In the last installment of Growing Up Gaming, I talked about the Crippled Crow and how it introduced me to the world of arcade games, but that wasn’t my only foray into gaming when I was a kid. I was born in 1981, which means that I was growing up as all of the greatest innovations in video games were happening, and when I was about five or six years old I got my very first home video game system at home.
Now, most people would think that around that time I would have gotten a Nintendo Entertainment System, but as I have talked about in other articles, Nintendo isn’t widely known for their ability to keep up with demand, and in the 80s they were no different. Luckily, I wasn’t old enough to care about having the popular system and was just stoked that I was able to play video games at home.
It was a Christmas present from my grandmother and I opened it with what I could only assume is the restraint that a five year old would have. Before me was my very first console, an Atari XE. It was a beautiful flat gray rectangle with four coloured buttons on the top and a keyboard attached. With it came three cartridges similar to the original Atari, but the same flat gray as the console.
The first was the Mario Bros game where they are trying to hit the turtles from underneath the platforms and a large POW button in the middle of the screen. The second was a game that was a flight simulator that used the keyboard as the control panel of a large airliner. Of course the game didn’t come with any instructions so for years I had to play with different buttons to see what would happen, and once you got up in the air there really wasn’t any objectives or anything for you to do. I killed many passengers playing that game. The third game was a game that was something I had played in the arcade and had a familiar title, Donkey Kong Jr. In this game you were Donkey Kong’s son trying to rescue him from the Mario looking character who I can only assume was really pissed when he finally got to the top of the tower after jumping over all those damn barrels.
The other reason I will always remember the Atari XE fondly is that it began my love of coding. The console came with a book that had basic coding script in it, and I would spend hours typing it in to the blue screen that looked like a Commodore screen. The problem was, there was no save feature on the console, so I would not be able to save the thousands of lines of code I copied over. The other problem was that even though it took you hours upon hours to copy the code over, it really didn’t do much. For example, one of the programs would flash a few colours on the screen, another would do nothing except create a big crashing sound on the television. I suppose in the end it was a good thing that I spent all those hours copying code, because it gave me practice for when I was eventually writing code as a living.
I never received anymore games for the Atari XE because I eventually moved on to the Nintendo, but I will always remember the joy of turning on the system for the first time and watching the Mario Bros appear on the screen.