Gaming Memories: School Days & Video Games

Gaming-Memories-School-Days-and-Video-GamesBeing at school in the 1980s was brilliant for me, not because I was subjected to the Comprehensive system of CSE's and O levels (some of you younger readers may have to be reaching for Google right now) or the fact our IT lessons were 10 minutes a week on a BBC model B that was wheeled in on a trolley with one squeaky wheel, taking 7 minutes to load the only software we had, a well used cassette containing just about the worst Turtle Graphic (Google again…) program you have ever seen. Nor even was it the fact that our PE lessons we always a cross country run round the field and woodland where we would sit it out for an hour and pretend to come back tired.

My school years were brilliant because it was slap bang in the golden age of home computers and the pinnacle of the arcade years and this meant two things. The first was the roaring swap trade of home computer games. As they were on tape, duplicating games was simple if you knew someone with a twin tape machine, and there were a lot of these about, so you were never short of the latest software. I have to put things in to some sort of perspective here, as I can already hear you tut tutting and wagging your fingers. I don't condone software piracy but back then things really were different. The ideology was that software was basically second to the hardware, and was in the public domain; let me give you an example of how we used to think.

No more free ride

If I wrote a program, say a game similar to space invaders, I would give it out and others would pull apart the code, adding bits, streamlining bits and improving it. The code, no matter how simple, became a living thing, taking on new forms and evolving into something special. It was fine until a certain young programmer in America had the bright idea of slapping a price tag and copyright on a certain disk operating system that others swiftly followed suit. It sort of took a while for that idea to penetrate, and with games costing so much (£7.99-£9.99 a game where my paper round only paid £5.00 a week. In 1979, Breakout for the 2600 was selling for £49.99, imagine that!) They had created a monster, and we just didn’t think about it, people still made games in their bedrooms.

The second was of course the arcade scene. I would hit the arcades as often as I could, even if there was only 20p in my pocket, I could make it last for a long time. As long as there was a Phoenix, Amidar, Q-bert, Tron or Mr Do machine to hand I would be fine. Besides, when you ran out of cash there were always other players to watch, tips to be had and even ,if you were exceptionally lucky, a forgotten credit to be used. Arcades were a meeting point where games were discussed, tactics worked out and the latest machines scrutinized. There were also lengthy debates on when the games would make the leap from arcade to our waiting home computer platform, and which would be the most accurate. You have to remember, the top end technology was in the arcades, the best graphics, best sound, best controllers and best atmosphere was to be found in a room full of neon rather than your lounge.

80s-arcade

It didn’t take too long for them to hit the shelves, and we all scanned Your Sinclair, Zzaap 64 or Computer and Videogames to judge what would be in our swap circles that month. Remember, we had to rely heavily on the game journalists, photos of the in game graphics and recommendations of other gamers, this was the days way before the internet and YouTube were even thought of, if you shelled out £9.99 on a game that turned out to be appalling then you really did loose a lot.

Take it home

Strange that we didn’t mind too much that the games on our home computers were only vaguely like their arcade counterparts, there was no way that the spectrum version of Dragons Lair could compare to the Don Bluth penned laserdisc game, but we saw Dirk the Daring, the levels were similar and our brains filled in the blanks and bridged the gap. Besides, at 50p a go Dragons Lair was expensive if you didn’t know the right moves. Even when the arcade cabinets began to move, there was still the transition to the home machines. I remember playing Outrun for the first time and loving it when it arrived on my c64, it even had the music.

Some good came from our illicit swap meets. I suspect the business model of a very successful company was based on the idea that games were too expensive because of our activities. Mastertronic was, although I didn’t realize it at the time, a masterstroke. Games were sold for £1.99 in all of the places we used to hang out, or indeed our parents did. They could be found in Woolworths, Boots (yes the chemist, you used to buy games at the chemist!) and best of all, Newsagents. The games were great and the price was perfect and besides, even if the game was a bit dull after a while, at £1.99 we didn’t care and every kid I knew had at least two MT titles in his collection.

The timing of 'Chiller' coming out was perfect, how the Jackson legal team missed this one I have no idea, but for £1.99 you got a fun and challenging platformer, and still had paper round money left!

The decline

Not so good was the fate of the arcades. They faded to a shadow of their former selves as home consoles and computers got better and better you could have arcade quality graphics in your own home, so slowly the need to visit them fell away and the owners had to adapt to the new clientele who wanted crane games and quizzes.

The player here doesn't seem to know the invincibility glitch, I wonder how many Phoenix players do?

Something weird happened to gamers along the way, as graphics began to be the most important factor, and not how a game played. There are exceptions to this rule of course, who can forget the graphical treat that was 'Rise of the Robots' only to to be ripping it from the slot of their SNES after 5 minutes of gameplay, never to be re inserted. But on the whole, the lushness and quality of how the game looked became the defining point to most, but I think that change is in the wind, look at games like 'Thomas was alone' or 'Minecraft' to prove that gameplay is regaining its crown.

The community is alive and well

Its not all bad though, with the advent of the net and sites like RetroCollect, gamers can gather and discuss games, tactics and lore with a range of people that would be unheard of in my schooldays. So despite the loss of the arcades and the obvious taboo of swap circles, knowledge and opinion can be shared. And of course with the quality of the games we have and the power of the hardware in which we play them on, we have never had it so good.


Last Updated ( 05 February 2014 )  

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I am the original first generation. I wandered in to an arcade in the late 70’s and never really got over it. I don’t have a favourite system but I do have a lot of favourite games and spend most of my spare time playing and writing about them. On sunny days you could find me outside, but only if my longboard is with me.

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Comments 

+1 (Link to this comment) ollie809 2014-02-06 12:31
Great read the only thing i wish i would have lived through was having a viable arcade scene. Missed all that only managed to find the odd TMNH or Simpsons arcade westlefest was my favourite tho. I used to pour £1 coins in to the cabs at the local rugby club every Sunday after playing. My dad must of spend 30 quid a week on that for me lol! Metal slug or point blank were the rulers there.

Funny you mentioned buying games in boots I've never saw that however for some very odd reason I had dream where they were selling 100s of playstation 1 games! Very strange!

anyway keep the content coming
(Link to this comment) PageVGP 2014-02-06 13:43
The arcades of the 70's and 80's really were superb, and I have yet to find a decent one today (Im still hopeful, but home consoles really have killed the 'scene' that went along with the games) AH! I love TMNT and have, like you, spent a LOT of cash (I have to be Donny or its not happening...)

Yeah good old Boots! I remember buying my first ZX81 from there... good God Im old...

Glad you liked the article, thanks for reading and thanks for the kind words
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