The year was 1987, I was seven. It was a weekend or maybe a holiday, I do not remember exactly. I lived in a small country town and was on my way to my grandfather's house, in the neighboring medium-sized city. In the car were my father, my uncle, and their respective children: me and my cousin, about three years older.
My grandfather had a neighborhood grocery store, that sold a little bit of everything. Whenever I went there he gave me a surprise, Nestlé chocolate that was my favorite. Pure milk chocolate wrapped in foil, with a figure of an animal drawn in relief on the chocolate itself. On cardboard there was also a picture of an animal, with information about him, its habitat, etc. on the back. Both chocolate in aluminum and the figurine were wrapped in a paper packaging. These stickers could be glued to an album, that Nestlé sent free of charge to those who sent them four packages of chocolate by mail. There have been several albums over the years, with different themes. Over time they exchanged the paper and aluminum foil packaging for a single plastic packaging and the figurines were greasy from direct contact with the chocolate. And finally Surprise was unfortunately discontinued.
In that day, when we got there my grandfather informed me that my other uncle, newest, single and who lived with him, was playing video games. We entered the house that was attached to the grocery store and there we found my uncle playing on the TV in the living room. It was the first time I saw a video game, and it was a Atari 2600.
He showed us several games, and let us play too. I don't remember exactly everyone, but one of them was the Enduro. My uncle even gave a wrong tip about the game: the button is the accelerator, don't let him go at all. For a long time I played like this, even when I already had my console. I even got there by the fifth day, but I ended up losing by running too much and crashing. When I looked at the tips of the designer Larry Miller, that came in the manual, I started to go further, arriving on the seventh day. I recently arrived on the 15th day, one of the few cases in which my adult self overcame my child self in a game of the time.
From the other games that day I have a little vague memory, but I'm almost sure that the River Raid, the Frostbite, and the Jungle Hunt. While we were playing my uncle was always with a walkman using the headphones. At one point he said: this song matches this game, and hummed a piece: era Primate man of the Titans, launched in the same year. Now I don't remember if the game in question was the Jungle Hunt ou o Frostbite.
Both me and my cousin were impressed with the console. I don't remember if he had ever seen a video game, but for me it was the first time. Before that it was something I had only heard of. The only sure thing is that we wanted a video game too.
On the way back, my uncle, my cousin's father, threw a bucket of cold water in our dreams. He said that the video game had an antenna and that the video games came from a broadcast tower (as if they were TV channels) and that in our city there was no tower. He even pointed to a tower on the way back saying that it was that antenna there that transmitted the games.
But I got a flea behind my ear. I was only seven, but that story didn't make sense to me because I saw the cartridges. I saw my other uncle change the cartridges to change the games. But, innocent who was, I didn't think my uncle could be lying just to give up the idea of wanting a video game.
For the next few days I was making high conjectures that the cartridge could only serve to tell the video game that we have such a game, and then it would come from the antenna. I was accidentally making a prediction of the future: today I put the disc in Playstation 4 just for him to know that I have the game, because the content is already in HD and was mostly downloaded over the Internet, because the disc version is usually outdated right at the launch.
The days passed and my parents, knowing that the gift I wanted most was a video game, decided to give me one for Christmas. I remember that one day I was with my father and we were returning from somewhere that I don't remember anymore. We then went to Loja Cem in the neighboring city to buy the video game. I saw the box and saw the girl wrap the gift I would only get for Christmas. A few days to go, a few weeks, memory fails me, but I waited anxiously.
Behold, Christmas has come, that fell on a Friday. I woke up and ran to open my present. There was the Atari 2600 the Polyvox, in its gray box with a picture of the console and photos of various games on the front and back. It was sold a few years later, but it was the same as the one I bought again a few years ago:
It was the model with built-in source, but with the joysticks still detachable. Along with him came the Enduro, big game.
I had just completed the first grade, so I was able to read the manual. My dad went to install it, connecting the antenna switchbox to the TV's VHF antenna input. In my city for some reason all TV channels were on UHF, so nobody even had a VHF antenna and that entry was free. The TV was a Sharp like the one in the picture below and it was the only one in the house:
Those little buttons on the front selected between 8 preset channels. They were touch sensitive keys, something I never saw. Next to each key, a little light came on when the channel was selected. Opening a small door there were rotary buttons for each key, where the channel was manually tuned. There was nothing automatic tuning. The 8 buttons were triple, with the red outer part serving to select between VHF-A, VHF-B, and UHF, and the other two to make normal adjustment and fine tuning. Only 8 channels seems little nowadays, but at the time there were only a few 6 or 7 canals in the city.
