many middle class families would sit down after a long hard day of work and watch television together. Like it’s predecessor before, the radio, families would huddle around the TV. Now, this same TV was turned into a modern day arcade. What was fairly simple and mono-directional in its communication, now became complex and interactive. What was once meant for one form of use was now being argued over for control due to options.
Convergence of time and space… All I can remember of the 1970’s is playing outside. Kick the can, ghost in the graveyard, hide and seek, climbing trees, riding bike and swimming in the near by pond is simply all I can remember. I remember the 1980’s a little differently. Mainly, by my mom yelling at me to get off the Atari and go outside and play. If I had a quarter for every time she made that statement, I’d be a rich man. Physical mobility gave way to being stationary. Time which was spent connected to nature now gave way to two dimensional objects on a screen.
Nicholas Bushnell understood the concept of converging these two media. Nicholas in 1974 developed a video game by the name of “Pong” driven by a small microprocessor which could be hooked up to your TV. By 1980, Bushnell’s newly formed company Atari grossed over 100 million dollars by simply merging video games with very basic home computers. Little did I know how much I was being shaped by the merging of technologies.
Well, our first night with the Atari ended abruptly. Before I could conquer Pitfall, my mom was yelling for my brother and I to go to bed. However, three weeks later, a few more games under my belt, quite a bit more experience and a Polaroid in hand. I beat the game. The patch was forever mine. I know, crazy!
How have you been shaped by merging technologies?
By the way, I still have two of these systems in my attic!