Thursday, February 7, 2008

Games of yore

I've mentioned before that my dad was an early adopter--we often had new media technologies in our house in the earliest years of their consumer popularity.
So we had our first VCR, a top-loader that looked something like this (courtesy of in 1981.

There were also a host of video game consoles in my house. I think my dad always wanted to be a serious gamer but only had brief periods of infatuation with a console or a game before his acquisitive desires took over and he was on to the next. But he didn't get a lot of encouragement in his gaming, either. My sister, my mom, and I would be somewhat amused by the latest toy but never kept our attention on it in a way that would have stoked his enthusiasm. Nonetheless, I have crystal clear memories of the various consoles that passed through our house in the '70s and '80s. When I started to look around online for images, I spotted the games we had right away. Surely the earliest was this Bally Professional Arcade.

Next was Intellivision:

This was the era of Atari being all the rage, but no Atari in our house. I'm sure my dad had his reasons--probably an electronics magazine that told him about the superior technologies of other brands--but I would always admit rather sheepishly to kids at school that we had one of these other games when asked about my experience with an Atari title.

There may well have been other consoles along the way, but the next that I remember came much later, after I was out of the house: 3DO. My strongest memory of 3DO is of the controversial live-action game Night Trap, in which you had to stop a bunch of masked bogeymen from grabbing Dana Plato and her giggly slumber party pals. The game stirred up controversy for being sexist and violent and today it ranks on serious gamers' lists as one of the worst video games of all time. Mostly, it was pretty goofy. And I liked it--perhaps indicating that I'm never going to see eye to eye with the gamer boys who write lists like the "crapstravaganza" on which Night Trap ranks. But, c'mon, Dana Plato! As an undercover officer on a mission! And it was my job to help her! I loved the live action sequences and the semblance of narrative, the thing I found missing in too many of the games I played, however briefly, with my dad.

I've been pretty much out of the gaming universe for years now, except for reading a bit of the small but growing world of gaming scholarship and talking with a student or two who knows way more about it all than I do. But I remain kind of intrigued by the whole thing-not so much as something I want to spend time doing, but as something I want to understand--especially to understand why games so compel the attention and devotion of their largely male players (yes, I know, of course there are lots of girl and women gamers, but it is no doubt a masculine culture on the whole).

Maybe that's why I'm looking forward to attending the Video Games Live concert here in Milwaukee next month, where the Milwaukee Symphony Orchestra will play video game scores as massive screens display game visuals. I'm sure my dad would have gotten a kick out of the idea. No chance they'll play the Night Trap theme song, is there?

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

Sorry to hear about your dad.