As the manual said to use the channels 2 or 3, my dad used the button tuning 2 and 3, which actually has no relation to the VHF channel, but so far so good. For some reason he was unable to find the correct attunement, maybe you were looking in the highest VHF range, where are the channels of 8 a 13. All we saw was the static image and sound, unmistakable for anyone who played video games at that time, pois ela era vista e ouvida sempre que o console era desligado para trocar o jogo.
Meus pais resolveram então pedir ajuda para dois vizinhos, que são irmãos, um tanto mais velhos, e que tinham videogame. Eles se recusaram a ajudar. Tudo bem que era Natal, estavam reunidos com a família. Mas custava sair por 5 or 10 minutos para instalar um videogame e deixar uma criança feliz com seu brinquedo novo?
Ironically, esses rapazes cresceram, se casaram, tiveram filhos, compraram videogames para eles e… não souberam instalar. Adivinhe quem foi chamado para instalar esses consoles? Yeah, myself! At Playstation One and an Nintendo 64. Eu poderia ter me vingado, but that didn't happen. Na verdade eu já nem lembrava mais do episódio que acontecera há mais de 10 years. Foi melhor assim. Because, como dizia o Senhor Madruga: “Revenge is never good, mata el alma y la envenena” 🙂
But that Christmas day my father kept trying to tune in and soon the image of Enduro appeared on the screen with all its beautiful pixels. First in black and white, but with the fine adjustment soon the colors appeared. And then it was just fun, I played all day, until sick. One game after another, sometimes I got tired of playing seriously and played pairing the car with someone else and just following it until the end of the day.
On Christmas Day, our family usually went to the house of one of my grandmothers, where some other uncles also went with their families. But that year it was my grandmother who came to lunch at our house, so I ended up being able to stay in the video game almost all day.
The following day, it was a Saturday, my dad left and came back with two cartridges borrowed: River Raid and Decathlon. I remember that at first we were unable to play the Decathlon, it took a while for me to realize that I needed to move the control to both sides repeatedly. I remember that cousins and neighbors came to play and we even had competitions in River Raid, playing with two players and whoever scored less points left and gave way to the next.
Some time later my parents bought an old black-and-white TV to put in my room and take me and the kids out of the room, where we occupied the TV a lot. A few years later they built a small building at the bottom of the lot and TV and video games went there. In my last days of Atari 2600 it was even exchanged for another Sharp TV, just like the room, but a little more shabby, and I went back to playing Atari in color!
It was almost four years that Atari 2600 it was my only video game. Back then games were not that expensive, because in Brazil they were almost all unlicensed, so eventually my parents bought me a cartridge. And they were found in several places: Department store, record and tape stores, photography and optics stores, electronics stores, etc. I still keep here a short list of all the cartridges I had, I did at the time:
My first cartridge besides Enduro was one of two games with River Raid and Fantastic Voyage from Genus. At one point I had a cartridge with Ms. Pac-Man and Tapper, and J.F.. But that had a sad ending when I loaned it to a neighbor, there was a storm and an electrical discharge decimated his console and my cartridge. The console has been fixed, the cartridge stayed with his mother who said she would buy another one for me, but it never happened.
I really missed those two games. Of Pac-Man only that first bad version that Atari made, that I had in another cartridge. I just went to have and play the Ms. Pac-Man again some 3 years after, and the Tapper unfortunately I never had. I just went to play again with the emulators 10 years after, and now with the Harmony Cartridge, that allows you to put the games on an SD card and play on the original console.
Then came cartridges of 4 the Dactar and AppleVision games. J.F two-game cartridges. e Digivision. I also had some cartridges from just one CCE game, that had those covers with super cool designs that sparked the imagination, and frustrated when we found out that the graphics on the console were far from what the drawing showed.
Game rental companies did not exist in my city, but it was common to borrow games from colleagues. My cousin often loaned a cartridge on the weekend and brought it home to play. At the time he had a Dactar, one of the national Atari clones 2600.
My Atari 2600 was used a lot, so much that it went through some maintenance: the console went twice to the authorized to change the cartridge compartment. Over time the compartment started to fail and when turning on the console, only strange patterns and annoying noises appeared. I think the welds on the slot couldn't take it.
The controls lost count of how many times they broke the tower, as they called around here at the time, or soul, as i see them calling today. Interestingly never broke my hand, it was always some more ogre colleague who was playing with me who kept the tower joystick in one hand and the base in the other, separated. Once the repairman suggested a nylon tower, more expensive, Black in color, and supposedly more resistant. That didn't really break, but it got bad with time, failing quite in a certain direction.
Por fim, to the antenna switch box, the one with the COMPUTER and TV positions was damaged, because on black and white TV I needed to keep moving it to switch between the video game and the UHF converter (if you don't know what it is, ask your parents), because natively she only had VHF. Instead of the broken switch box, my father bought one that said MASTER SYSTEM and TV, but it worked the same way. It was an omen of what my next video game console would be.
My last Atari cartridge 2600 it was one of 16 games, with a very good selection: just game! Survived my Atari 2600, because when I got sick of one I went to the next.
It was only there in 1991 than the Atari 2600 was left out, in favor of a Master System II da Tec Toy. But I will leave this story for another occasion. The Atari 2600 was sold a few years later. Some cartridges I also sold or exchanged for cartridges of Master System and Mega Drive. But some are with me today. Here are some of the survivors:
Today many people disdain Atari 2600. Even some retrogamers they look crooked at him. They say it has not aged well, that were very simple games, etc. Eu disagree! Of course, the system had a lot of bad play, but the good guys are still challenging and fun. I can go from second to eighth generation of consoles in minutes, Playstation 4 one day, Atari 2600 the next day and vice versa, and have fun with all of them.
Of course, nostalgia also plays a role in this preference, because when I play Atari 2600 I also remember those times, where everything was simpler, the only responsibilities were to go to school, study and get good grades. The dream of many children at the time was to have all these games to be able to play whenever they wanted, without having to return the cartridge. Today we have several ways to play all these games, as anyone who follows the Skooter Blog knows, but what's missing is the time to play, with all the responsibilities of life that now has priority. 🙂
And you? Do you have any memorable story from your first video game? Tell in the comments.
Note on the text:
The idea of telling these stories here on the blog came after I read the book In much of Videogames: Memoirs of a player, by Luiz Miguel de Souza Gianeli. In December Luiz Miguel contacted me and asked if I would like to write a chronicle for his new book, which should be released soon. At the time I was trying to remember some story that was worth telling, and some time later I got the idea of this text that you just read. But I was unable to tell it on time, because I had some unavoidable deadlines in my work that were also taking my free time and even my vacation.
I recently finished reading Luiz Miguel's second video game book, the In much of Videogames: My Friends Chronicles. Inspired by the stories I read, I finally decided to write this text for you here on the blog and, who knows, he doesn't enter Luiz Miguel's fourth book. I know he wants to close the trilogy with the third book, but at the end of the second he also said that it would be his last video game book. So maybe he'll change his mind again and the books will become a series. 🙂
I think his work with evangelization and video games is very cool. I was a little upset once that my church did a “camping” with young people and teenagers and scheduled a culinary championship and another video game. I did not participate, because I am no longer young and much less a teenager, but I found out after they canceled the video game championship and did only the culinary one. Some order came from the leaders to cut video games. I found it very unfortunate.
It is important for pastors to have the view that video games are not “of evil”, they are just tools that can be used in many different ways, edifying or not, just like music, like movies, like any other art. A championship can cause rivalry? Some people may go overboard? This also happens at married versus versus camp singles football games. I once saw a beautiful sermon by an outside pastor in a camp, who used as an example the behavior of some during the football game the day before, forgetting that they were Christians and friends off the field. It was a lesson for everyone.
When I was a child my parents always took me to services. I wasn't always happy, sometimes I was a little upset, sometimes it was because they stopped by the game store in the neighboring city on the way (already at the time of the Master System). I would play two games on Friday night, before the service, and returned only on Monday. Then I spent the service anxious to get home and be able to throw the cartridges I had chosen. When it was lucky they still had the manuals, I took the opportunity to read them during the service.
But in the end all these things worked together for good. Even though inattentive I was hearing the word. In a way, video games helped me to follow the right path. As Solomon said: “Teaches the child the way he should walk, and, when i'm old, you will not deviate from it.” (Sayings 22:6). So I really admire Luiz Miguel's work, that video games are also wisely used as a tool to teach the way children and adolescents should walk, and still brings us those great stories that we identify with and bring us so many good memories.